Pragmatic Analysis of the Dialogues in the Film The Great Gatsby

Pragmatic Analysis of the Dialogues in the Film The Great Gatsby

武娜王红涛

(河南工业大学外语学院,河南 郑州 450001)

WU NaWANG Hong-tao

(School of Foreign Language, Henan University of Technology, Zhengzhou Henan 450001, China)

[Abstract]The Great Gatsby, is well acknowledged as Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. It is so popular that it has been made into films for five times. This paper is trying to analysis the dialogues in the latest film version of it from the pragmatic perspective based on Grice’s conversational implicature, cooperative principle and Leech’s politeness principle.

[Key words]Conversational implicature; Cooperative principle; Politeness principle; The Great Gatsby

1Introduction

The Great Gatsby, is well acknowledged as Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Since its publication, attentions have been drawn to it. It has also been made into films for five times, which shows its popularity in the world.

According to Cooperman (1996), The Great Gatsby achieved “objectivity” by means of “let the book say what it has to say without intrusive explication and ‘stay out of the book’”. T. S. Eliot praised that it was “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James” (Donaldson, 1984).

Norman Page (1973) states that “dialogue in a fiction may nevertheless help to develop a ‘plot’ and enrich the reader’s understanding of ‘character’ and ‘background’ while at the same time no other manner of presentation could provide.” Thus, the characters’ conversational exchanges in the film are not decoration, but an important way of reflecting characters. Through dialogues, characters’ motive will be revealed clearly. The conversations play such a vital role in the development of the story and make the characters of the film more vivid that it is necessary to make an analysis of the dialogues in the film The Great Gatsby. This paper is trying to analysis the dialogues in the latest film version of The Great Gatsby from the pragmatic perspective.

2Pragmatic Theories

2.1Conversational Implicature

During our daily communications with others, we usually think more about what a person infers to transfer by his or her literal meaning. Try to identify the delicate distinction between the surface meaning of his or her words and the real intention they made above and over what they said. In order to discover the mechanism of implicated meaning behind the process of listening and speaking, in his Logic and Conversation (1975), H. P. Grice proposed the conversational implicature theory. In his book, he gives an example as following: Is the door open? Its conversational implicature is that: Shut the door, please; it’s cold inside the door.

The conversational implicature theory is considered as a theory focusing on the use of language. According to Grice, there is a standard way of speaking, which can be accepted by all of us. Sometimes, speakers do violate them in order to convey some context meaning.

2.2Cooperative Principle

Cooperative principle is essentially a theory about how people use language. Grice (1975) says that “Make your contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.”

When people communicate, speakers try to contribute meaningful, productive utterances to move forward the conversation. It then follows that listeners assume that conversational partners are doing the same, and they will be conversationally cooperative. We will cooperate to achieve mutual conversational ends. Grice holds that conversational cooperation manifests itself in conversational maxims, which are in need of abiding by.

Grice(1975) elaborates further Cooperative Principle in terms of maxims under four headings further: the Maxim of Quality; the Maxim of Quantity; the Maxim of Relevance; the Maxim of Manner.

2.3Politeness Principle

Since Grice proposed cooperative principle, people attach more importance to the pragmatic principle. Then Leech (1983) proposed politeness principle. According to him, politeness is a part of cooperative principle. Because Grice’s cooperative principle just explain the relationship between literal meaning and actual meaning, and how the conversational implicature is produced, but he does not illustrate why people deliberately violates the cooperative principle. So he argues that people do this in consideration of politeness. He explains the politeness principle in detail and subdivides it into six maxims: Tact Maxim; Generosity Maxim; Approbation Maxim; Modesty Maxim; Agreement Maxim and Sympathy Maxim.

3Dialogue Analysis in the Film The Great Gatsby

Example 1:

Nick: “Don’t bring Tom.”

Daisy: “What?”

Nick: “Don’t bring Tom.”

Daisy: “Who’s ‘Tom’ ?”

This dialogue happens between Nick and Daisy after Nick has made an appointment with Gatsby that he will tell and invite Daisy to meet Gatsby. In order not to let Tom know and come, Nick tells Daisy not bring Tom. But Daisy replies “what?” and “who’s ‘Tom’?”. Tom is Daisy’s husband, she should know him. Thus in this dialogue, Daisy violates the maxim of quality of cooperative principle. From this dialogue, we can infer that Daisy is indifferent to his husband.

Example 2:

Nick: “Does she want to see Gatsby?”

Jordan: “She’s not to know about it. Gatsby doesn’t want her to know. You’re just supposed to invite her to tea.”

This dialogue happens between Nick and Jordan (Daisy’s best friend) that Nick wanders whether Daisy want to see Gatsby or not. But Jordan does not answer “Yes” or “No”, she says much more information which helps Nick to take actions.apparently, she violates the maxim of quantity of cooperative principle, but according to what Jordan said, we can see she is a kind and warm-hearted friend.

Example 3:

Nick: “I’m going to call up Daisy tomorrow and invite her over here to tea.”

Gatsby: “Oh, that’s all right. I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”

Nick: “What day would suit you?”

Gatsby: “What day would suit you? I don’t want to put you to any trouble, you see.”

Nick: “How about the day after tomorrow?”

Gatsby: “I want to get the grass cut.”

This dialogue happens between Nick and Gatsby after Nick has decides to tell and invite Daisy to meet Gatsby. After hearing this good news, maybe Gatsby is a little bit excited. In order to cover his excitement, Gatsby replies “Oh, that’s all right” and then says “I don’t want to put you to any trouble”. When Nick asks “What day would suit you?”, he asks back the same question, and says “I don’t want to put you to any trouble”. But when Nick replies “How about the day after tomorrow?”, he answers “I want to get the grass cut” which has nothing to do with Nick’s question. Obviously what Gatsby answers violates the maxim of relevance of cooperative principle. From this dialogue we can find that Gatsby is eager to meet Daisy, but when he is almost succeeded to get what he wants, he feels unnatural, which is fully showed when they really meet at last. Maybe this is because he wants Daisy too much.

Example 4:

Tom: “By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.”

Gatsby: “Not exactly.”

Tom: “Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford.”

Gatsby: “Yes, I went there.”

This dialogue happens between Tom and Gatsby when they, together with Daisy, Nick and Jordan, go to town. It seems that Tom queries whether Gatsby is an Oxford man or not. Instead of answering “Yes” or “No” to his question, Gatsby says “Not exactly”, from which we can infer that Gatsby does not want to talk about his identity or he maybe wants to hide something. But because Tom has already surveyed Gatsby’s identity and knows that he is not a “true Oxford man” as what he once asserted, thus Tom says “Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford”, maybe he just wants to expose Gatsby’s fake identity in order to look down upon him. Being aware of his identity was challenged, Gatsby just replies “Yes, I went there”, from which we can see that Gatsby is in the inferior place while competing with Tom, and that is why he almost loses his temper inclining to beat Tom later. From this dialogue we can know that Gatsby violates the maxim of manner of cooperative principle, because his answer to Tom’s query is too ambiguous. This maybe because he is not so confident when talking about his identity. And from this dialogue we can see how merciless Tom is.

Example 5:

Daisy: “Do they miss me?”

Nick: “The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent wail all night along the north store.”

This dialogue happens between Daisy and Nick when Nick firstly see Daisy at her home. After some greetings about Nick’s business and life, Daisy asks Nick “Do they miss me?”, here “they” stands for Chicago people. Instead of replies to Daisy “Yes, they miss you very much”, Nick’s answer obeys the agreement maxim and approbation maxim of politeness principle at the cost of quality maxim and quantity maxim of cooperative principle. From this dialogue we can see that Nick is very kind to his cousin, while Daisy is somewhat vain.

Example 6:

...

Gatsby: “Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound.”

Nick: “What time?”

Gatsby: “Any time that suits you best.”

...

Nick: “This is an unusual party for me. I haven’t even seen the host. I live over there, and this man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation.”

Gatsby: “I’m Gatsby.”

Nick: “What! Oh, I beg your pardon.”

Gatsby: “I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.”

This dialogue happens between Gatsby and Nick when Nick firstly meet Gatsby at the party held in Gatsby home. In fact, at that time Nick does not know who Gatsby is for he never see him before. In order to show his friendliness to Nick, Gatsby invites Nick to go out for fun, and Nick eagerly asks “What time?”, then Gatsby replies “Any time that suits you best”, which shows his generosity because he is rich not only in money, but also in time. Thus he asks when suits Nick best. By saying so, Gatsby obeys tact maxim and generosity maxim of politeness principle by violating the maxim of quantity of cooperative principle. Although Nick is invited to the party, he wonders who is Gatsby. After Gatsby says “I’m Gatsby”, Nick almost is shocked for the person he wondering is just rightly in his front. That is why he replies “What! Oh, I beg your pardon”. Then in order to make Nick feel natural, Gatsby’s reply shows his modesty and sympathy. Here, what Gatsby says obeys the modesty maxim and sympathy maxim of politeness principle.

4Conclusion

This paper is aimed to analyze the dialogues in the film The Great Gatsby from pragmatic perspective by utilizing Grice’s conversational implicature, cooperative principle and Leech’s politeness principle. It is a new way to analyze literature works by using pragmatic theory. From the example analyzing above, we can find that it is feasible to do it. Through applying cooperative principle and politeness principle in the dialogue in the film The Great Gatsby, we can see the different characteristics of the figures clearly, such as generous Gatsby, vain Daisy, kind Nick, warm-hearted Jordan and merciless Tom.

It is useful and helpful to appreciate this film and to uncover characters’ personality through applying conversational implicature, cooperative principle and politeness principle to study the dialogues in the film. On the one hand, we can get a better understanding of the vivid characters and appreciation of the style of the writer through the application of pragmatic theories; on the other hand, the feasibility and significance of taking pragmatic theory into literature works can be proved.

[References]

[1]Cooperman, Stanley. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby[M]. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. 1996.

[2]Donalson, Scott. Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby[M]. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co. 1984.

[3]Grice, H.P. Logic and Conversation[M]. New York: Academic Press. 1975.

[4]Leech, G.N. Principles of Pragmatics[M]. London: Longman. 1983.

[5]Page, Norman. Speech in the English Novel[M]. London: Longman. 1973.

[责任编辑:汤静]

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