Somewhere Over the Rainbow
The green light isn't the only symbolic color in Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses color like a preschooler let loose with tempera paints—only a little more meaningfully. Let's break it down:
Yellow and Gold: Money, Money, Money. Oh, and Death.
First off, we've got yellows and golds, which we're thinking has something to do with…gold (in the cash money sense). Why gold and not green? Because we're talking about the real stuff, the authentic, traditional, "old money" – not these new-fangled dollar bills. So you have Gatsby's party, where the turkeys are "bewitched to dark gold," and Jordan's "slender golden arm[s]" (3.19), and Daisy the "golden girl" (7.99), and Gatsby wearing a gold tie to see Daisy at Nick's house.
But yellow is different. Yellow is fake gold; it's veneer and show rather than substance. We see that with the "yellow cocktail music" at Gatsby's party (1) and the "two girls in twin yellow dresses" who aren't as alluring as the golden Jordan (3.15). Also yellow? Gatsby's car, symbol of his desire—and failure—to enter New York's high society. And if that weren't enough, T. J. Eckleburg's glasses, looking over the wasteland of America, are yellow.
White: Innocence and Femininity. Maybe.
While we're looking at cars, notice that Daisy's car (back before she was married) was white. So are her clothes, the rooms of her house, and about half the adjectives used to describe her (her "white neck," "white girlhood," the king's daughter "high in a white palace").
Everyone likes to say that white in The Great Gatsby means innocence, probably because (1) that's easy to say and (2) everyone else is saying it. But come on – Daisy is hardly the picture of girlish innocence. At the end of the novel, she's described as selfish, careless, and destructive. Does this make the point that even the purest characters in Gatsby have been corrupted? Did Daisy start off all innocent and fall along the way, or was there no such purity to begin with? Or, in some way, does Daisy's decision to remain with Tom allow her to keep her innocence? We'll keep thinking about that one.
Blue: This One's Up For Grabs
Then there's the color blue, which we think represents Gatsby's illusions -- his deeply romantic dreams of unreality. We did notice that the color blue is present around Gatsby more than any other character. His gardens are blue, his chauffeur wears blue, the water separating him from Daisy is his "blue lawn" (9.150), mingled with the "blue smoke of brittle leaves" in his yard.
His transformation into Jay Gatsby is sparked by Cody, who buys him, among other things, a "blue coat"—and he sends a woman who comes to his house a "gas blue" dress (3.25). Before you tie this up under one simple label, keep in mind that the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg are also blue, and so is Tom's car. If blue represents illusions and alternatives to reality, maybe that makes the eyes of God into a non-existent dream. As for Tom's car…well, you can field that one.
Grey and a General Lack of Color: Lifelessness (no surprise there)
If the ash heaps are associated with lifelessness and barrenness, and grey is associated with the ash heaps, anyone described as grey is going to be connected to barren lifelessness. Our main contender is Wilson: "When anyone spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable colorless way" (2.17). Wilson's face is "ashen," and a "white ashen dust" covers his suit (2.17), and his eyes are described as "pale" and "glazed." We're not too surprised when she shows up with a gun at the end of the novel.
Green: Life, Vitality, The Future, Exploration
Last one. We're thinking green = plants and trees and stuff, so it must represent life and springtime and other happy events. Right?
Well, the most noticeable image is that green light we seem to see over and over. You know, the green light of the "orgastic future" that we stretch our hands towards, etc. etc. (9.149). Right before these famous last lines, Nick also describes the "fresh, green breast of the new world," the new world being this land as Nick imagines it existed hundreds of years before. Green also shows up—we think significantly—as the "long green tickets" that the rich kids of Chicago use as entry to their fabulous parties, the kind of parties where Daisy and Tom meet, and where Gatsby falls in love. So green does represent a kind of hope, but not always a good one.
When Nick imagines Gatsby's future without Daisy, he sees "a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...like that ashen fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees." Nick struggles to define what the future really means, especially as he faces the new decade before him (the dreaded thirties). Is he driving on toward grey, ashen death through the twilight, or reaching out for a bright, fresh green future across the water?
“The symbolic aspect of the novel adds greatly to our understanding of the text.’’ Discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald’s use of the symbols throughout the novel, supporting your answer with reference to the text.
Symbols play a huge role in the Great Gatsby. They add to the understanding we take from the novel. A symbol is an object, character, figure or colour that is used to represent an abstract idea or concept. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses many symbols throughout the novel to highlight key ideas, some are more obvious than others but all are effective. He makes use of all the symbolic options to reinforce the messages of the novel. Characters are used to highlight ideas. Places are used to add contrast. Symbols highlight the beliefs of characters and the seasonal setting aides the building climax.
Characters can be used as symbols to highlight an idea. Daisy is one such character. Fitzgerald uses Daisy to highlight the moral corruption of characters. Daisy she is described as ‘‘a silver idol weighing down [her] white [dress] against the singing breeze of fans.’’ White is a colour commonly associated with purity and innocence. However we soon realise that Daisy is far from pure and innocent. She is a morally corrupt character who lets Gatsby believe she will leave Tom for him, but in the end chooses Tom’s money over Gatsby’s love. We learn then that money is the most important thing to Daisy. Money is gold/yellow, a colour commonly associated with corruption and dishonesty. A daisy, the flower after which she is named, is a gold/yellow centre surrounded by white. This symbolises the moral corruption of Daisy. Daisies are also fragile flowers, and similarly Daisy is a fragile person who is unable to make her mind up. For me this is a symbol that helped me understand the moral corruption of the novel.
The Valley of Ashes is a symbolic place used in the book. It is first introduced to us in Chapter Two, when Tom takes Nick to meet Myrtle Wilson, his mistress. It is a “desolate area of land’’ between West Egg and New York which was created by the dumping of industrial ashes. The Valley Of Ashes represents the moral and social decay produced by the pursuit of wealth without thought for others. Its main purpose in the novel, from my understanding, is to highlight the plight of the poor who are exiled to stay living in this “solemn dumping ground.’’ It also provided me with a contrast between the lives of the “careless people’’ who lived the high life and those who weren’t benefitting from what came to be known as “The Roaring Twenties.’’ I found it to be a highly effective symbol that aided my understanding of the novel.
Overlooking The Valley Of Ashes is a billboard of the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The advertisement is simply a pair of eyes “[looking] out of no face’’ and stands at “one yard high,’’ looking out over the “solemn dumping ground.’’ There is a strong link between the eyes and God. God is believed to watch over everyone and be all seeing, similar to T.J. Eckleburg . They may represent God staring down upon and judging American society and seeing the moral wasteland that as previously stated the Valley Of Ashes symbolises. It is George Wilson that highlights this symbolism. He refers to the eyes when he tells Myrtle he knows about her affair; “I took her to the window…..and I said “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God.’’ In doing this Fitzgerald suggests that symbols only have meaning because characters instill them with meaning. The connection between the eyes and God are strongest in Wilson’s grief stricken mind. He repeats that “God sees everything’’ to himself, allowing the reader and unsettling insight into his mind prior to killing Gatsby and himself. It is also key that colour is once again brought into this symbol. The rims of his glasses are yellow, which symbolises that although he sees corruptness he also sees it through the eyes of someone who is also corrupt. This reinforced the idea that corrupt characters wrongly judge others for being corrupt. Personally this was my favourite symbol in the novel because it was the easiest to understand.
Another symbolic place that added to the understanding I took from the novel was the two “eggs’’ on which Nick, Gatsby and the Buchanans lived. East and West Egg are two fictional villages on Long Island created by Fitzgerald as the setting for the novel. They are both “[dissimilar] in every particular except shape and size.’’ Nick lives on West Egg “the less fashionable of the two,’’ in the ‘’consoling proximity of millionaires.’’ The residents of West Egg, referred to as “West Eggers’’ are looked down upon by their old money neighbours on East Egg. Daisy and Tom are typical East Egg residents, old money and careless about others. Colour again is associated with the eggs. Eggs are a yellow/gold centre surrounded by white, which similar to Daisy shows that money and corruption is at their core. An egg also symbolizes a false show of purity as we never know if an egg is decaying or rotten on the inside until we crack it. It is my understanding that East and West Egg are no exception to this, appearing to be perfect from the outside. However, when on the inside Nick soon realises, a “rotten bunch’’ of people live there. Therefore the eggs helped my understanding of the novel.
The Green Light at the end of Daisy’s dock is by far the most important symbol in the novel. An artificial light that flashes to make incoming boats aware of the dock, it is key in understanding the novel. The light is symbolic of Gatsby’s American Dream; his pursuit to “change the past’’ and regain Daisy’s love. The green light gave Gatsby something to reach for. He purposely chose his home so as to have the green light within reaching distance. By choosing to have Gatsby reaching for an artificial light, Fitzgerald highlights that Gatsby’s dream was artificial and unrealistic. Gatsby believed that his dream was “so close he could hardly fail to grasp it,’’ however because the light is artificial we understand that he undoubtedly will fail. Nick highlights the importance of the green light in the last lines of the book; “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’’ For me this sums up the significance of the American dream to the novel; we aim to achieve it and no matter how hard we try it is always out of our reach, but we still strive and one day it will become reality.
Finally the seasonal setting of the novel can also be interpreted as symbolic. The novel is set in the summer of 1922. The summer in New York is known to be hot, heavy and humid. This is reflected as the novel reaches its climax. When the main characters take their trip to New York it is on one of the hottest days of the summer. This reflects the tension building between Tm and Gatsby which reaches boiling point in the hotel room when Gatsby suggests it is time for Daisy to tell Tom she “never loved him.’’ The two, fighting for Daisy’s affections, come to blows over their love for her. Tom, fighting to hold onto the last shred of Daisy’s love he has, and Gatsby, clinging to his “no longer tangible’’ American dream, both snap. I found the symbol of the summer to be helpful in understanding how the novel would pan out. Overall F. Scott Fitzgerald worked wonders with the symbolic aspect of the novel. He used every option to create symbols that help the reader to gain a stronger understanding of his novel and the ideas behind it. From colours to characters and places to seasonal settings I thoroughly enjoyed the way the symbols worked with the novel.