Colors affect the mood and emphasize the importance of events in a novel. The concept of color symbolism is prominent in The Great Gatsby. White, yellow, blue, and green affect the atmosphere of scenes through association with a specific mood. When analyzed, the frequent use of color and its relevance can be identified.
The color white and light tones are associated with purity, innocence and benevolence. This idea holds true in the novel when Nick describes the room in Tom’s house where Daisy and Jordan are introduced. He describes the room as “bright” (12) and the windows as “gleaming white against the grass” (12). The dresses Jordan and Daisy are wearing are also described as “white” (12). On page 24, Daisy and Jordan’s “girlhood” is described as “beautiful [and] white”. Childhood represents innocence and because the color white is associated with it, white becomes a representation of innocence. The affect the color white creates is the impression of a pure, clean environment, and that Jordan and Daisy are the same. In the text, there is no prior discussion of Tom’s house or Daisy and Jordan which causes the reader to believe they are pure and good.
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Yellow is a representation of falsity and corruption of events or characters in The Great Gatsby. The significance of yellow is to show through imagery that not everything is as it seems. At the beginning of the novel, Daisy and Jordan are wearing white dresses, giving the illusion of purity. With the progression of the storyline, Daisy and Jordan’s clothes slowly change from white to a golden yellow as the characters impurities are revealed. The color yellow is also present in descriptions of Myrtle. Myrtle’s dress in the party scene is described by Nick as “cream colored” (35). “With the influence of the dress, her personality had also undergone a change” (35). When Myrtle wears the yellowish dress, every aspect of her personality changes into something fake. In Myrtle, the color yellow is a clear representation of dishonesty because she pretends to be something she is not.
The effect the color yellow has on the description of characters is to point out the dishonesty they have. Yellow is also a symbol of corruption. Gatsby’s car is the car that killed Myrtle and is described as “a yellow car. A big yellow car” (147) and again on page 148: “It was a yellow car.” The reason the word yellow is repeated is to accentuate corruption in the actions of Daisy after the accident. When Myrtle was struck, instead of stopping to see if she was alive, Daisy accelerated away from the scene. In this way, it seems fit that the car was yellow. It is true that yellow is associated with Daisy because the flower is surrounded by white petals, with a yellow center. The white petals represent her innocent and pure appearance, and the yellow center represents how at the core, she is dishonest.
The color blue in The Great Gatsby is associated with false appearances. False appearance plays a vital role in the novel in several key places. In the description of Gatsby’s guests in the gardens on page 43, “In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” The sentence is describing a party at Gatsby’s house. Until this point, Gatsby’s parties were believed to be high-class occasions where friends of Gatsby came because there was no evidence to say this was untrue. However, in the middle of the sentence, this belief is changed when the party guests are described as “moths”, only coming for the alcohol. The significance of the discovery surrounding the guests is that blue, the color of the garden, represents the illusion that the guests are friends of Gatsby. The color of Wilson’s eyes is blue (29). This is significant because he believes Myrtle is faithful. Through his blue eyes, he sees a false image of what is happening in reality. Another instance where the color blue is associated with Wilson occurs after Myrtle dies. Wilson “noticed a change in the room, a blue quickening by the window.”(167) and the change he noticed was that Myrtle was cheating on him.
The color green is associated with hope and goals. At the end of the dock in front of Tom and Daisy’s home is a blinking green light. Gatsby spends a significant amount of time focusing on the green light. Nick writes that Gatsby “stretched out his arms toward the dark waters”(25). He reaches towards the light because he is reaching toward his dreams of life with fantasy Daisy. The light represents Daisy as he remembers, or the Daisy he wants to remember. Even if his memories of Daisy are ones from the past or completely made up, to Gatsby the light is the perfect Daisy. Another reference to green and hope is found when Nick returns home to the West. The train tickets that Nick has for his return trip are green (184). After Gatsby’s death, Nick is disgusted with life in the East. He realizes that life on the East Coast is impossible for Westerners because they “possessed a deficiency that we had in common that made unadaptable”(184) to Eastern life. He then returns home to “his middle west” (184) with the hope that he can settle into normal life.
Color adds to the emotion of situations. As seen in The Great Gatsby, color is a way to correlate events to create a common meaning. White is the color for purity and innocence, yellow the color associated with dishonesty and corruption, blue represents false appearances, and green signifies hope. Fitzgerald included color in the book to help define situations and characters and shape how interactions between the two play out.
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