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Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Example 1

The Hidden Story in Green and White

Colour symbolism is really popular in novels written during the 1920s. One such example is Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. There is much colour symbolism in this novel, but there are two main colours that stand out more than the others. The colours green and white influence the story greatly. Green shows many thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and choices that Gatsby has throughout the story. White represents the stereotypical façade that every character is hiding behind.

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The colour green, as it is used in the novel, symbolizes different choices the character, Gatsby, can make during his life. The green element in this novel is taken from the green light at the end of the dock near Daisy’s house. The colour itself represents serenity, as in everything is perfect. This warns Gatsby that he should not pursue his dream of getting Daisy back, because his chance has passed and everything is as it should be. This is shown with Nick’s insight, “…His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him… (Pg.189)”

Another symbolization of the colour green, which contradicts the first, is the meaning “go.” As in a traffic light signal, most people associate green with the word and action “go.” This can be interpreted as meaning Gatsby should go for his dream without hesitation. It implies that Gatsby and Daisy are meant to be together and nothing should stop Gatsby from his destined happiness and love with Daisy. It inspires hope for Gatsby that he is on the right path, heading towards the best years of his life. He believes that things will soon be as they once were, only better. “I’m going to fix everything just the way they were before,” he said nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.”(Pg. 117.)”

The last symbolization the colour green has in this novel is an urge to strive ahead in life, to do better in life and succeed. Gatsby changes his entire persona for a better, more sociable, image and status. He is constantly striving to be a more successful figure in society. Ever since he was a boy he put himself on a schedule with hopes of becoming a highly respected, well-known person. “He knew he had a big future in front of him. (Pg. 181),” his dad says about him. “Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this…(Pg. 182).”

White is the other colour symbolism interlaced into this novel. Where green only influenced one character, white has a wider range of influence on the characters. This colour symbolizes one thing, a façade, but it appears in every character. For example, Daisy is always seen wearing white, which gives her an innocent naive appearance. It is as though she uses that as an excuse for when she does something ridiculous or childish, making it seem like she does not know any better. In reality, she knows exactly what she does but just doesn’t care. She uses this little princess image and her money to hide her biased, snobbish, and conceited view of herself and her lifestyle. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together…(Pg. 187-188).”

Another character that hides behind the white symbolic façade is Jordan Baker. She also wears white quite often. She acts as though she is superior to everyone around her. Her posture, her attitude, and even the things she says imply this arrogance.

“She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me she out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it-indeed I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in. (Pg.13).”

She portrays a bored and apathetic attitude about everything, which is part of her “I am too good for you” appearance. In reality, she just wants to be as respected and socially accepted as Gatsby. She is not willing to take responsibility for her actions and uses her image as a guard implying that she could not have possibly done anything immoral, much like Daisy.

However, “She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage, and given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep the cool insolent smile turned towards the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard jaunty body. (Pg. 63).”

Colour symbolism is not very noticeable, yet it can tell a great deal about a story. In this case, the colours give the reader a look at the character’s choices and the paths he or she could have chosen compared to the ones the character chose, which adds dimension to the story. The green the different choices Gatsby can make, whether it serves as a warning, an inspiration, or an urge to get ahead. The white symbolizes a mask or a façade. It allows the characters to portray themselves as a whole other person and hide who they really are. This puts a piece of reality into the story, as everyone wears a white mask of some kind to hide his or her true self from the world. It is the unsubtle clues given to the reader that are fascinating and allow a person to relate to the characters.

 

Example 2

Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, is full of symbolism, which is portrayed by the houses and cars in an array of ways. One of the more important qualities of symbolism within The Great Gatsby is the way in which it is so completely incorporated into the plot and structure. Symbols, such as Gatsby’s house and car, symbolize material wealth.

Gatsby’s house “[is] a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy” which contains “a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy” is a symbol of Gatsby’s large illegal income(Fitzgerald 9)(9). Gatsby‘s large income isn‘t enough to keep him happy. He needs “The house he feels he needs in order to win happiness” and it is also the perfect symbol of carelessness with money which is a major part of his personality (Bewley 24). Gatsby’s house like his car symbolizes his vulgar and excessive trait of getting attention. Gatz’s house is a mixture of different styles and periods which symbolizes an owner who does not know their true identity. The Buchanan’s house is symbolic of their ideals.

East Egg is home to the more prominent established wealth families. Tom’s and Daisy’s home is on the East Egg. Their house, a “red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay” with its “wine-coloured rug[s]” is just as impressive as Gatsby’s house but much more low-key (Fitzgerald 11)(13). East egg and Tom‘s home represents the established wealth and traditions. Their stable wealth, although lacking the vulgarity of new wealth, is symbolic of their empty future and now purposelessness lives together. The House also has a cold sense to it according to Nick. This sense symbolizes Tom’s brutality, and as Perkins says in his manuscript to Fitzgerald “I would know…Buchanan if I met him and would avoid him,” because Tom is so cold and brute (Perkins 199).

Nick lives in West Egg in a rented house that “[is] a small eye-sore” and “had been overlooked”(Fitzgerald 10). Nick lives in a new-rich West Egg because he is not wealthy enough to afford a house in the more prominent East Egg. His house symbolizes his shyness and overlooked. Nick is the Narrator and also the “trustworthy reporter and, …judge” that has ties to both the East and West Egg crowd(Bruccoli xii). Nick comes from a “prominent, well-to-do [family]” acts like the established rich down-played, but he is trying to make it on his own and his house located in West Egg symbolizes this(Fitzgerald 7). Another person who lives on the nouveau-rich West Egg is Gatsby.

Wilson “a blonde, spiritless man” lives in his “unprosperous and bare” garage(Fitzgerald 29)(29). His home symbolizes what he is, a mechanic, and is located in the valley of ashes overlooked by the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg. The eyes of Dr. Eckleburg “brood on over the solemn dumping ground” of Wilson’s house (28). The valley of ashes in which Wilson’s house is located in symbolizes the moral decay that hides behind the facade of wealth and happiness. The valley is home of Tom’s mistress, “Myrtle Wilson, the wife of the owner of a garage in the ash heaps that lie along the road about halfway between West Egg and Manhattan,” and is incidentally fitting(Bruccoli 10). The eyes that look over Wilson’s home also have a symbolic meaning. They symbolically sit in judgment on all the sleaze displayed by the inhabitants of East and West egg who pass through the valley of ashes.

The car plays a major role that makes a regular appearance in the story. In American Society, the car is always seen as a symbol of status. Gatsby’s car is an embodiment of his wealth. His car is symbolic of many things, among them the “disillusioned, reckless, frenetic spirit of [the youthful]” owner(Rudin 160). His car symbolizes his vulgar materialism and conveys his newborn affluence. Gatsby’s car is “a rich cream colour, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns” obviously shows his materialism(Fitzgerald 68). Another interesting detail is Gatsby’s car is yellow instead of the standardized black of the era stresses the thought that he is engrossed with the obsession of displaying his material wealth to get the love of Daisy. The Death car is yellow, and in the novel yellow symbolizes money and corruption in the novel.

The creamy colour of Gatsby’s car also symbolizes decay of corruption; therefore Gatsby’s car is like a bulging piece of fruit that is overripe and has started to rot. Gatsby’s “meticulous attention to detail … [compliments] the personage” of himself and the things he possesses that symbolize him (Lehan 59). Tom Buchanan’s car is also not like all the standardized black cars because he drives “a blue car, a coupe” which is a lot less showy than Gatsby’s Rolls Royce(Fitzgerald 148). Tom is so desperately an empty man that he believes he can define himself with exterior belongings. He is trying to find his identity by looking for happiness in nice cars. Tom’s blue coupe symbolizes Tom and his emptiness because his car is a cheap car that is like everyone else’s car at that time period but it has a blue paint job setting it apart from the others and appearing to be better than all the other cars in that era. While the cars in The Great Gatsby symbolize what the person is like the houses symbolize who the person is.

Fitzgerald truly uses symbolism to convey his themes in The Great Gatsby. The symbolism of houses shows the corruptive effect money can have on everyone. The symbolism of the car and house is stressed all throughout the novel and is used to confirm that a dream rooted in materialism alone will in the end always be disparaging.

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