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The Colorful American Dream Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a complex story set to the scandalous background of 1920s New York City. It tells the tale of Jay Gatsby, a young man who bootlegs and gambles to achieve wealth, only to impress his first love, a whimsical spoiled girl named Daisy Buchanan. Daisy, unfortunately, is married to a hulking brute of a man, Tom Buchanan. Gatsby’s one goal—his sole purpose for living—is to have Daisy, despite her marriage; he truly believes that he can erase the last five years and live like he was seventeen with Daisy. Fitzgerald paints the picture of the inevitable demise of Gatsby’s perverted dream with symbolism. By using the colours gold/yellow, silver, white, and green, the reader comprehends the true contrast between characters and the American dream.

The first, and most prominent of the colours is yellow or gold which Fitzgerald uses to represent money and wealth—a thing most of his characters have since they are superfluously wealthy. For instance, Gatsby tends to throw wild, extravagant parties, which attract a number of idle rich. Two such guests remain nameless but are referred to as the “two girls in twin yellow dresses” (42). Like most of his guests, the girls do not know Gatsby, but are at his house dancing, drinking, and flirting, with no intentions to demonstrate any responsibility for any bad action—something rich snobs are raised to do. Another example comes when Fitzgerald uses colour to describe Daisy Buchanan’s prodigal childhood. She went to parties and engaged in general spoiled snobbery “while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust” (151). Her whole life has been a series of parties, people, and purposelessness—with countless wallowing in their wealth.

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Another colour Fitzgerald uses is silver which also represents money, but heaven as well. Interesting contrast between Gatsby and the other affluent characters is that Gatsby is only rich for an innocent purpose to love a girl, while the others love their money more than any person besides, maybe, themselves. Gatsby is painted to be purer of the heart than the others. When Nick, Daisy’s cousin and Gatsby’s eventual lone friend, first encounters Gatsby, he sees him standing on his lawn under “the silver pepper of the stars” (20)—the beautiful clear night that displays heaven. Later on in the novel, during one of Gatsby and Daisy’s meetings, Gatsby sees his pure, perfect, celestial dream of love (or love of a dream), “Daisy gleaming like silver” (150).

Because many of the characters in the novel are idly rich, emptiness is a trait Fitzgerald proves they have. He uses white to demonstrate the ethereal, listless feeling them. For example, most of the houses in East Egg, the place where those who inherited wealth (i.e. the Buchanans) live, are described as being white. The Buchanan’s home, in particular, has “windows . . . ajar and gleaming white” and a “frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling” (8). Also, when Nick first arrives in New York, he visits the Buchanans passing the “white palaces of fashionable East Egg” (5). Fitzgerald also depicts the empty, nothingness of the lazy afternoons of the idle rich. In their home, Daisy and her friend, Jordan Baker, are “both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight” (8).

A final colour used in the novel is green which symbolizes the glue that holds every American’s dream together: hope. Before Gatsby meets up with the slightly aged Daisy, he stares every night across the bay towards Daisy’s home and sees her dock with a little flashing green light symbolizing hope and his desire to be with her (20). He dreams of being joined with Daisy more than anything. However, at the end of the summer, after Gatsby dies as a result of his shattered dream when Nick is leaving New York (and forgetting some of its characterless characters), Nick looks out towards the world and imagines new beginnings while relishing in hope of the “fresh, green breast of the new world” (180).

The Great Gatsby is about a great man named Jay Gatsby, who despite the emptiness and ruthlessness of those around him, lives with a pure dream of a girl. The symbolism in the novel addresses the many ideals of the book. Gold and yellow depict the wasteful attitude of money, while silver, with some emphasis on money, mainly illustrates the beauty of heaven. White proves the ethereal emptiness found in most rich people, while green shows the hope of another day—another opportunity. To be a Gatsby though, one must not live in the world of yellow, gold and white, one must have a silver dream, a dream with a true and upstanding purpose, and one must live each day believing in the green grass of hope that they will achieve it someday. That’s the real American dream.

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The Colorful American Dream Symbolism in The Great Gatsby. (2021, Feb 28). Retrieved July 8, 2021, from