Symbolism in Gatsby

Oxford Dictionary defines the term symbolism as a style of “using symbolic images and indirect suggestion to express mystical ideas, emotions, and states of mind.” In literature, authors frequently use symbols because they give additional meaning to otherwise plain objects or ideas. For this reason, symbols are extremely useful in giving readers a better understanding of the text. Furthermore, symbols can be employed effectively to peer into a character’s true self and understand his or her personality. In the novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses various symbols such as the green light, Gatsby’s mansion, and the colour yellow to reveal significant aspects of Jay Gatsby’s personality. The green light signifies his ambitiousness, his mansion signifies his determination, and the colour yellow, on the other hand, indicates his deceitfulness.

Fitzgerald uses the symbol of green light to reveal Jay Gatsby’s ambitious nature. The green light is situated at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock with a sole purpose of being a signal for the passing boats. However, Gatsby sees it quite differently. The green light is introduced in the first chapter when Nick sees Gatsby for the first time. Gatsby “stretched out his arms toward the dark water” (Fitzgerald 19) almost longing for something and Nick distinguishes “nothing except a single green light, minute and far away.” (Fitzgerald 19) The light symbolizes Gatsby’s utmost desire to achieve the American Dream. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. by working hard and becoming successful.” Although Gatsby is rich and successful, he is not leading a happy lifestyle which is evident from his pursuit of the green light. Daisy Buchanan, the woman whom he desires the most, is associated with his perception of the American Dream. The green light is the representation of his ambition to achieve his dream of regaining Daisy’s love. When Gatsby reunites with Daisy at his house, the green light is mentioned again. This time, however, Nick states that it may have occurred to Gatsby that “the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever...Now it was again a green light on a dock.” (Fitzgerald 72) Gatsby’s pursuit for the green light mirrors his ambition for Daisy. When he is able to achieve his dream of getting Daisy back in his life, the green light is not so significant to him anymore. The green light is symbolic of Gatsby’s hope of achieving his dream. While Gatsby stretches out his arms to reach for the green light, as if it is close, the green light in reality is quite far away, far away from Gatsby’s grasp. Haibing Zhang writes that “as the green light is always feeble and far away, it also indicates the disillusionment of his dream.” (Haibing 38) Additionally, Zhang highlights how the green light losing its charm is a direct reference to the difference between one’s dream and the reality. Gatsby’s big ambition of acquiring Daisy turns out to be a big disappointment in reality as she is nothing like how he imagines her to be. The relentless, unthoughtful pursuit for Daisy and the American Dream which demonstrates Gatsby’s ambitiousness is symbolically shown with the green light.

Fitzgerald uses the symbol of Jay Gatsby’s mansion to portray his determination. Gatsby’s mansion is located in West Egg across from Daisy Buchanan’s mansion, separated by a large body of water. His house is first mentioned in the novel when Nick describes as “a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side...a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.” (Fitzgerald 7) Gatsby comes from a poor background. However after meeting the love of his life Daisy, he becomes determined to become a man worthy of standing beside Daisy. His mansion is a physical symbol of his love for Daisy and the extent to which he works to get to the level he is in. His determination for Daisy is also shown when Jordan Baker reveals to Nick that “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.” (Fitzgerald 61) After being separated from Daisy for years, Gatsby does not once stray his eyes off of Daisy. She is constantly in his mind, motivating him to become rich and successful. Gatsby buys his mansion to keep Daisy within his sight and to flaunt his vast wealth that he accumulates for her. Gatsby’s determination to stay close to Daisy is evident. Finally, Gatsby organizes lavish parties at his mansion often in hopes of attracting Daisy’s attention. He lets his hundreds of unknown guests make use of his belongings which is implied for instance when Nick observes that “his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight…” (Fitzgerald 32) While it can be argued that Gatsby throws grand parties to exhibit his wealth, Fitzgerald hints that the parties are solely meant for reunion with Daisy and nothing else. This is evident when Nick narrates that “the lights in [Gatsby’s] house failed to go on one Saturday night” (Fitzgerald 87) Gatsby concludes that Daisy is not particularly fond of his parties therefore he ceases to throw parties. Fitzgerald uses the symbol of Gatsby’s mansion and his parties to illustrate Gatsby’s determined personality.

Fitzgerald uses the colour yellow frequently to symbolize Jay Gatsby’s deceitful personality. In the novel, Gatsby is often accompanied with the colour yellow. Haibing Zhang elaborates that yellow “is a color of gold, which symbolizes money, materialism, and high social position.” (Zhang 42) Fitzgerald purposely chooses this colour to be associated with Gatsby to highlight his deceitfulness. Gatsby imitates the wealthy, high-class, East Eggers just like how the colour yellow imitates gold. In the novel, Gatsby’s parties are often affiliated with yellow colour. In one of the summer parties, Nick describes that “the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music.” (Fitzgerald 33) Yellow is repeated few more times in one of his parties, for instance when there are mentions of “two girls in twin yellow dresses” (Fitzgerald 34) Yellow, of course, does not have the same prestige and quality as the colour gold does which is exactly what Fitzgerald tries to prove to his readers. No matter how much Gatsby tries to create an illusion that he is of a higher-class, he does not have the authenticity. The girls in yellow reinforce the message as his guests are also not of aristocracy. Another instance in which Fitzgerald portrays Gatsby’s deceitful side is when he arrives at Nick’s house to reunite with Daisy. Nick describes that Gatsby is “in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie...” (Fitzgerald 65) The clothing of Gatsby is to be taken into consideration. He wears white and silver to attempt to cover up his impurity but the golden tie, the most flashiest of his clothing, gives away his obsession for materialism and status. A gold-coloured tie is worn by only the people of the higher-class, and Gatsby tries to imitate them to get Daisy’s attention to his wealth. An additional possession of Gatsby that is associated with the colour yellow is his car. Actually, his car is not yellow when first introduced in the book. Nick notes that Gatsby’s car has a “rich cream colour” (Fitzgerald 50). However after Myrtle’s death, one of the bystanders reports that it was “a yellow car...big yellow car.” (Fitzgerald 107) Daniel J. Schneider examines this peculiar transformation of Gatsby’s car. He states in his writing how the white and the shine of Gatsby’s cream coloured car matches with the glittering dresses of Daisy and the white palaces of East Egg. Gatsby tries his hardest to portray himself as someone who is of a higher class. However, when the glitter, which represents his dream, fuses with the yellow of materialism, the colour of the dream disappears and it is left with just yellow. Just like his car, Gatsby is also absorbed by the materialistic yellow which causes him to hide into his fake persona just as the colour yellow is fake gold. Fitzgerald skillfully chooses the colour yellow in the novel to exhibit Gatsby’s deceitful personality.     

24 May 2022
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