Symbolism in ‘The Great Gatsby’

‘The Great Gatsby’, a novel authored by Scott Fitzgerald, portrays actions that took place over a period of several months during the 1922 summer. It takes place in a fictional town known as West Egg showing the thwarted love between two individuals. The story is mainly concerned about Jay Gatsby, a young and cryptic millionaire who is obsessed with Daisy Buchman. Fitzgerald, in the novel, tends to portray the 1920s as a period of decayed moral and social values. This is evidenced in the novel’s overarching greed, cynicism and empty pursuit of love and pleasure. The Great Gatsby tends to be a greatly symbolic meditation on the United States as a whole. Specifically, it is a symbol of disintegration of the American dream during the 1920s in an era of material excess and unprecedented prosperity. Consequently, the use of symbolism is inherent in the story as shown by the way in which it helps the author in capturing the reality in the contemporary society.

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There are numerous instances that Fitzgerald uses the green color as symbolism. Firstly, the green light that is shown at the end of Daisy’s dock is used to symbolize Gatsby’s dreams and hopes. It tends to represent everything that beckons and haunts Gatsby. This includes the emotional and physical distance between Daisy and him, the gap between the present and the past, his promises about the future and everything green in which he craves for in his life such as money. The author says “Involuntarily, I glanced seaward- and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” (Fitzgerald, 20). Also, the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is symbolic of ways through which the Americans gave America in general meaning through their different dreams in their own lives. In the novel, Gatsby tends to instill Daisy with a sort of idealized perfection that she does not possess or deserve. However, Gatsby’s dream at the end is ruined by what is seen as unworthiness of the object. This is similar to what happens to the American dream of 1920s which was destroyed by pleasure and money. Generally, in the 1920s Americans were seen to fruitlessly seek a bygone era that seemed to have held value on their dreams. Therefore, in the novel, Gatsby longs to reconstruct a vanished past. Therefore, when is dreams crumble is to die.

Gatsby mansion tends to symbolize two main themes in the novel. Firstly, the house is the physical love that Gatsby has for Daisy. Gatsby is seen using his new money by creating a place that he believed rivaled the houses built by old money that he thought had initially taken her away. “I wouldn’t ask too much of her”, I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past”. Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!” He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand” (Fitzgerald, 110). Secondly, Gatsby mansion represents the emptiness and grandness that existed in the 1920s. Fitzgerald is seen positioning the characters in the novel as emblems of various social trends. Gatsby and Nick who fought in the World War I tend to exhibit the newly attained cynicism and cosmopolitanism that had resulted from the war. Gatsby justifies living his mansion all alone by filling it up with celebrated individuals on a weekly basis. The different ambitious speculators and social climbers who attended Gatsby parties shows the greedy as they scramble for wealth. There is a clash between new money and old money. West Egg represented the self-made rich individuals while East Egg represented the established aristocracy.

The valley of ashes is used symbolically by the author to represent the dismal ruin of individuals caught in between the those that got rich as a result of the American dream and those that were already rich before the economic boom of the 1920s. The valley of the ashes is an area found between West Egg and New York City. It is an industrial wasteland that is covered by soot and ash “This is a Valley of Ashes- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke, and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling though powdery air” (Fitzgerald, 23). The West Egg tends to represent individuals who got rich as a result of the roaring economy in the 1920s, while New York city represents the beauty and mystery of the world. Therefore, the Valley of Ashes is the individuals caught in between.

East and West are used as sources of symbolism. Nick, Gatsby, Jordan, Daisy and Tom are known to hail from other places rather than the East. In the 1920s, most of the Americans had the romanticized idea of heading to the West with the aim of seeking and making a fortune as a result of the stock boom. He states, “That’s my Middle West… I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all-Tom…were all westerners and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life” (Fitzgerald, 176). Those individuals seeking fortunes eventually returned to the East to cash in their money. Gatsby says that although there was some kind of honor in working hard to build a name and make a fortune for oneself on the frontier, the East had a hollow quest for finances. The huge split between the western and eastern regions of America is mirrored in the novel by the great divide between the West Egg and the East Egg. The West is seen as the frontier of the individuals making money, but they are also described as corrupt and hollow just as is the case with the Easterners.

Also, Doctor T. Eckleburg’s eyes on the billboard are also used symbolically. They are seen overlooking at the Valley of Ashes which seems to represent numerous things about the haunting waste and pollution of the past, which tends to linger on although it already irretrievably vanished. Additionally, these eyes can be linked to those of Gatsby who tends to stare out in the vicinity in a blank manner.

In conclusion, it is evident that the author that the author depicted the 1920S as an era that had relaxed social values that corrupted the American dream. This is reflected in the plot line when Gatsby’s dream of falling in love with Daisy is ruined by differences in social standing. The author uses different forms of symbolism to explain about life of Americans in the 1920s.


Work Cited

Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. (2004). Scribner Edition