GREAT GATSBY: SYMBOLISM (Original Essay)
The Great Gatsby is a classic American novel, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1927 about corruption, murder and life in the 1920’s. The true purpose for a writer to compose any piece of literature is to entertain the reader, and this writer does this to the best of his ability. In this well-crafted tale, Fitzgerald presents a fast moving, exciting story, and to any typical reader it can be enjoyed; however, if the reader takes the time to analyze his words and truly understand his symbolism used, it can transform this account into a completely different entity. In The Great Gatsby, it is apparent that Fitzgerald uses these symbols to provide representations of what life was like during that time, and to help advance the thematic interests in his novel. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, symbolism is defined as “The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships,” and the author uses all varieties of symbol’s in the text to coax the reader into the true lives and personalities of the characters. Symbolism often allows the reader to better understand the theme and mood that the author is trying to portray. Fitzgerald uses this to show details that cannot be revealed by words alone. Through symbolism, he allows the reader to refer to other, more tangible aspects of life. Throughout this novel, the types of symbolism vary from object to object, but some of the most notable examples of symbolism include the color green, the overall setting, and the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. The use of symbolism throughout this novel not only helps to give the reader insight into the true identities of the characters, but also further accentuates the themes portrayed throughout the novel.
One of the more obvious examples of symbolism in this novel is the color green. This is evident from the beginning of the novel, when there is a small, flickering green light across the Manhasset Bay, separating the Manhasset Neck, also known as the East Egg, from the Great Neck, also known as the West Egg. One assumption can be made that the green hue of the light represents the envy that Gatsby has of Tom for being married to Daisy. Gatsby wishes that he was still with Daisy, and this light represents his hopes for a “bright” future, which he hopes to share with Daisy. Another symbolization of the color green 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.””(p. 117). Green is also the color of money, and the color of the interior of Gatsby’s superfluous car. Gatsby drives a cream colored Rolls-Royce sedan, with green interior. The car in itself is just a way to show everyone that catches a glance of Gatsby to see just how wealthy he is, and a way to attract attention to himself, especially the attention of Daisy. The color green can be viewed with many perspectives, but Fitzgerald uses it to represent a plethora of concepts.
The setting is another aspects that Fitzgerald utilizes as a symbol to further enhance the important themes presented in The Great Gatsby. The Valley of Ashes represents the poverty in America in the 1920’s and how filthy and corrupted some people’s lives were. All of the characters in the book go to the Valley of Ashes to commit sin or illegal acts. The East Egg (home of the Buchanans) represents old-wealth’ as opposed to new-wealth.’ Most of the East Egg residents have inherited their money from their ancestors or an old friend, as in the case of Gatsby, who inherited his money from Dan Cody, a man whom he met while working as a fisherman on Lake Superior. Gatsby tries to impress everyone in the community by having small, elegant parties, which are actually very large, and most of the time the guests are uninvited. Nick emphasizes this point when he states “I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited – they went there” (p. 41). These people are considered to be sophisticated and “rich in the blood.” The old-wealth dominated the social ladder during the 1920’s. These people were often “stuck-up” and immoralistic. They did not know what it was like to be in poverty and they were very, very selfish. The West Egg, on the other hand, represents, new-wealth. The West Egg residents were people with newly acquired wealth, of the sort of self-made millionaires. These people were often thought to be foolish in their spending and were viewed very suspiciously. Several people that lived in the West Egg did not really have an opinion about society. The people in the West Egg were far more moralistic than the residents of the East Egg because they had lived less affluent lives during their childhood and early adulthood. Also, since they have not been thrown money since the day they were born, they cherish what they do have, and work to make their lives easier, and work to let their children live more prosperous lives than they were able to live. From the symbolism in the settings, Fitzgerald helps to give a clearer understanding of the themes of poverty, old-wealth and new-wealth involved in the novel.
Another outstanding instance of symbolism in this novel are the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. Overlooking the Valley of Ashes is an old, eroding billboard, featuring the aforementioned doctor. They eyes used to be distinct, and well detailed, but as time has passed, the billboard itself, as well as the portrait, have faded and deteriorated, just as they seem to peer down on the faded ideals of America. The eyes are simply an unsettling, unexplained image, as they stare down on the Valley of Ashes, until George Wilson explains that
“God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me but you can’t fool God!”” Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night. “God sees everything,” repeated Wilson. (p.167).
After this statement, the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg work to emphasize the lack of a fixed relation between symbols and the things they symbolize; they could mean anything to any observer, but they tend to make observers feel as though they are the ones being scrutinized. They seem to stare down at the world without the need for meaning that drives the human characters of the novel. Through Fitzgerald’s wording in describing the image of Eckleburg’s eyes the reader develops a mental image of an almighty being who is constantly watching over the land. The reader discerns that the eyes not only see everything but that they eyes are morbidly unhappy. As seen in previous examples of American literature, the Christ figure is depicted through one of the characters, but in this case, God is presented into a story lacking true morals through the eyes of a billboard doctor. The eyes not only symbolize a god-like being but also Fitzgerald himself and his negative views of 1920’s society. The eyes look down on the Valley of Ashes in disgust, just as the author believes God is looking down at society negatively, and it seems that whenever someone goes to the Valley of Ashes to commit a sin, the eyes are watching over them, in an attempt to cause them to feel uncomfortable. Through the mind of any other author, an old, withered billboard would just be another piece of scenery, but for F. Scott Fitzgerald; this billboard holds a true meaning, which plays a great role into the further perceptiveness of the character of George Wilson.
F. Scott Fitzgerald uses symbolism to perfection in developing the themes presented in the American classic novel, The Great Gatsby. By using specific examples of symbolism, he is enabled to give insight into the characters involved in the events which take place in the story, as well as the events that were taking place during that time period. Fitzgerald made references in this novel that will cause people in years to come to remember the 1920’s for what they truly were, and regardless of if this was his purpose in writing the tale, he will be remembered for this. The novel is awash with symbolism which enhance the themes portrayed in the novel, but a few specific symbols are the color green, the entire setting of the story, and the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. All of these symbols help the reader to draw conclusions about the time period, as well as further understand the personalities and attitudes of the characters. By causing the characters to have multi-faceted characteristics and dispositions, Fitzgerald causes the reader to feel like they are involved in the book, which leads the reader to become involved in the novel and actually feel like he is one of the characters. Symbolism enhances any piece of literature, but this piece in particular utilized symbolism to flawlessness.