“Gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession” was how the New York Times described America during the roaring ‘20’s. During this decade of economic prosperity, America went through a dramatic social and political change. This was the setting in which one of the greatest classics in literature, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was written in. The Great Gatsby takes place in two fictional towns, West Egg and East Egg, in New York in the summer of 1922. The story is told by the narrator, Nick Carraway, who moves to West Egg from the midwest in hopes of seeking a fortune in the bond business. Nick lives in a modest home next to an enormous mansion owned by a man named Jay Gatsby, who Nick befriends and helps with getting back with a long-time lover, Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald is famous for his use of colors as symbolism in the novel. Color runs throughout the novel, and it represents a much deeper meaning than most people see. The use of color symbolism is one of the most important aspect that defines this book, as the hues itself often reveal a character’s intentions, exposes traits unique to a character, and expresses the inner thoughts of characters without explicitly stating so.
In the Great Gatsby, the color green runs throughout the novel and symbolizes Jay Gatsby’s intentions and goals. From the beginning of the novel, Gatsby’s sole pursuit is to get back in love with his previous lover, Daisy. In fact, the first time the color green is mentioned in the novel is at the very end of chapter one. When Nick is on his way back from dinner, he sees Gatsby on his own lawn peering across the bay that separates East and West Egg. Nick glances across the bay to see what Gatsby was looking at, but Nick saw “nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” (21). As a matter of fact, the dock actually belongs to Daisy, with whom Gatsby is infatuated with, and the “single green light” symbolizes the hopes and dreams that Gatsby has envisioned for himself and Daisy. It can also be predicted, and later revealed, that his hopes and dreams were unattainable, or as Nick describes it, ‘minute and far away’. Although this quote is short, the symbolism gives it a much deeper meaning, as Gatsby’s main goals and intentions are revealed. Not only does color help reveal Gatsby’s intentions, it also reveals how Gatsby attempts to fulfill those intentions. The color yellow symbolizes money and wealth, which Gatsby epitomizes. For example: his yellow car, yellow tie, and yellow toilet set. Knowing that Daisy enjoys herself in a luxurious lifestyle, Gatsby uses his immense wealth to impress Daisy. While Gatsby was conversing with Nick, he even says, “[Daisy’s] voice is full of money” (120), and Nick agrees, describing Daisy as a “golden girl” (120). Gatsby knows that the only thing Daisy loves is money, and he goes to extreme ends to build up his wealth. For example, Jordan Baker, a friend of Nick’s, explains that “Gatsby bought [the] house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (78). Gatsby clearly attempts to appeal to Daisy through the means of wealth, buying a mansion right across the bay from Daisy’s house. Gatsby’s impulsiveness emphasizes his love for Daisy, and this clearly shows his ambitions. Furthermore, it reveals why Gatsby involves himself in bootlegging and what his intentions are with the money he earns. In short, the colors green and yellow runs throughout the novel and complements each other. They both symbolize the intentions of a character and how they plan to achieve those intentions. In this particular case, green symbolizes Gatsby’s unachievable dreams, and yellow symbolizes Gatsby’s fruitless attempts at chasing said dreams.
Another reason why color symbolism is so crucial to this novel is that it reveals many unique character traits. For example, the color blue symbolizes Gatsby’s loneliness and isolation. The color blue shows up a few times throughout the book, but one of the more meaningful times is during the last few paragraphs of the novel. As the narrator, Nick is wrapping up the novel, and is giving a brief conclusion, in which he states that Gatsby “[has] come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dreams must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (180). The color ‘blue’, in this case, symbolizes the depression and isolation that Gatsby endures through his journey. In other words, blue symbolizes Gatsby’s expansive loneliness and his sorrowfulness, much like his expansive blue lawn. For instance, although Gatsby throws countless numbers of lavish parties, he never participates in them and isolates himself from partiers as he waits for Daisy to show up to them. He tries so hard to win back Daisy, however in the end, he “fails to grasp” his dreams as he dies from a gunshot, in which Fitzgerald instills a ‘blue mood at the scene of Gatsby’s death. This illustrates that Gatsby is willing to put himself through loneliness and depression, seeing that Daisy will be there at the end for him. However, Daisy has other plans, as her own character traits prevent her from being with Gatsby. Another considerable color that appears throughout the novel is the color white. The color white, which symbolizes innocence and class, reveals dominant character traits of Daisy. When Nick is hanging out at the Buchanan’s house with Gatsby and Jordan in chapter seven, he experiences an epiphany of who Daisy really is. He states that Daisy is, “high in a white palace the king’s daughter… “ (120). This quote sheds a bright light on who Daisy really is. Daisy’s position in a high castle is a metaphor, comparing her to someone who is high out of reach, or unattainable. This can also infer that Daisy thinks of herself ‘high’ up in terms of social class. She looks down at everyone else who is not at her height or class. Furthermore, the ‘white palace’ that Nick describes is symbolic of Daisy’s lifestyle, where she lives in grand mansion, oblivious and careless of people outside of her own world. She is secure in her own safety of wealth, and is protected from the harshness of the reality outside of hers. Therefore, in this case, the color white represents innocence, perfectness, and purity, which clearly highlights and symbolizes Daisy’s dominating character traits. The colors blue and white symbolizes the character traits Gatsby and Daisy respectfully. Blue represents the melancholy of Gatsby’s life, and white represents the innocence of Daisy. The actions taken by Gatsby and Daisy are dependent on their character traits, which is crucial to drive the plot of any novel.
Last but not least, color symbolism is used throughout the novel to establish the setting. The most prominent color that creates the setting in The Great Gatsby is the color gray. Gray first appears in the beginning of chapter two, as Nick and Tom Buchanan is travelling through the ‘valley of ashes’. Nick describes the place as “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into the ridges and hills and grotesque gardens… [a] gray land [with] spasms of bleak dust [drifting] endlessly over it” (23), and sees “a line of gray cars [crawling] along an invisible track” (23). The color gray is repeatedly being used to describe the valley of ashes. Gray symbolizes lifelessness and bleakness, as the valley shows. The valley of ashes is a metaphorical wasteland, and the use of the color gray to describe the place helps the reader to imagine the setting more vividly. Gray helps to paint the setting as dreary, colorless, and depressing. Another color that Fitzgerald uses to paint the setting is the color gold. Fitzgerald repeatedly uses the color gold to describe Gatsby’s mansion. For example, when Nick attends one of Gatsby’s many parties, he sees buffet tables and states that they were “garnished with glistening hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (40). Nick learns that Gatsby’s extravagant parties have a bountiful amount of food, and the food that is being catered are high end. The ‘pastry pigs’ and turkeys are ‘bewitched to a dark gold’, meaning that the pigs and turkeys are cooked to a golden perfection. In this case, gold symbolizes extreme wealth and elegance, just as Gatsby intends his parties to be. Fitzgerald’s use of the color ‘gold’ creates a sensory description of decadence, and creates a setting that is luxurious and lush. Overall, it can be said that color symbolism may not only reveal a character’s traits and intentions, but it may also help to provide the setting, which is essential to the basis of any plot. The color gray symbolizes lifelessness and gives the setting a sense of bleakness, and the color gold symbolizes wealth and gives the setting a sense of extravagance.
In The Great Gatsby, color symbolism makes up the foundation of the plot of the novel and gives the novel a unique richness because the hidden meanings allows the reader to understand a character’s traits, reveals the intentions of characters without explicitly stating so, and helps to forge the setting of the plot. For instance, the color green represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams, and the color yellow represents how he intends achieve those dreams. The color blue represents Gatsby’s loneliness throughout the novel, and the color white represents Daisy’s innocence. The color gray represents the impoverished and lifelessness, and the color gold represents wealth and extravagance. All of these colors work closely together to construct a unique plot and keeps the readers involved with the narrative. Color symbolism is not subjective to stories only. Many people use colors to define themselves everyday, and the colors may reflect on what their personality might be. Possessing the right traits will prevent one from suffering the same fate as Jay Gatsby.
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