Symbols and Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

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Symbols in The Great Gatsby


      The Great Gatsby is based on a man named Jay Gatsby and his

idealistic infatuation to a girl named Daisy that he met while he was young.

 Gatsby was not of a wealthy family and therefore Daisy would not marry him.

Gatsby devoted his life to getting what he needed to win Daisy.  After the

war Gatsby became a bootlegger to attain what he needed to win Daisy.  In

the Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses various colors, objects, and

gestures as symbols to portray the lack of moral and spiritual values of

people and the different aspects of society in the 1920's.  The colors

which are spread throughout the novel are green, white, gold, and others.

F. Scott Fitzgerald provides a social commentary on the 1920's in this

novel.  The Great Gatsby is an important American novel and not just a mere

historical document depicting life in the 1920's.  Like other writers of

the 20's  Fitzgerald was fascinated by the spectacle of what had become of

the American Dream and how it had become corrupted by greed

andmaterialistic possessions.


        At the end of Chapter One, Nick catches Gatsby stretching his arms

out towards a green light. At the time it is not revealed to us that this

is the light at the end of Daisy's dock.


he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far

as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling.  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



        Throughout the novel Fitzgerald emphasizes the color green as a

promise of hope.  Through Gatsby this promise is corrupted by the means

that he tries to attain it.  By attaining material wealth to win Daisy,

Gatsby also shows the corruption of the American Dream.

      In the beginning of Chapter Two, Fitzgerald describes the huge

billboard that watches over the Valley of Ashes.


        The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic---their

retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a

pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Symbols and Symbolism in The Great Gatsby." 27 Mar 2017

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(Fitzgerald 27)


        The gold or yellow rimmed glasses represent the materialistic

desire for money, and superficial wealth.  The empty face represents the

hollowness of people and their materialistic values.


      The billboard of Eckleburg also represents another symbol in the

novel.  It stands for a empty and dead god.


        In Fitzgerald's book, there is a new, but false god, who, the

people (in the person of Wilson) believe, "sees everything."  In America in

the 1920s the new god was commercialism or materialism. (Audhuy 109)


        The billboard represents the ignored conscience of the idealistic

people.  Although it is there and "sees everything" the characters don't

pay attention to it.


      At the beginning of the novel and through the beginning chapters

Gatsby is staging parties at his house during the summer nights.  Gatsby

stages these parties in hopes that Daisy will show up at one.


        The novel is concerned with Gatsby's reasons for appearing out of

the blue and becoming host to half the rich "moths" of New York.  He is, it

turns out, in love with Daisy.  The whole elaborate decor has been

constructed for the sole purpose of staging a dramatic reunion with her.  A

reunion which will impress her with Gatsby's "greatness" and eradicate the

five years of married life which she has drifted through since seeing him

last. (Dyson 1401)


        Through these acts Gatsby shows us how devoted he is to winning

Daisy.  He has been working and planing his whole life for a chance capture

Daisy's heart and live his pre-planned fairy tale with her.


      Owl Eyes shows us the lack of responsibility in The Great Gatsby .

The character of Owl Eyes shows that there has been a "vale over the eyes"

of the people of the time.  Although he is the only one that discovers that

Gatsby's books are real he is morally blind.


        Owl-Eyes, a man "with enormous owl-eyed spectacles" is "blind," but

materialistically perceptive.  Need we point out that the owl is the bird

of wisdom, etc.  When he appears, the emphasis is put on seeing, through

distortion and confusion, and on his "unusual quality of wonder." (Audhuy



        In an incident in Chapter Three the character Owl Eyes shows the

reader the lack of responsibility and understanding of the people of the

time.  Owl Eyes is in his car and his driver severs the wheel from the car

by driving the car into a ditch.  Owl Eyes and the driver not understanding

how this happened.  He stares up into the sky as if the wheel fell from it.



and one guest manages to wreck his car in a ditch.  The main point of the

accident is the sheer carelessness and bizarre lack of understanding shown

by the driver and the other guests, symbolic of their profound moral

carelessness and opacity.  "Owl Eyes" and his advisers cannot understand

that the wheel is broken off from the car and therefore it cannot be driven,

in the same way that they have no real understanding that acts have

consequences for which one has to be morally responsible. (Northman 24)



        This accident also has another meaning.  It foreshadows Myrtles and

Gatsby's death.  The automobile, a symbol of wealth, serves as an

instrument of death and destruction. This minor accident is also of special

importance because it is related to the argument about "carelessness"

between Nick and Jordan later in the chapter and because it foreshadows the

accident that kills Myrtle.  It is fitting that the automobile, the symbol

of material wealth in America, should be the instrument that ultimately

leads to Gatsby's death. (Northman 24)


      The moral values of the time, as Fitzgerald shows us, is greatly

declined in the novel.  Gatsby, although he treats Nick as a good friend,

is only concerned with one thing.  He wants something from Nick.


        And what does Gatsby want of Carraway? "He wants to know,"

continued Jordan, "if you'll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and

then let him come over."  He wants Carraway, to put this bluntly, to help

him capture a friend's wife- (Dyson 1401)


        The story of Jay Gatsby is deep with meaning and with many

different interpretations.   In The Great Gatsby  F. Scott Fitzgerald shows

us how society acted during the  roaring 20's.  He provides us with views

into worlds of love, money, power, and the moral blindness of the time by

using symbols with everyday objects and occurrences.


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