Symbols and Symbolism in The Great Gatsby
Length: 1149 words (3.3 double-spaced pages)
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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historical document depicting life in the 1920's. Like other writers of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
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.
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.