Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Characters as Symbols in The Great Gatsby

Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Characters as Symbols in The Great Gatsby

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Characters as Symbols in The Great Gatsby

    People hold different things to be symbolic. Dove and peace, a rose and love; they are simple things yet widely symbolic. Symbolism is commonly used in literature to change or deepen meanings or instill a different meaning to the mind of the readers. The reader is forced to think, make connections, and succeed in adding a new meaning to the novel. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses symbolism in the form of his characters and to develop the theme, the corruption of the American Dream.


All of the characters are symbolic of different classes in American society, from the richest to the poorest. Through the characters, Fitzgerald characterizes all the hopes and dreams of people living during the Jazz Age. As is typical of humans, none of the characters are satisfied with what they have. Each character wants more than what they are getting out of life. Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent "old money"; they seem to have it all: wealth, place in high society, a family, and all the advantages that come with being wealthy. On the surface they appear to be what the American Dream is all about; however, they are both dissatisfied with their lives, themselves, and each other. They are a classic example of the Dream's corruption because in spite of all they have, they are still seeking the true luxuries that each person wants from life: love, peace, and true happiness. Both Tom and Daisy are indifferent to the suffering hopes and dreams of all those around them. "They were careless people....they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money...and let other people clean up their mess" (Fitzgerald 188). A clear example of their careless...

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...ife were for all the wrong reasons. It is here that he really begins to appreciate Gatsby and the purity of his dream. In Nick's opinion, Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch put together" (Fitgerald 162). Nick offers insight into a world in which the true American Dream is all but extinct.


Fitzgerald successfully used his characters as symbols to develop the corruption of the American Dream. Individually, the characters are symbolic of the various classes in American society; collectively they represent the dissatisfaction of achieving the American Dream. Each class defines the Dream differently, but the material aspects are all the same. The American Dream is increasingly corrupt; and it is harder to find individuals who realize its true meaning.


Work Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Books, 1990.


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