Symbols and Symbolism - Houses and Cars in The Great Gatsby

Symbols and Symbolism - Houses and Cars in The Great Gatsby

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Symbolism of Houses and Cars in The Great Gatsby

     Francis Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, is full of symbolism, which is portrayed by the houses and cars in an array of ways. One of the more important qualities of symbolism within The Great Gatsby is the way in which it is so completely incorporated into the plot and structure. Symbols, such as Gatsby's house and car, symbolize material wealth.


Gatsby's house "[is] a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy" which contains "a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy" is a symbol of Gatsby's large illegal income (Fitzgerald 9)(9). Gatsby's large income isn't enough to keep him happy. He needs "The house he feels he needs in order to win happiness" and it is also the perfect symbol of carelessness with money which is a major part of his personality (Bewley 24). Gatsby's house like his car symbolizes his vulgar and excessive trait of getting attention. Gatz's house is a mixture of different styles and periods which symbolizes an owner who does not know their true identity. The Buchanan's house is symbolic of their ideals.


East Egg is home to the more prominent established wealth families. Tom's and Daisy's home is on the East Egg. Their house, a "red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay" with its "wine-colored rug[s]" is just as impressive as Gatsby's house but much more low-key (Fitzgerald 11)(13). East egg and Tom's home represents the established wealth and traditions. Their stable wealth, although lacking the vulgarity of new wealth, is symbolic of their empty future and now purposelessness lives together. The House also has a cold sense to it according to Nick. This sense symbolizes Tom's brutality, and as Perkins's says in his manuscript to Fitzgerald "I would know...Buchanan if I met him and would avoid him," because Tom is so cold and brute (Perkins 199).


Nick lives in West Egg in a rented house that "[is] a small eye-sore" and "had been overlooked"(Fitzgerald 10). Nick lives in a new-rich West Egg because he is not wealthy enough to afford a house in the more prominent East Egg. His house symbolizes himself shy and overlooked. Nick is the Narrator and also the "trust worthy reporter and, ...judge" that has ties to both the East and West Egg crowd(Bruccoli xii).

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Nick comes from a "prominent, well-to-do [family]" acts like the established rich down-played, but he is trying to make it on his own and his house located in West Egg symbolizes this(Fitzgerald 7). Another person who lives on the nouveau-rich West Egg is Gatsby.


Wilson "a blonde, spiritless man" lives in his "unprosperous and bare" garage(Fitzgerald 29)(29). His home symbolizes what he is, a mechanic, and is located in the valley of ashes overlooked by the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg. The eyes of Dr. Eckleburg "brood on over the solemn dumping ground" of Wilson's house (28). The valley of ashes in which Wilson's house is located in symbolizes the moral decay that hides behind the facade of wealth and happiness. The valley is home of Tom's mistress, "Myrtle Wilson, the wife of the owner of a garage in the ash heaps that lie along the road about halfway between West Egg and Manhattan," and is incidentally fitting(Bruccoli 10). The eyes that look over Wilson's home also have a symbolic meaning. They symbolically sit in judgment on all the sleaze displayed by the inhabitants of East and West egg who pass through the valley of ashes.


The car plays a major role that makes a regular appearance in the story. In the American Society the car is always seen as a symbol of status. Gatsby's car is an embodiment of his wealth. His car is symbolic of many things, among them the "disillusioned, reckless, frenetic spirit of [the youthful]" owner(Rudin 160). His car symbolizes his vulgar materialism and conveys his newborn affluence. Gatsby's car is "a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns" obviously shows his materialism(Fitzgerald 68). Another interesting detail is Gatsby's car is yellow instead of the standardized black of the era stresses the thought that he is engrossed with the obsession of displaying his material wealth to get the love of Daisy. The Death car is yellow, and in the novel yellow symbolizes money and corruption in the novel. The creamy color of Gatsby's car also symbolizes decay of corruption; therefore Gatsby's car is like a bulging piece of fruit that is overripe and has started to rot. Gatsby's "meticulous attention to detail ... [compliments] the personage" of himself and the things he possess that symbolize him (Lehan 59). Tom Buchanan's car is also not like all the standardized black cars because he drives "a blue car, a coupe" which is a lot less showy than Gatsby's Rolls Royce(Fitzgerald 148). Tom is so desperately an empty man that he believes he can define himself with exterior belongings. He is trying to find his identity by looking for happiness in nice cars. Tom's blue coupe symbolizes Tom and his emptiness because his car is a cheap car that is like everyone else's car at that time period but it has a blue paint job setting it apart from the others and appearing to be better than all the other cars in that era. While the cars in The Great Gatsby symbolize what the person is like the houses symbolize who the person is.


Fitzgerald truly uses symbolism to convey his themes in The Great Gatsby. The symbolism of houses show the corruptive effect money can have on everyone. The symbolism of the car and house is stressed all throughout the novel and is used to confirm that a dream rooted in materialism alone will in the end always be disparaging.


Works Cited

Bewley, Marious. "Scott Fitzgerald Criticism of America." F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Arthur Mizener. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Preface. The Great Gatsby. By F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. vii-xvi.

Bruccoli, Matthew. "The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Series Of Francis Scott Fitzgerald." Dictionary of Literary Biography. 1981 ed.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Lehan, Richard. The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder. Boston: Twayne" Publishers, 1990.

Perkins. Afterword. The Great Gatsby. By Francis Fitzgerald. 1925. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Rudin, Seymour. "Fitzgerald, Francis Scott Key." New Age Encyclopedia. 1978 ed.

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