Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Role of Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Role of Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

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The Crucial Role of Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

 

 

 

The critic Harold Bloom once wrote, "Never has symbolism played such a crucial part in the very foundation of a novel as it does in Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby." The dictionary defines the word symbolism as, "The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships." The novel takes place during the summer of 1922, in Long Island and New York City. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful female golfer who cheats at the game; Nick and she begin a relationship. Not long after they meet, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. Gatsby asks to speak to Jordan alone, and, through Jordan, Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbor. Gatsby's extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy. After an awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy restore their connection. Tom soon grows suspicious of his wife's relationship with Gatsby. Daisy realizes that her marriage is to Tom, and Tom sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him. When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes, however, they discover that Gatsby's car has hit and killed Myrtle, Tom's lover. They rush back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but that Gatsby intends to take the blame. The next day, Tom tells Myrtle's husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George then goes to find Gatsby; he finds him at his mansion and shoots him.

 

An excellent example of symbolism in The Great Gatsby can be found in many places including, the ash heap, Gatsby's silk shirts, the green light, The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, and Gatsby's library. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are a pair of fading, "bespectacled" eyes painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes, "But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment the eyes of Doctor T.

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J. Eckleburg. 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." They may represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland, though the novel never makes this point plainly. Instead, throughout the novel, Fitzgerald suggests that symbols only have meaning because characters fill them with meaning. The connection between the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg and God exists only in George Wilson's grief-stricken mind; Wilson later points to this saying, 'God sees everything' before going on his murderous rampage. The lack of solid meaning contributes to the disturbing nature of the image. And so, the eyes also come to represent the meaninglessness of the world and the uncertainty of people.

 

Another great example of symbolism in The Great Gatsby is the ash heap. The valley of ashes between West Egg and New York City consists of a long stretch of barren land created by the dumping of industrial ashes, "[There was] a valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens." (page 23) It represents the moral and social decay that is the result of the natural pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with consideration for nothing but their own pleasure. The valley of ashes also symbolizes the troubles of the poor, like George Wilson, who live among the dirty ashes and lose their liveliness as a result.

 

 
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