Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

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Symbolism in The Great Gatsby



   F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby tells of a man's attempt to regain his long lost love and the happiness he once had in life by way of wealth and material possessions.  Jay Gatsby is representative of the American man  because he believes that with great wealth comes great happiness.  This is evidenced throughout the novel by way of Gatsby himself, through the portrayal of the Buchanans, and through the use of the word green which symbolizes hope, renewal, and promise.


   The character Jay Gatsby is the most symbolic element of the story due to

Fitzgerald's details about Gatsby's entire life.  Gatsby who was the son of poor farmers was determined to better his life.  As Gatsby's father later showed Nick,  when Gatsby was a child he had laid out a detailed plan on how to run his life.  This plan he felt would make him more successful in life.  By the time Gatsby left to join Dan Cody, he had already set himself apart from his old way of life, hence his name change.  Gatsby leaving his old life to start a new and more successful one parallels almost identically to those of the early colonist who left their old cultures and traditions in search of a new and more prosperous life in America.


     During his army days, Gatsby falls in love with the well-to-do Daisy.  He falsely

allows her to believe he can support her but when she realizes he can not she marries Tom Buchanan, a man who is able to care for her financially.  Not until he loses her does Gatsby realize that the time with Daisy was the happiest of his life.  Realizing that only with money can he regain Daisy's affection, for years he runs dishonorable businesses to become rich in hope that one day  his wealth will bring her back.  This hope of happiness through money is believed in by countless Americans today, no matter what the problem, people believe that wealth and material possessions can make things right.


     Along with Gatsby's life being a symbol on its own, his discovery that once he had

Daisy in his arms the enchantment that surrounded her disappeared parallels the belief that Americans have, that wealth brings happiness.

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  In a way, Gatsby found the hunt to reunite with Daisy to be exciting; and when he finally had her that hunt was over.  Similarly people with millions of dollars gain many material possessions but unless they find someone they truly care about to share it with their possessions are meaningless.  The idea of being surrounded by people you care about not the ones who only care about your money is also shown at Gatsby's funeral.  Hundreds of people have associated with him or have gone to his parties including his lover Daisy but only Gatsby's true friends, like his father and Nick were there with him when he died.


     A second way that symbolism is displayed in the book is by the portrayal of Tom

and Daisy Buchanan.  They come from the most sophisticated, respected, and wealthy backgrounds and live off their families money while traveling around the world.  The wealthy, like Daisy and Tom, aimlessly go about recklessly doing whatever they want letting others clean up after them.  They set themselves apart as being better than the new type of millionaires like Gatsby who created their fortunes rather than inherited them.  While the description of their life may appear bleak, it's a form of symbolism.  They live in the present with no worry in the world, a trait Gatsby probably admires.  His wealth, he feels, can give him that trait.


     The third use of symbolism in the novel is shown by the use of the word green.

The word green is used twice in the novel, once as the color of the light bulb on Daisy's dock and a second time in the sentence "a fresh, green breast of the new world". In both examples green represents hope, promise, and renewal.  The hopeful renewal of a long departed relationship with Daisy is seen by the green bulb at the end of Daisy's dock which is similar to the hope and promise that the early explorers felt when feasting their eyes on the country and its many resources.


     The Great Gatsby is symbolic of a variety of things on a variety of levels.  The

three symbols that support the idea that wealth can bring happiness is illustrated by

Gatsby's desire to become rich in order to win back his love, second,  the escriptions about Tom and Daisy Buchanan, finally by the mention of green, which is symbolic on its own for hope and promise.  Just like many Americans searching for happiness in the world by way of accumulating wealth, Gatsby found out that after his quest to reunite with Daisy was through he discovered that she was just another materialistic possession hollow, uncaring, and meaningless. 


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