Color Symbols and Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Color Symbols and Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

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Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby


Color symbolism is popular in novels written during the 1920’s. One such example is Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. There is much color symbolism in this novel, but there are two main colors that stand out more than the others. The colors green and white influence the story greatly. Green shows many thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and choices that Gatsby has throughout the story. White represents the stereotypical façade that every character is hiding behind.

The color green, as it is used in the novel, symbolizes different choices the character, Gatsby, can make during his life. The green element in this novel is taken from the green light at the end of the dock near Daisy’s house. The color itself represents serenity, as in everything is perfect. This warns Gatsby that he should not pursue his dream for getting Daisy back, because his chance has passed and everything is as it should be. This is shown with Nick’s insight, “…His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him…(Pg.189)”

Another symbolization of the color green, which contradicts the first, is the meaning “go.” As in a traffic light signal, most people associate green with the word and action “go.” This can be interpreted as meaning Gatsby should go for his dream without hesitation. It implies that Gatsby and Daisy are meant to be together and nothing should stop Gatsby from his destined happiness and love with Daisy. It inspires hope for Gatsby that he is on the right path, heading towards the best years of his life. He believes that things will soon be as they once were, only better. “I’m going to fix everything just the way they were before,” he said nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.(Pg. 117)”

The last symbolization the color green has in this novel is an urge to strive ahead in life, to do better in life and succeed. Gatsby changes his entire persona for a better, more sociable, image and status. He is constantly striving to be a more successful figure in society. Ever since he was a boy he put himself on a schedule with hopes for becoming a highly respected, well-known person. “He knew he had a big future in front of him.

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(Pg. 181),” his dad says about him. “Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this…(Pg.182)”


White is the other color symbolism interlaced into this novel. Where green only influenced one character, white has a wider range of influence on the characters. This color symbolizes one thing, a façade, but it appears in every character. For example, Daisy is always seen wearing white, which gives her and innocent naive appearance. It is as though she uses that as an excuse for when she does something ridiculous or childish, making it seem like she does not know any better. In reality, she knows exactly what she does but just doesn’t care. She uses this little princess image and her money to hide her biased, snobbish, and conceited view of herself and her lifestyle. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together…(Pg. 187-188)”

Another character that hides behind the white symbolic façade is Jordan Baker. She also wears white quite often. She acts as though she is superior to everyone around her. Her posture, her attitude, and even the things she says imply this arrogance. “She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me she me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it—indeed I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in. (Pg.13).” She portrays a bored and apathetic attitude about everything, which is part of her “I am too good for you” appearance. In reality, she just wants to be as respected and socially accepted as Gatsby. She is not willing to take responsibility for her actions and uses her image as a guard implying that she could not have possibly done anything immoral, much like Daisy. However, “She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage, and given this unwillingness I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep the cool insolent smile turned towards the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard jaunty body. (Pg. 63)”

Color symbolism is not very noticeable, yet it can tell a great deal about a story. In this case, the colors give the reader a look at the character’s choices and the paths he or she could have chosen compared to the ones the character chose, which adds dimension to the story. The green the different choices Gatsby can make, whether it serves as a warning, an inspiration, or an urge to get ahead. The white symbolizes a mask, or a façade. It allows the characters to portray themselves as a whole other person and hide who they really are. This puts a piece of reality into the story, as everyone wears a white mask of some kind to hide his or her true self from the world. It is the unsubtle clues given to the reader that are fascinating and allow a person to relate to the characters.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Carrol and Graf, 1993.

Mizener, Arthur, ed. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

Piper, Henry Dan. "Social Criticism in the American Novel in the 1920s." The American Novel and the Nineteen Twenties. Ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer. London: Edward Arnold, 1971. 59-83.
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