Color Imagery in The Great Gatsby

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Is color as big of a deal as people make it out to be? The color shows meaning in a certain way that nothing else can. So, would you feel the same way about a sunset or an array of blooming flowers in a field if you could not see color? Of course not, so that is why F. Scott Fitzgerald utilizes this immense power of color in his novel, The Great Gatsby. An abundance of colors flow through this novel and gives the reader a deeper understanding of the characters and the plot that Fitzgerald presents. He uses color to display certain interactions and scenes to help emphasize certain emotions. Colors such as white, green, and gray are frequently mentioned. Their purpose is to help the reader have a deeper comprehension of the connection between specific characters such as Daisey Buchanan and Jay Gatsby.

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In fact, the color white was one of the most used colors in The Great Gatsby. It was mainly used when describing Daisy Buchanan. In the novel, Fitzgerald wrote,” His heart beat faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own.” (110). This was the scene where Gatsby is trying to restore the long last love between him and Daisy. Fitzgerald describes Daisy as pure, innocent, and almost childlike, not only in this quote but throughout the book. All about how Gatsby sees her as this little angel when in reality she is a money-hungry monster who gets with anyone with enough glam and zeros in their bank account because all she ever cares about is cold hard cash. Which then leads to how white also represents the higher class or the more rich. Such as when the Buchanan household is described as “a white palace” or when people are dressed in white and wear white roadsters in the wealthier households or settings. Old money and privilege are also frequently portrayed, for instance, Daisy’s old home or when Tom talks about the book, The Rise of The Colored Empires. Which is about how the dominant, white race, should rise and beat the negroes.

Another very prominent color is green. Previously white was stated to be prominent for Daisy and the same goes with Gatsby for green. The first time Fitzgerald uses green is by describing the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, which later represents Gatsby’s hope for his love with Daisy to be restored. Then is mentioned again in the last paragraph in the novel Fitzgerald wrote, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.” (180). Is referring to Gatsby’s will to redo the past and try to relive it when he needed to move on and live for the future. Then green symbolizes the generic and the most obvious thing which is money. The idea of wealth surrounded Gatsby ever since he was a child and got worse once he met Daisy. He felt he needed money for her to love him and to just win at life. In the whole novel money runs the city whether it was good or bad money. Green is incorporated into Gatsby’s life with his green lawn and ivy going up against his house, and inside his car, his interior was “in a sort of green leather conservatory.” Finally, envy is a great word to summarize how Fitzgerald used this bright forest color. Gatsby is envious of the love shared between Tom and Daisy and it consumes him till his entire being is filled with jealousy. This is showed well when Gatsby loses his temper at the Plaza Hotel and Tom accuses him of being a bootlegger in front of Daisy or when she confesses that she loved Tom at one time and not only Gatsby.

This color specifically did not occur often throughout the novel except when describing one place which is the valley of ashes. It’s the depressing industrial area between West Egg and New York. At the beginning of chapter two, Fitzgerald wrote,” Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls among an invisible track... immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades... above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drifted endlessly over it.” (23). This area was a decaying part of the city. One of the reasons that gray fits the environment so well is because later Myrtle Wilson is hit by Daisy and killed immediately, one of the most tragic deaths in the novel. This is even more ironic because gray symbolizes death and Myrtle’s husband, George Wilson, is a member of the poor class and was written to have “an ashen dust veiled suit and his pale hair...” So, Fitzgerald had a whole plot with gray, the setting, and death just with one color.

As shown in the previous paragraphs color has been used to the farthest extent in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald did a wonderful job manipulating the color to help show the audience what was supposed to be portrayed and interrupted in every scene from the green light to Myrtle's death. For example, how in the beginning the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock represents Gatsby's love and need to be with her but in the end, showing how he tried to relive the past and never got a chance to plan and live out his future. Nick Carraway’s last narration in the novel states, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (180). White was the representation of Daisy, green was Gatsby, and gray is death. The color was a huge part of the expression in this novel and would not be the same without it. So, in the chaotic story of growth from rags to riches, from old and new love, from death and rebirth, from new kindled and forever lasting friendships, and to killing betrayal was the epic story of The Great Gatsby. Now read the same story in black and white. Is it just as thrilling? 

Works cited

  1. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. (1925). The Great Gatsby. Scribner.
  2. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Infobase Publishing.
  3. Bruccoli, M. J. (Ed.). (1993). New essays on The Great Gatsby. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Gross, D. (2003). Color symbolism in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby".
  5. Lindberg, A. (2017). The Great Gatsby: The American Dream and the color symbolism of the 1920s. The University of Agder.

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