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Summary: Symbolism in the Novel The Great Gatsby

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In the novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to perfectly represent the Roaring Twenties. He captures the excitement and adventure that is said to encase the very essence of the decade. Fitzgerald finds a way to perfectly showcase the fast-paced chaos of the wealthy back in the 1920’s. We see how easily they are able to transition between events; they are never still for very long. The wealthy characters are shown to care for very little outside of drinking, socialization, and dancing. However, Fitzgerald is also able to show us the purity of some who live in that world; the innocence of those who had no choice in their involvement with the higher class. Through the colors white and yellow, Fitzgerald is able to showcase the corruption of an innocent, like Daisy.

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The Great Gatsby starts out with its narrator, Nick Carraway, visiting his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom, for dinner in East Egg, Long Island. There the reader is introduced to three main characters: Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, and Jordan Baker. Throughout the evening, Nick learns that Tom is cheating on his wife with a woman in New York, that Jordan knows a Gatsby in West Egg, and that Jordan is a professional golfer with a scandal under her belt. Later, Nick meets the woman Tom is having an affair with, Myrtle, as well as Jay Gatsby, his neighbor. Gatsby asks Jordan to share his past love affair with Daisy to Nick in order to get his help in reuniting with Daisy. Nick agrees and invites Daisy over a few days later for their joyful reunion. Now together again, Daisy and Gatsby spend part of the summer meeting in secret from Tom in their very own love affair. Things come to a head one evening when all of the main characters are in town drinking on the hottest day of the year so far. Gatsby and Daisy’s affair is revealed during a heated discussion with Tom and Gatsby’s career as a criminal is revealed to Daisy. Once everyone has cooled down, Gatsby and Daisy drive home in Gatsby’s car and the other three leave soon after. However, on Tom, Jordan, and Nick’s way home it is discovered that Myrtle has been runover and killed by Daisy. In the end, Tom and Daisy stay together and move away from Long Island, Jordan and Nick break up, and Gatsby is killed by Myrtle’s husband, who believes Gatsby to be the culprit in his wife’s murder.

Fitzgerald uses the color white to symbolize innocence, a color mostly seen to surround Daisy at all times. Daisy normally seen with some form of white around her, especially before her second meeting with Gatsby. The very first time we meet her, she is “dressed in white” in a room with “curtains… like pale flags” and a “frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling…” . She is quite literally wearing a major symbol of innocence. She is even surrounded by white in the room where she is first met. The curtains are even seen as the most prominent item in the room until Tom walks in and wrecks the light-hearted atmosphere.

Daisy is seen again to be wearing white on the day of Myrtle’s death. Her and Jordan were described as “silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans”. She is constantly portrayed as innocent with the color white throughout the book. However, here it seems to like a more difficult stance to keep. Nick describes Daisy as “weighing down” her white dress, as if such childlike innocence no longer suits her. Rather than a weightless claim to her kind innocence, Daisy is being pulled down by her affair with Gatsby. It is as if she no longer has a right to such a title, but she is holding on to it with everything she has. She does not want to give up her affair with Gatsby, but she is desperate to remain on her righteous pedestal as the scorned wife on a man who cheats on her.

Another commonly used color for symbolism by Fitzgerald is yellow. Normally yellow symbolizes happiness and optimism. However, The Great Gatsby uses it as a way to show corruption. Fitzgerald makes a very peculiar choice when using yellow in this way over a darker color that is more commonly associated with the darkness within a character. With that said, the use of yellow for such a dark theme is very poetic in nature. It is very fitting when in comparison to Gatsby who has a supposedly pleasant lifestyle, but a very corrupt and lonely career as a criminal. Therefore, yellow is constantly seen around Jay Gatsby and his property. One of his most notable possessions is described as a “’big yellow car. New’” by a bystander to the accident . He and Daisy were driving his car around the day that Myrtle was killed. The color of the car represents the corruption of Daisy and Gatsby and their unrepentant murder of Myrtle Wilson. In the aftermath of Myrtle’s death, the garage her husband owns is in a somber chaos. Fitzgerald describes the garage as “lit only by a yellow light in a swinging wire basket overhead” . Even the grieving of Myrtle is corrupt because the man she was married to and the man she had an affair with were mourning her at the same time. Myrtle’s death is surrounded by corruption and crumbling marriages.

Daisy’s name also seems to be full of symbolism. Daisies are a type of wildflower common in the United States. They are white on the outside and yellow on the inside. This seems to be an accurate description for Fitzgerald’s character when discussing her personality. On the outside, she works to make sure people see her as innocent. She is constantly surrounded by white and commonly dresses in the color. When describing Daisy’s most notable features from their childhood, Jordan says, “’She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster…” (Fitzgerald 74). Daisy has always been surrounded in white, even when she was a young girl, she valued the color white over everything else. Now as an adult, she still insists on keeping up the illusion of innocence by continuing to dress in white. And yet, she is truly corrupt within. She was actively having an affair on her husband, she was stringing Gatsby along with no intention of leaving Tom for him, and she was able to kill a woman without remorse.

Fitzgerald uses many colors to symbolize the themes shown in his novel, The Great Gatsby. He uses the color white to showcase innocence as seen with Daisy and her constant usage of the color white. Yellow is used to represent corruption, mainly seen with Gatsby’s yellow car and the murder of Myrtle. White and yellow play off each other, not only showing the complexity of The Great Gatsby, but also showing the complexity of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work as a whole. The Great Gatsby is a novel full of outrageous parties, doomed lovers, and failed marriages.

 

Bibliography

  1. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 2004.

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