The Great Gatsby Symbol by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The statement, “Symbols can help a writer convey ideas, develop characters, establish atmosphere, etc. To what effect are symbols employed in at least two of the works you have studied?” is very applicable to the text we have studied, The Great Gatsby. Both F. Scott Fitsgerald uses symbols and visual/auditory motifs to convey the themes and purposes of the decline of the American dream and the hollowness of the upper class. F. Scott Fitgeralds Great Gatsby uses three main symbols, the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock, which represents Gatsby's desire for her and the American dream, the valley of ashes which represents the social and moral degradation that results from the pursuit of wealth, and the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleberg, which represent god and the general meaninglessness of the world and the arbitrariness of the mental process by which people instill objects with meaning.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of his most iconic novels. The book follows Jay Gatsby, a man who forms his life completely around one dream, which is to be reunited with his lost love Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby's hournet leads him from poverty and fighting in a world war to wealth, eventually into the arms of his beloved Daisy, and eventually to death. The novel was published in 1925 and written in 1924 by Fistgerald whilst in New York. The Great Gatsby is world renowned as a classic piece of American fiction. It is a novel which bleeds triumph and tragedy, and is renowned for its encompassment and analysis of American society. Through the analysis of the three symbols of the Great Gatsby we can examine the effects they have on the tone and mood of the text, the characters themselves, and the deeper themes which represent Fitzgerald's purpose when writing the text.

The green light on Daisy's dock represents Gatsby's love for Daisy, money, and the American dream as well as the failures of the American dream and the unbreakable glass ceiling of class divisions. The green light that shines on the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock on the east egg in New York is visible through the fog to Gatsby on the west egg. The reader first encounters the green light in chapter 1 before Nick has even met Gatsby. “he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” This quote uses detailed descriptions of body language through describing gatsby's outstretched arms and the fact that he was trembling. These descriptions give the fundamentally mundane act of reaching for a light more weight, making the tone more emotional and intense. Just by this quote alone the reader can immediately understand it as an elusive and powerful object that has great symbolic meaning for Gatsby, through his trembling reach and devotedness. Because the green light hangs at the end of Daisy’s dock, and Gatsby bought his house in order to be able to see it each night, the green light most obviously symbolizes his unwavering love for Daisy.

Eventually Gatsby, after being reunited with Daisy reveals his knowledge of the green light to her, and Nick observes, “Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever…His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” This quote is very important for the purpose and eventual demise of the green light as a symbol in the text because for Gatsby, the green light was his anchor, it proved that he and Daisy existed in the same world and hinted at the possibility that they might someday meet again, fueling Gatsby with hope. In many ways the symbol is more important to Gatsby than what is actually being symbolized.

The colour green also has its own meanings and purpose within the text. Green is a colour which is almost always associated with money. Therefore the green of the light represents the wealth that Gatsby believes will allow him to get Daisy back. The colour green is associated with the colour of the American currency, which when compared to the more stable reliant forms of currency such as gold and silver, which happen to be colours associated with Daisy in the text. Daisy throughout the text is described as “gleaming like silver” and a “golden girl”. This is representative of what Gatsby forgot in his desperate clamber to wealth, the unpurchasibility of class. Through his illegal businesses Gatsby achieved great wealth, but he remained excluded from the upper classes who were “old rich” and born into their wealth. So if the green light represents the money available to Gatsby, which is cash, the non traceable the occurrence associated with crime and shady dealings, the gold and silver of Daisy and Toms wealth which represents their class, is out of Gatsby's reach.

In the most broad scale the green light encompassingly represents the American dream as a whole. The fundamental concept of the American dream is that someone can achieve success and reach higher classes no matter where they are from or what they have. On a whole the novel analyses and explores wether the American dream is really possible and exists. In the novel it is clear that Gatsby has achieved the american dream on the surface, getting the mansions and constant extravagant parties from a lower class background and being in the army. However it becomes apparent that Gatsby in fact represents the hollowness of the American dream. Even after achieving his goal of wealth and success, he still cant get Daisy. This shows that at least in Gatsby's case the American dream is in the end, incomplete, but also suggests that even with the real or fantastical prospect of social mobility, people from lower classes reach a glass ceiling and never will be accepted by those who are old rich or born into wealth. This perfectly represents Fitzgerald's purpose of showing the theme of the hollowness and decline of the American dream. Fitzgerald himself lived in New York during 1925 and this theme represents his own observations and critique of the American dream. He then perfectly wraps the theme up when after the climactic car crash, the three main characters from lower class backgrounds die, and the upper class old rich characters survive, showing that people who are born into wealth and class are shielded from the consequences of their actions, when not even Daisy shows up for Gatsby's funeral.

The valley of ashes in the Great Gatsby symbolizes the plight of the poor. It was first introduced in Chapter 2. “This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.” This quote is very powerful in its vivid explanation of the valley of ashes. It uses simile in “a fantastic farm where ashes grown like wheat”. This comparison of ashes being cultivated and grown like wheat not only gives the reader a visual image of ashes rising from the ground, but also a representation of the environment where it is too polluted to grow crops, so instead ash accumulates. The usage of descriptive vocabulary and detail brings the description alive, for example “men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” describes a bleak and dim environment which men stumble through. The description of the air as powdery gives the scene a sense of atmosphere, where the unconventional description of air enhances the sense of grimeyness and polluted despair. These literary techniques allow Fitsgerald to put forward a tone of despair and suppression.

The valley of ashes itself represents the moral and social decay that results from the relentless pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure. This is directly related to the central theme of the shallowness of the upper class. Throughout the book Fitsgerald depicts the upper classes and more specifically the new rich as being gaudy, vulgar, ostentatious, and lacking in social graces and general taste. He also depicts the old rich as having taste, grace, and elegance. Both of these groups however live in self indulgent bubbles as depicted by Fitsgerald and the impacts of their isolated oblivious existences are directly represented by the valley of ashes. This theme of the upper classes shallow and indulgent existence is also a result of Fitzgerald's time in New York and is a component of his opinions on the upper classes.

The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleberg represent god judging the development of American society into a moral wasteland as well as the overall meaningless of the world and the irrelevance of the process by which people place meaning on objects.

The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleberg are first described in the text in chapter two. “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises 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. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” This quote with its usage of descriptors of not only the billboard and what is on it but also the domain which it observes gives the eyes a supernatural weight. The usage of colour and size for descriptions give the reader a image of the enormous board in their mind, “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high.” The usage of the word gigantic really describes the scale of the subject, and the more detailed height description of the irises themselves provide more scale as they are “one yard high”. The usage of the word high not only describes the vertical length of the irises but can also be connotated with god who is often referred to and sung as, “all praise to the most high”. The description of the oculists decline as “sank down himself into eternal blindness”, the usage of the word blindness refers directly to his profession, and the phrase “eternal blindness” suggests death, an eternity of not seeing, but the word eternal is also linked to god as he eternally rules from above. And after the death or “eternal blindness” the eyes still “brood on over the solemn dumping ground”. This again represents the connotation between the eyes and that of god because even after death and “eternal blindness” the eyes still unwavering watch the valley of ashes. This gives the quote a tone of divinity, enormity, and judgment. The usage of the verb brood in reference to the eyes gives them and possibly the godlike entity behind them a mood. Brood means to think deeply about something that makes one unhappy, angry, or worried, and this shows that the eyes gaze are not complacent, they stare deeply and intently into the surroundings, with a sense of unhappiness anger or distain. This is quite possibly an anger at the upper class as they neglect the byproduct of their indulgence, possibly represented by Toms reaction to them, “Terrible place, isn’t it,” said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.” Toms reaction to the harsh judgment from the eyes of the doctor can represent that he fears godlike presence and has things to hide such as his affair with Myrtle, but can also represent Tom feeling specifically targeted by the eyes and their distain for the rich and their indulgent destruction and abuse of their environment. This bias from the eyes can also be seen in chapter 7, when Nick and Gatsby are traveling Nick feels something, “and now I turned my head as though I had been warned of something behind. Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil”, and immediately after Nick views “the curtains had been moved aside a little and Myrtle Wilson was peering down at the car”. This has little surface meaning, but to Nick, this means that Myrtle has been locked in a room after George Wilson has found out that Myrtle is having an affair. Here, the eyes are a warning to Nick that something is wrong. This gesture to Nick from the eyes can further cement who the eyes torment over. Nick being a member of the middle/working class from central america is the opposite of the old rich the eyes seem to torment. However in a broader standpoint, overall the eyes more likely represent a distained judgment towards the development of American society into not only a physical (valley of ashes) but moral wasteland. The eyes in this case represent both Fitzgerald's main themes of the decline of the facade that is the American dream, and the shallowness of the upper class.

Although this godlike presence is strongly implied by Fitsgerald he instead shows that the The Great Gatsby symbol of T.J. Eckleberg’s eyes only have meaning in the novel because the characters within it instill them with meaning. The direct connection between Dr Ecklebregs eyes and god is made by George Wilson. This can be seen in Chapter 8, during a conversation between George Wilson and a coffee shop owner. They are discussing Myrtle and her affair and he constantly comes back her and gods judgement, 'I told her she might fool me but she couldn't fool God. I took her to the window--' '--and I said 'God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!' '. Here the window is in the viewing point from the autobody shop at the billboard containing Ecklebergs eyes. He forces Myrtle to stare into the eyes referring to them as god, he also himself in the conversation stares at the eyes, “Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night. 'God sees everything,' repeated Wilson.” This shows that Dr Eckleberg’s god only exists in the eyes of George Wilson. It is this vagueness and lack of direct connotation that gives the symbol such a unsettling and mysterious presence. Therefore, the eyes in a broader sense represent the superficiality of the process by which people put meaning into objects, as well as overall representing the meaningless of the world.

The Great Gatsby has many symbols, yet there are three that persist and directly represent the themes and intentions of F. Scott Fitsgerald. The green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock represents Gatsby's desire for her, money, and his dreams. It also represents the unbreakable glass ceiling of class divisions and Fitzgerald's main theme of failures and the decline of the American dream. The valley of ashes with the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleberg brooding over it represents the social and moral degradation that results from the unfiltered pursuit of wealth, as well as through the elevated deity like billboard, a representation of god and the general meaninglessness of the world and a overarching frivolity of the mental process by which people instill objects with meaning. All of these three symbols represent not only the themes and deeper topics which F. Scott Fitsgerald discussed from personal experience during the time period, but also a deeper reflection to what it means to have dreams and desires and how often as depressive as it is, they can not be reached. 

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