Symbolism of “The Great Gatsby” – Major English GradeXII

The Great Gatsby

Symbolism of “The Great Gatsby” – Major English GradeXII

Symbolism of “The Great Gatsby”

The Great Gatsby is rich in symbolism, which is portrayed on several different levels in a variety of ways. The colours, the geography and even the characters act as symbols in this novel. Gatsby’s dream of love and money is identified with the American dream.

East and West Egg
One of the most important themes in the novel is class and social standing. It is a barrier for almost every character. East and West Egg act as a symbol of this in its physical makeup. Tom and Daisy live on the East Egg which is far more refined and well bred. East Egg represents Old money. Nick and Gatsby are on the West Egg which is for people who don’t have any real standing, even if they have money. West Egg represents New money. The green light shines from the East Egg attracting Gatsby towards what he has always wanted. And Daisy, the woman that Gatsby has always wanted but never gets, lives on East Egg. The barrier that the water creates between these worlds in symbolic of the barrier that keeps these people apart from one another and from much of what they want.

The Green Light
Located at the end of the Buchanans’ dock, is a green light which represents Gatsby’s ultimate aspiration: to win Daisy’s love. When Nick first sees Gatsby he was looking at the green light from Buchanan’s dock and stretching his arms. Green is the colour of promise, hope and renewal. But here hope and promise get lost for the crave of money and love. It represents an illusory and ideal world that Gatsby has dreamt of. It also represents a lure of money.

The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg
In the faded and old advertising billboard in the Valley of Ashes is a pair of spectacled eyes of Dr T.J. Eckleburg. These eyes are facing George Wilson’s garage. George associates these eyes to God’s watchful eyes over mankind. These eyes provide solace to Wilson. They are placed near Wilson’s because that is where some of the most selfish acts take place: Myrtle’s death, Tom’s affair. All of these crimes go unpunished. It represents God who has been created by modern society to make money. It represents a God who no longer sees nor cares. So the eyes look on and remind the characters of the guilt that they forget to have for what they have done. Following the central theme of modernism, this new God watches over his paradise which has been reduced to ash-heaps by modern man.

Valley of Ashes
Located between West Egg and New York is a gloomy land Valley of Ashes created by the dumping of “industrial ashes,” this valley acquires a sense of decay. It seems as if the rich, men like Tom Buchanan and Gatsby dump their “ashes” in the valley, with nothing but concern for themselves. It represents the modern world, which is like an ugly hell created by modern industry. It is a physical desert that symbolizes the spiritual desolation that a society based on money creates. The negative outlook of the Valley of Ashes also connects to the people that live there. George and Myrtle Wilson own a house in the valley of ashes. It is in the valley of the ashes where Tom has his affair with Myrtle, where Daisy kills Myrtle with Gatsby’s car, and where George Wilson decides to murder Gatsby. So, it seems as if the valley of ashes does, in fact, represent a place of decadence; a place where the rich dump their “ashes”. This valley recalls the moral wilderness of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land.”

Gatsby’s house:
This image serves as a key symbol of aspiration, reflecting both Gatsby’s success as an American self-made man and the mirage of an identity he has created to win Daisy’s love. Gatsby follows his American Dream as he buys the house to be across the bay from Daisy, and has parties to gain wide-spread recognition in order to impress her. Yet, Owl Eyes compares Gatsby’s mansion to a house of cards, muttering “that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse”. Ultimately, the inevitable collapse occurs, as Gatsby loses Daisy and dies absolutely friendless, prompting Nick to refer to Gatsby’s mansion as “that huge incoherent failure of a house”

Gatsby’s car:
Gatsby’s car is the biggest, magnificent, grandest and the most luxurious automobile of the time. The car becomes the symbol of all material wealth. The car becomes the instrument of destruction and murder. Both Myrtle’s death and, indirectly, Gatsby’s are caused by this car. Thus it signals that wealth, as an absolute ideal, is ultimately destructive.

White colour:
Throughout the novel, Daisy is strongly associated with white colour. When she first appears she is dressed in white. She speaks about her own ‘white girlhood’. Since white means absence of colour also, it symbolizes the vacancy and emptiness within Daisy.

Important Questions:

  • Discuss the use of symbols in the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’
  • Discuss “The Great Gatsby” as a symbolic novel.
  • Explain the symbols of green and white colours in “The Great Gatsby”.
  • Describe the symbols applied in ‘The Great Gatsby’.
  • What is the Valley of Ashes applied for?
  • Explore the symbols as used in “The Great Gatsby”
  • What is the implication of the “Valley of Ashes”, as used in The Great Gatsby?
  • What does Gatsby’s car indicate?
  • What does Gatsby’s car symbolize? How is it proved to be the cause of his downfall?

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