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Color-Symbolism In The Great Gatsby Essay, Research Paper

Shavaun Swygert


English III

June 1,1998

Color-Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

The beauty of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing is probably nowhere more exhibited than in his handling of the color-symbols in The Great Gatsby. The range of the color-symbols and their complex operations at each stage of action is escaped from the readers. As was researched, the colors represent both the dream and the reality.

Nick describes Gatsby: “like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light.”(Piper 145) Nick also sees Gatsby as “a universe of ineffable gaudiness”(Piper 145) – a world represented in the book by all the colors of the rainbow. Gatsby’s shirts are described as “coral, and apple-green and lavender and faints orange, with monograms of Indian blue,”(Piper 145) thus Proving that Gatsby’s world was like a fantasy. Also noticed was the grotesque valley of ashes- rightly stated by one critic as being “the sordid reality lying beneath the fictions of the American dream of limitless Opportunity and Achievement.”(Piper 145) Which expresses a pattern of light-dark symbolism.

We observe the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock -the symbol of the “orgiastic future,”(Piper 145) the promise of the dream Gatsby pursues to its end; familiar also with the “ubiquitous yellow”(Piper 145)-symbol of the money, the materialism that corrupts the dream and destroys it. The yellow is first identified when Nick describes his life in the east. He says he is like a “casual watcher. . .” “looking up and wondering”(Piper 147) at “our line of yellow windows”(Piper 147) in the “long white cake of apartment houses.” “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”(Piper 147) From “without,” the windows glow with the dream but inside the apartments Nick observes only greed. He realizes that the glow is not of enchantment but that of money. These conjunctions of white and yellow exhibit the contrast between the dream and the reaity.

Getting back to the light-dark symbolism, it is revealed that when Daisy and Jordan are first introduced they are dressed in all white. White traditionally symbolizes purity but it was researched that Fitzgerald wanted us to see the ironic play between the “ostensible purity”(Piper 146) of Daisy and Jordan and their actual corruption. But in Gatsby’s mind, the white does not exist pure, it is stained by the money, the yellow. Or it can be seen as the purity being seen through the white when actually it is corruption that is making it dirty or black. Daisy’s voice is characterized as being “like money” which compliments Gatsby’s thinking of the white being stained by yellow.

Now the first reference to blue begins at the beginning of chapter two, where Fitzgerald describes the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleberg peering out over the Valley of Ashes. Later in the story, Wilson staring at the eyes saying “God sees everything,” he is contradicted and told that it is just an advertisement. Critics say that Fitzgerald wanted us to see the eyes as a symbol of “the corruption of spirit in the Waste Land- as if even God has been violated by materialism and hucksterism-reduced to an advertisement.”(Piper 147) This in part suggests that blue symbolizes a certain ideality. Blue is introduced in chapter three as a romantic ideal when used in describing Gatsby’s house as having “blue gardens” in which “men and women came and went like moths between the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Red is stated to have the same signification as yellow, meaning it represents the “ineffable gaudiness of the dream”(Piper 148) or the “ugliness of the reality. It is seen as a dream because it is one of the colors in Gatsby’s romantic universe. Gatsby describes himself as a collector of rubies and in chapter six Nick states that he saw Gatsby “opening a chest of rubies… with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of a broken heart.” Red is here a dream but red is also associated with violence as we learn later in the novel.

After dealing with the primary colors we come across color-symbolism that is not as easily recognized. In the beginning Gatsby’s car was described as “a rich cream color, bright with nickel swollen here and there with its monstrous length . . . ” The glitter of the car is like the dresses of Jordan and Daisy but is also replaced with the color yellow. It is much later in the novel after the killing of Myrtle that the car was described as the death car and it is noted that “the color of the dream disappears.”(Piper 149) Instead of being “a rich cream color,” a witness is quoted saying “It was a yellow car,” implying that the dream is dead.

Getting back to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock it was found that the light summons Gatsby to go ahead “run faster, stretch out your arms farther. . .”(Piper 149) The symbolism of the light should now be clear: green, being the mixture of yellow and blue should be viewed as the tragic entanglement of dream and reality. Gatsby, seeking the blue, is blind to the yellow. The money does not matter to him because as we know it was all for Daisy. It is finally only the blue that enchants him and in the pursuit of it he is ultimately destroyed.

Works Cited

1. Schneider, Daniel J “Color-Symbolism in The Great Gatsby”. Kansas City: University Review, 1964

2. Piper, Henry Dan, “Fitzgerald the great Gatsby: The novel, the critics, the Background”, Scribners Research Anthologies, New York, 1970


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