Symbolism in The Great Gatsby
Some important symbols in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby include the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the Valley of Ashes located between West Egg and New York City.
- The Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg - The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg cast an ominous shadow over the goings-on in the novel. The symbolism behind the eyes, located on a billboard overlooking the Valley of Ashes, is open to interpretation. George Wilson likens them to the eyes of God. The location of the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg looking down on everything that takes place in the Valley of Ashes may represent God looking down on a morally bankrupt wasteland and doing nothing about it. His empty face may represent the modernist notion that God no longer lived, a symbol of the modernists' distrust of political, religious, and social institutions.
- The Valley of Ashes - The Valley of Ashes, located between West Egg and New York city represents the moral decay associated with the uninhibited desire for wealth. It symbolizes societal decay and the plight of the poor, victims of greed and corruption. The valley can also be linked to WWI battlefields, where existed a no man’s land–full of barbed wire, shrapnel, unexploded mines, and dead bodies–between opposing trenches. World War I influenced the negativity of modernist writers.
Heat, Automobiles & Eggs
- Heat - The heat becomes oppressive during the climactic scene in the novel. Tom, Daisy, Nick, Jordan, and Gatsby head to the city as tension increases. Nick describes the day as “broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest of the summer” (102). Daisy complains, “It’s so hot, and everything’s so confused” (106). linking the oppressive heat with the oppressive situation. It’s possible, as well, that the heat is, in some way, symbolic of hell and damnation. It is in chapter 7 that Gatsby’s dream is crushed and Myrtle Wilson’s infidelity is discovered.
- Automobiles - Cars have been regarded as status symbols since Henry Ford rolled out the first Model T in the early 20th century. The automobiles driven by Gatsby and Tom Buchanan symbolize their attributes as well: Gatsby’s car is gaudy and contains all the latest gadgets. Tom refers to it as a “circus wagon” (108). Tom drives a coupe, a high-end, traditional, elegant auto. In addition to the two men, automobiles symbolize recklessness as evidenced by Gatsby’s recklessness with money and the moral recklessness of Daisy as she barrels into Myrtle Wilson, killing her.
The colors used in The Great Gatsby includes white, grey, yellow, red, and green.
- Green - Don’t forget that green is the color of money, that Gatsby states that Daisy’s “voice is full of money” (107), a green light shines at the end of Daisy’s dock, and that Jay Gatsby desires wealth as a means to get Daisy. The green light is also associated with the American Dream, something Gatsby cannot achieve.
- Grey - Everything in the Valley of Ashes is colored with grey dust. It represents lifelessness and hopelessness.
- White - White normally symbolizes purity. In The Great Gatsby, it represents false purity. Jordan and Daisy, not exactly moral pillars, often wear white. Gatsby wears white when meeting Daisy for the first time in five years to give the impression that he has been pure and good, doubtful considering his life of organized crime and bootlegging.
- Yellow/Gold - Yellow represents corruptness. Gatsby’s car is yellow, a product of his corrupt dealings, as are the spectacles of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. It’s probably not a coincidence that the novel’s most impure character is named after a yellow flower. Gold has earned its place among the all time symbols of corruption and greed, although most wouldn’t mind having more of it.
- Blue - Blue represents illusions. The first suit Gatsby wears is blue. His gardens are blue. He is separated from Daisy by blue and even his chauffeur wears blue. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg are also blue, Fitzgerald’s allusion to the illusion that there was an almighty being watching over everyone, a belief widely attacked by modernist writers. Follow the link for more novel study guides.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1953. Lorcher, Trenton. His Brain. Several Readings and Multiple Teachings of The Great Gatsby from 1998 - Present. Public Domain Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This post is part of the series: The Great Gatsby Study Guide
Don’t get humiliated in front of your friends and riddled with bullets on your next exam. Take a look at this study guide instead.