Somewhere Over the Rainbow
The green light isn't the only symbolic color in Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses color like a preschooler let loose with tempera paints—only a little more meaningfully. Let's break it down:
Yellow and Gold: Money, Money, Money. Oh, and Death.
First off, we've got yellows and golds, which we're thinking has something to do with…gold (in the cash money sense). Why gold and not green? Because we're talking about the real stuff, the authentic, traditional, "old money" – not these new-fangled dollar bills. So you have Gatsby's party, where the turkeys are "bewitched to dark gold," and Jordan's "slender golden arm[s]" (3.19), and Daisy the "golden girl" (7.99), and Gatsby wearing a gold tie to see Daisy at Nick's house.
But yellow is different. Yellow is fake gold; it's veneer and show rather than substance. We see that with the "yellow cocktail music" at Gatsby's party (1) and the "two girls in twin yellow dresses" who aren't as alluring as the golden Jordan (3.15). Also yellow? Gatsby's car, symbol of his desire—and failure—to enter New York's high society. And if that weren't enough, T. J. Eckleburg's glasses, looking over the wasteland of America, are yellow.
White: Innocence and Femininity. Maybe.
While we're looking at cars, notice that Daisy's car (back before she was married) was white. So are her clothes, the rooms of her house, and about half the adjectives used to describe her (her "white neck," "white girlhood," the king's daughter "high in a white palace").
Everyone likes to say that white in The Great Gatsby means innocence, probably because (1) that's easy to say and (2) everyone else is saying it. But come on – Daisy is hardly the picture of girlish innocence. At the end of the novel, she's described as selfish, careless, and destructive. Does this make the point that even the purest characters in Gatsby have been corrupted? Did Daisy start off all innocent and fall along the way, or was there no such purity to begin with? Or, in some way, does Daisy's decision to remain with Tom allow her to keep her innocence? We'll keep thinking about that one.
Blue: This One's Up For Grabs
Then there's the color blue, which we think represents Gatsby's illusions -- his deeply romantic dreams of unreality. We did notice that the color blue is present around Gatsby more than any other character. His gardens are blue, his chauffeur wears blue, the water separating him from Daisy is his "blue lawn" (9.150), mingled with the "blue smoke of brittle leaves" in his yard.
His transformation into Jay Gatsby is sparked by Cody, who buys him, among other things, a "blue coat"—and he sends a woman who comes to his house a "gas blue" dress (3.25). Before you tie this up under one simple label, keep in mind that the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg are also blue, and so is Tom's car. If blue represents illusions and alternatives to reality, maybe that makes the eyes of God into a non-existent dream. As for Tom's car…well, you can field that one.
Grey and a General Lack of Color: Lifelessness (no surprise there)
If the ash heaps are associated with lifelessness and barrenness, and grey is associated with the ash heaps, anyone described as grey is going to be connected to barren lifelessness. Our main contender is Wilson: "When anyone spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable colorless way" (2.17). Wilson's face is "ashen," and a "white ashen dust" covers his suit (2.17), and his eyes are described as "pale" and "glazed." We're not too surprised when she shows up with a gun at the end of the novel.
Green: Life, Vitality, The Future, Exploration
Last one. We're thinking green = plants and trees and stuff, so it must represent life and springtime and other happy events. Right?
Well, the most noticeable image is that green light we seem to see over and over. You know, the green light of the "orgastic future" that we stretch our hands towards, etc. etc. (9.149). Right before these famous last lines, Nick also describes the "fresh, green breast of the new world," the new world being this land as Nick imagines it existed hundreds of years before. Green also shows up—we think significantly—as the "long green tickets" that the rich kids of Chicago use as entry to their fabulous parties, the kind of parties where Daisy and Tom meet, and where Gatsby falls in love. So green does represent a kind of hope, but not always a good one.
When Nick imagines Gatsby's future without Daisy, he sees "a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...like that ashen fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees." Nick struggles to define what the future really means, especially as he faces the new decade before him (the dreaded thirties). Is he driving on toward grey, ashen death through the twilight, or reaching out for a bright, fresh green future across the water?
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby was written in a time of social decadence, in which values no longer played an important role among the war-shattered population. The “Roaring Twenties” were shaped by the post-war generation and especially by the newly rich and wannabe famous, whose life circled around parties, money and affairs. On the surface, Fitzgerald’s story seems to be about success, money and love – thus about the mentioned newly rich. Although the superficial life of the rich and powerful is a major theme in The Great Gatsby, it mostly explores underlying complexities and depths and therefore reveals the other side of the American Dream to the reader. Corruption, despair and desperate desire come along with idealism, faith and illusions. The protagonist, Jay Gatsby, personifies the American Dream as he is a man with a dubious background who managed to accomplish a luxurious style of living and to achieve everything he wanted to have by his own efforts – except of his great love, that is Daisy. The Great Gatsby is built upon the desperate desires of the protagonist and reveals a glance behind the glittering facade. Fitzgerald manages to draw the reader’s attention to significant details and symbols in the text in order to make one think about the so-called ‘truths’ in the story. Therefore, symbolism plays a major role in The Great Gatsby. Symbolism is the most powerful device of allowing the reader to gain insight into a character’s personality and of revealing hidden ideas, values and profundity. The most significant symbolism applied in the text is color symbolism. In this paper, I will concentrate on analyzing Fitzgerald’s use of colors as symbols and thus try to expose the meaning of color symbolism on the basis of the most meaningful examples. The most prominent colors that can be found throughout the novel are green, white, gray, blue and yellow so I will analyze their symbolic meaning in the following.
The most meaningful color Fitzgerald uses as a symbolic device of revealing ideas is green. Thinking of the color green reminds us of hope, nature, spring and youth. In The Great Gatsby, green is associated with Gatsby’s character. It is used to emphasize his desire and his unfulfilled wish to win his love Daisy back. As he has already achieved everything in life concerning material success, wealth and power, Gatsby’s only aim left is to reach Daisy’s heart. Therefore, the color green stands for his never-ending hope for her love and functions as a symbol of his hope, as it is mostly associated with the green light at Daisy’s dock. Throughout the novel, the green light functions as a key symbol. Gatsby watches it almost every night from his lawn across the water as the reader can guess from his utterance towards Daisy: “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” (85). However, it is too far for him to reach and will always stay out of reach although he “stretched out his arms toward the dark water” (31) and tries to come closer to the light, as Nick observes the first time he sees Gatsby.
Indeed, Gatsby even realizes the forlornness of his dream, and so does the narrator when he says “I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away” (31). Here the emphasis is to be put on “far away”. However, “Gatsby believed in the green light” (152) and consequently never gives up his hope for Daisy’s love and the fulfillment of his desire. For Gatsby, the green light stands for the reunion with his love. However, Daisy could never live up to his expectations as her love cannot be as ideal as Gatsby imagines. As a result, one can state that Gatsby is mostly in love with love, and also with the imagination of a different world that is built up in his mind by his imagination. Whereas he momentarily lives in a world of “darkness”, lies and superficiality, the new world he dreams of is a perfect one, where he can start anew and be a man without an invented historical background in an America without moral and social decadence. Gatsby’s dream of a new world is symbolically demonstrated by the color green as it stands for hope and desire. The “green breast of the new world” (152) is associated with development and growth and can be compared to the evolvement of nature in spring.
Although the color green is mostly associated with hope and a new world, it can convey more possible meanings, such as envy and money. Gatsby, for example, can also be seen as a jealous character. In the first place, he envies Tom Buchanan who is married to Daisy whose love he tries so hard to win back. But unfortunately, money cannot buy everything. Besides, Gatsby throws huge parties in order to have those people he somehow envies come to his house. As he is new-rich, he wants to be accepted by the society of ‘old money’. From this follows that green is also associated with money. In the world Fitzgerald created, money controls life and has an enormous power. Banknotes are in many ways used to buy oneself into a certain society and acceptance is achieved by the ownership of luxurious mansions, elegant clothes, large lawns and expensive cars. Gatsby has everything, while especially his green lawn, the green ivy at his house and the green inside of his car stand out. In the car, people even feel like “in a sort of green leather conservatory” (63). As a result, green illustrates the importance of money in Gatsby’s life and in society itself.