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Symbolism in the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ Essay

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses much symbolism in his literature, here in the novel The Great Gatsby. He uses the image of Doctor T. J. Eckelburg’s eyes to symbolize a godlike being. Fitzgerald uses the symbol of the two women in yellow at Gatsby’s party to represent the values of the 1920’s. The food provided at Gatsby’s party symbolically represents the members of 1920’s society. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses Symbolism in the novel The Great Gatsby as an accurate reflection of life in the American 1920’s. In The Great Gatsby the symbol of T. J. Eckelburg’s eyes represent a godly being watching over society. Fitzgerald incorporates the eyes into his novel to represent a pair of all seeing, all knowing and judging eyes, which are meant to intimidate.

The character of George Wilson believes that the eyes are the eyes of God. “I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window- ” With an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned his face pressed against it, “-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!’ ” 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. (p.167)

Through Wilson’s beliefs Fitzgerald explains that the eyes can see everything including Myrtle’sinfidelities. Myrtle is a typical person of the 1920’s. She has put her own life and interests ahead of everyone else’s including her husband’s. The eyes of God are frowning down on the 1920’s society. But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic-their retinas are one yard high. The look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose…his eyes, dimmed a little by many painless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.(p.27-28)

Through Fitzgerald’s wording in describing the image of Eckleburg’s eyes the reader develops a mental image of an omnipotent being who is constantly watching over the land. The reader discerns that the eyes not only see everything but that they eyes are morbidly unhappy. The use of the word ‘brood’ suggests that whatever the eyes are seeing has made their owner disappointed. This is Fitzgerald’s way of indicating that the people of the 1920’s are disgraceful and undignified because of their selfishness. People of the 1920’s spent large sums of money on themselves, and they would attend parties where they didn’t know the host. This type of behaviour is why the 1920’s are known as a decadent era. The eyes not only symbolize a god-like being but also Fitzgerald himself and his negative views of 1920’s society. Fitzgerald’s negative views of society are also portrayed through his depiction of certain guests at Gatsby’s parties.

The symbol of the two women dressed identically in yellow at Gatsby’s party depict the values of the people of the 20’s. The two women in yellow meet Jordan and Nick at one of Gatsby’s party and are entirely self involved. “Do you come to these parties often?” inquired Jordan of the girl beside her. “The last one was the one I met you at,” answered the girl in an alert, confident voice. She turned to her companion: “Wasn’t it for you Lucille?” It was for Lucille too. “I like to come,” Lucille said “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address- inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it.”(p.47) Lucille admits that her general attitude toward life is that she doesn’t care what she does as long as she has a good time.

Her entire motivation in her life is to enjoy herself. When all she was asked was if she came to the parties often she also felt the need to inform the rest of the guests of her trivial anecdote. The reason that these women are indicative of the generation is because of their self-absorbed character and their egotistical nature. “Gatsby. Somebody told me-” The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially. “Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.” A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly. “I don’t think it’s so much that,” argued Lucille sceptically; “It’s more that he was a German spy during the war.” One of the men nodded in confirmation.

“Oh know it couldn’t be that because he was in the American army during the war.”(p.48) The two women are spreading vicious rumours about their host purely for the sake of attention. They are so egotistical that they are willing to tarnish the reputation of the man who has invited them into his house, simply on the basis that they want to be the centre of everyone’s attention. In Fitzgerald’s opinion, people of the 20’s were mainly made up of this type of person.

The symbols of the food served at Gatsby’s party represent and personify the people of the 20’s. Gatsby’s house frequently receives crates of oranges which demonstrates the wasteful character of people in the 1920’s. Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York-every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. (p.45) This incredible wastefulness is representative of people who lived in the 1920’s. They were wasteful to the extreme because they assumed that they deserved to be wasteful and carefree. After so many years of being unhappy from, among other things, World War I. During the war, they were forced to ration everything, so the twenties was the time to gain back their selfishness.

Their personalities are also symbolised by the colossal food buffet served at the party. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. (p.44) These symbols all personify the people of the 20’s. The people garnished themselves in glistening jewels and clothing just to impress the people that they met. They are all spiced implying that they have made themselves into something that they are not by spicing up their lives with fancy clothing and costumes which hide who they really are. They design themselves as they think they will be most accepted, and are bewitched by the brightness and glow of popularity and richness. People of the twenties wore costumes and this is part of what Fitzgerald is trying to convey.

In the novel The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the literary technique of symbolism to reflect what life in the 1920’s was like, through Fitzgerald’s eyes. The image of Doctor T. J. Eckelburg’s eyes is used to signify a disappointed godlike being. Fitzgerald uses the two women in yellow at Gatsby’s party to as a symbol to represent the values of people in the 20’s. The food provided at Gatsby’s party is symbolic of people who lived in the 20’s. Through Fitzgerald’s use of symbolism to describe the costumed characters of the 20’s the reader can learn to constantly, and consistently examine the people that they surround themselves with. The novel also teaches the lesson of being true to one’s self, since true closure may only come once honesty is achieved. Fitzgerald is not only a consequential author but an effective moral adviser as well.


Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Macmillan Publishing Company. New York.


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