Summary: Symbolism, Irony and Imagery Throughout The Book By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Categories: Symbolism

The American Dream is the idea that anyone can accomplish their desired goals through hard work, dedication, and drive. James Adams, author of the best-selling book “Epic of America”, described the dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Similarly in The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jay Gatsby overcame his poor upbringing and gains an incredible amount of money only to be rejected from the “old money” society and suffers the consequences.

In the novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald implements literary devices such as symbolism, irony, and imagery to emphasize that the American Dream is to obtain something more than you already have.

Throughout the book, Fitzgerald is known to use symbolism to convey his ideas about the American Dream. In the first chapter, the author states, “But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling.

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Involuntarily I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock”. This is the first portrayal of Jay Gatsby, Nick describes him as reaching towards the green light that is on Daisy’s property. The light has a symbolic meaning because Gatsby is stretching his hand out to touch Daisy on the other side of the lake.

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Gatsby enjoys standing at the edge of the dock to gaze at the green light to hopefully one day win those joyous moments back to unite with Daisy. But, it also reminds him of the tough times he endured during his time serving the United States Army during World War I. Another symbolism Fitzgerald displayed was Daisy’s character as she represents the American Dream. 'Her voice is full of money,' he said suddenly. That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it… High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl…” . Daisy’s voice is linked to wealth and is described as a prize which correlates to the American Dream. She is “the golden girl” with money and royalty that Gatsby is trying to win back. But, Daisy is merely a woman that is not able to give Gatsby the expectations he has for her which is quite the opposite of the American Dream. As a result, the American Dream is a made-up concept that is quite literally too good to be true in a rat-race mentality of the 1920s.

Another literary device Fitzgerald uses is irony to develop the message of the American Dream. An example of irony in The Great Gatsby is the scene where Daisy cries over Gatsby's shirts. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed... “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.” This episode takes place in Chapter 5 and presents an irony within the romance of Daisy and Gatsby. The shirts are symbolic, functioning as an emblem of Gatsby's success and the material comfort that his success brings. Such success is ironic in two ways in this scene. First, Gatsby and Daisy were once in love but did not marry because Gatsby was too poor. Acquiring wealth, he has now become Daisy's ideal match. Second, the love affair between Gatsby and Daisy is repeatedly contextualized - by Gatsby-like an affair of the heart. There is a sense that this affair represents almost a platonic ideal, a perfect romance. Yet the 'heart' of the romance is as materialistic as it is emotional. Affection and love seem to take a back seat to Daisy's impression of Gatsby's business success and to Gatsby's desire to prove himself materially worthy of Daisy's love. Another example of irony in the novel is when Gatsby is anticipating Daisy’s phone call and his death immediately following it. Nick Carraway states, “No telephone message arrived, but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o'clock – until long after there was anyone to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” . This quote shows irony because Gatsby has his dream in his hands when Daisy calls but during the call Wilson’s bullet robbed him from attaining his dream. As a result, Gatsby died thinking that Daisy wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. This portrays the main idea of the American Dream because it is can be grasped by the wealthy like Tom Buchanan. Another example of irony in the novel is the way that Daisy did not leave Tom Buchanan even though she loved Gatsby. Fitzgerald describes Tom as an arrogant and hypocritical bully who controls Daisy and considers Gatsby unfit for Daisy. What is ironic about this situation is that Gatsby has equally as much money as Tom yet Tom is controlling the entire situation. This shows that even though lower class people who have come up to gain wealth and power, still can’t attain the American Dream.

Throughout the book, Fitzgerald emphasized imagery to present his view on the American Dream. Fitzgerald used colors to represent the richness of the upper-class man or the bleakness of the middle-class man. When Nick and Tom were passing through the Valley of Ashes, it was described as a dull area with poor workers struggling to live their life. Fitzgerald describes the Valley of Ashes as, “This is a valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”. The author represents the Valley of Ashes as a social decline that emerged in the 1920s. With the ashes and smoke described in that setting, it portrays a dreary and subdued tone of the middle-class lifestyle. The dullness described in the Valley of Ashes compares to many workers trying to support their family working tirelessly to transcending them towards success in any way they can. Another example of imagery is the contrast between Gatsby’s extravagant parties and his funeral. Fitzgerald displays the lavish parties as “There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” to portray that people would try to get into Gatsby’s parties because he is this great character who deserves an ample amount of respect. Although, during Gatsby’s funeral, Nick says, “Nobody came...Why my God!... They used to go there by the hundreds!”. This shows that the party people were selfish when it was their gain to go to parties and have fun but when he died, no one cared about him because they were too self-absorbed into what benefited them as a result, his funeral was empty. This also represents Fitzgerald’s view of the American Dream because it emphasizes the selfishness people have because they were only involved in anything that brings value to them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses literary devices such as symbolism, irony, and imagery to emphasize that though the American Dream is to obtain something more than you already have, yet most people do not achieve their goal given the circumstances they are in. As Courtney Martin says in her Ted Talk, The New American Dream, “Turns out, the biggest danger is not failing to achieve the American Dream. The biggest danger is achieving a dream that you don't believe in.” To be blinded by ignorance is something that many people have and this allows them to create an environment that feels secure but it numbs them from valuable information that could alert them for any obstacles in their way for transcending. Society is always trying to attain something greater than themselves regardless of circumstances that are simply unrealistic.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Summary: Symbolism, Irony and Imagery Throughout The Book By F. Scott Fitzgerald. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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