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Symbolism F. Scott Fitzgerald implements many symbols in The Great Gatsby, developing a hidden theme or meaning behind each that apply towards the characters. Used for character development, Fitzgerald connects symbols to characters to expose their inner thoughts, desires, and flaws through the symbol’s connotations. He depicts these concealed qualities of the characters, for they are never stated, only implied by the symbols, constructing more complex characters and allowing the reader to truly understand the struggles and mindset of the characters.
One of Gatsby’s most significant symbols, the green light across the Long Island Sound, located right in front of Daisy’s mansion, serves as hope for him, for it symbolizes his past with Daisy – the old Daisy he once knew – and leads the way towards her. Looking across the Sound, stretching out his arm and “trembling,” Gatsby attempts to grasp the “green light,” a single “minute” spark aloof in the darkness of the night (21). Mesmerized by the light, Gatsby’s trembling suggests that his distance from Daisy causes him pain, and possibly, looking into the light – the past with Daisy – brings him closer to her, bringing light – the lovely past – into his dark world without Daisy, the solitary present.
Fitzgerald depicts the green light as if it is an emerald, the sacred stone of Aphrodite, goddess of love; through the characteristics associated with emeralds, love, loyalty, and friendship, Fitzgerald portrays Gatsby’s only connection to Daisy through the green light, exposing the feelings of love he has for her.
Once Daisy and Gatsby meet, and Daisy puts her arm through his, “the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever,” for Gatsby no longer lives in the past, but enjoys the present with Daisy, making the light simply “a green light on a dock” again (93). Through this observation, Nick confirms that the light does symbolize the past and is a way that Gatsby connected with Daisy through the years he has been without her, for the light comforted him every night when looking out towards Daisy’s house. However, in the last lines of the novel, Nick mentions that “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us” (180). Gatsby’s light, while symbolizing his past with Daisy, was the motivation for their “orgastic” – exciting – future; Gatsby did everything for Daisy so that they could enjoy an impending life together, looking into the future while motivated through the spectacular times of the past, symbolized all through the green light.
Despite the green light, Fitzgerald implements a multitude of colors in his novel, attaching specific colors to characters that act as an allegory for each. Named after a flower with white petals, Daisy always wears white; the reader first sees her at Tom Buchanan’s mansion, wearing a “white” dress, “rippling” and “fluttering” under the wind (8). Even in Jordan’s flashback, Daisy “dressed in white” and owned a “white roadster,” showing that this blank, pure color has followed Daisy her entire life (74). This whiteness that revolves around Daisy suggests her purity and innocence, for as a young woman in the 1920’s, she does not have the same freedom that men do, as seen with her husband cheating on her and viewing her as property. Moreover, white symbolizes a higher status, for it is not stained by any other colors, attracting a quality of cleanliness to it. As a teenager, Daisy Fay’s house had the “largest of the banners” as well as “the largest of the lawns” in the neighborhood, and she herself was “by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville” (74). Her dressing in white exposed her wealthy background, for not everyone can maintain such cleanliness in their lives unless they have the money for it; in the valley of ashes, for example, upholding one’s white appearance would be difficult due to the black smoke and ashes in the air. Moreover, Fitzgerald further symbolizes Daisy’s upper-class status through Tom’s racist remarks about the “white race” being the “dominant race,” attaching an image of dominance to the white that Daisy constantly wears (13). Since white has multiple symbols, such as purity and wealth, Fitzgerald implements all these associations and connotations with white to depict and develop Daisy’s character, allowing the reader to explore the unmentioned qualities of Daisy through the narrator’s observations. With these connotations, Fitzgerald attaches many colors to each character; Gatsby, for example, is associated with almost every color mentioned in the novel. Blue, like Gatsby’s gardens, symbolizes solitude and sadness; gold and yellow, such as Gatsby’s tie and car, represent wealth; green – the green light – signifies love and hope. By mixing all these colors and their meanings together, Fitzgerald develops a complex character; he depicts characters’ emotions, hopes, flaws, and class by associating colors with each person. However, by assigning a more dominant color to one, just how he devotes white to Daisy, Fitzgerald portrays the dominance of that color’s connotations over all the other colors, depicting the character’s most notable qualities, such as purity and wealth in Daisy.
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