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.