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[SYMBOLISM & MOTIFS]

IN THE GREAT GATSBY


Eric Tharmathurai, Eric Cheng, Malika Asthana, John Lee Ms. Hall Jan 14, 2009
ACTIVITY 1) Introduction to symbolism
WHITE
Lit: lack of colour
Fig- illusion: purity
Fig- reality: emptiness,
corruption

EAST/WEST EGG
Lit: residential area
Fig- illusion: prosperity
Fig- reality: corruption/
superficiality

FALL
Lit: ending season
Fig- illusion: the end
Fig- reality: the beginning,
rebirth

YELLOW
Lit: physical colour
Fig- illusion: prosperity
Fig- reality: moral decay

GATSBYS HOUSE
Lit: rich residence
Fig- illusion: success
Fig- reality: loneliness

GREEN
Lit: physical colour
Fig- illusion: future, hope,
money
Fig- reality: envy, sickness

SPRING
Lit: the first season
Fig- illusion: rebirth
Fig- reality: beginning of
corruption

EYES OF ECKLEBERG
Lit: an advertisement,
consumerism
Fig- illusion: eyes of God
watching everything
Fig- reality: corruption
(analysis: there are no eyes
of God, symbol is
contradicting himself)

VALLEY OF ASHES
Lit: industrial wasteland
Fig- illusion: prosperity,
labour
Fig- reality: loss of hope,
death of American
Dream/religion

SUMMER
Lit: middle/hottest season
Fig- illusion: prosperity,
decisions
Fig- reality: corruption,
conflict

OWL-EYED MAN
Lit: spectacles
Fig- illusion: nonsensical
man
Fig- reality: insightful man

2) Losers in introduction game are punished: each symbol can carry even opposite meanings,
and failure to recognize this just as the characters live in illusion leads to the pursuit of
prosperity, that results in only moral decay and no significant rewards
THESIS In The Great Gatsby, the dichotomy within symbols underscores both the glamorous
American Dream and the consequent broken morality of its pursuit.
American dream hope for: happiness, prosperity, wealth
Broken morality loss of: values, innocence, goodness
ARGUMENTS

Motif
Colour
Geography
Seasons
Vision

Symbols
green, white, yellow, white/yellow
East Egg/West Egg, Valley of Ashes, Gatsbys Mansion
spring, summer, fall
Dr. Eckleberg, owl-eyed man

ANALYSIS
1. The motif of COLOUR emphasizes the disparity between the illusions and realities in pursuing
prosperity.

- the colours green, white and yellow are ironically used with Gatsby, Jordan and Daisy,
symbolizing, on the surface,
the apparent goodness of the American Dream, and
underneath, the resulting compromise and destruction of their moralities
GREEN
- Gatsby stares at the light at the dock holding onto his memory of a past romance, hopes to
win back her affection by becoming wealthy
- The light is green, the colour of money: through wealth, he hopes to actualize his romantic
ideals of Daisy: Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year
recedes before us. (171) Gatsby is convinced in the power of money to impress Daisy; the
green light thus represents his hope for his idealism
- However, green is also symbolic for envy, sickness
- Like an illness, Gatsby is deluded and fixated; corrupted in his illusions of his pastoral history
- Owns extravagant material possessions, but through bootlegging liquor; e.g. shady Meyer
Wolfsheim
- Gatsby is jealous of Tom, and loves Daisy despite her existing marriage
- Illness develops as superficiality: He hadnt once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he
revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her wellloved eyes. (91) = shallowness
- Green emphasizes Gatsbys hope and prosperity, and also becoming corrupt, envious, and
superficial
WHITE
- the illusion of purity and innocence represented by the colour white are ironically used with
corrupt people
- when Daisy and Jordan are first introduced to Nick, they wear extravagant white dresses ,
white girlhood (24)
- white is the lack of colour, connoting moral purity appearing to be untainted
- however, their dresses are just another material possession; white is used as a facade for
their actual corruption
- as critic Daniel Schneider argues in Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wants
to underscore the ironic disparity between the ostensible purity of Daisy and Jordan and their
actual corruption.
- the use of white is ironic; also, white represents lack of meaning, hollowness
- Jordan has a careless, reckless attitude towards life: She was incurably dishonest. She wasnt
able to endure being at a disadvantageshe had begun dealing in subterfuges (41)
- Cheating at golf and dismissing a car accident, she lacks responsibility because money gives
her security
- Likewise, Daisy is egotistical, always in the center of attention
- [Daisys voice] was full of money...high in a white palace the kings daughter (120) her
white purity and innocence is only an illusion: able to fake her innocence, she never has guilt
- emotionally numb and lacking morality, she doesnt stop when striking Myrtle, and allows
Gatsby to take blame
- The colour white represents the purity of wealth with Jordan and Daisy, who are revealed to be
corrupted
YELLOW
- Yellow is used as the colour of the lie of prosperity and the truth of moral decay
- Many of Gatsbys possessions and parties are described as yellow: on a literal level, signifies
gold
- Yellow represents wealth: his gold tie, yellow cocktail music
- However, yellow also represents decay, the dissolution of morality from consumerism
- Like Prufrocks yellow fog, where there is decay of time and mind
- Cars are status symbols, another example of Gatsbys prosperity, but it kills Myrtle
materialism = moral decay
- Daisy removes guilt and passes it to Gatsby, who sacrifices his moral integrity
- Also, Daisy is the golden girl and Jordan has a golden shoulder - yellow for physical wealth,
internal corruption
- Dr Ecklebergs glasses have a yellow rim; sees corruption

- The colour yellow = the promise of happiness in material wealth, and the moral corruption
that results
WHITE/YELLOW
- Furthermore, the combination of yellow and white symbolism further emphasizes the illusions
of prosperity, contrasted with the realities of broken moralities
- Daisy is aptly named; a daisy is a flower with white petals outside, and at its centre, is a
yellow core
- Daisy displays an innocent air, but it is only an illusion, a mask for her murderous, guiltless
nature
- As well, the differing societies in The Great Gatsby are also aptly named as the East and West
Egg
- Eggs are white outside, but the yolk inside eggs are yellow as well, pure on the surface,
corrupt underneath
- both worlds are consumed by the pursuit of the American Dream: almost everyone seeks the
glory, happiness and satisfaction of wealth and status, and is corrupted by it
2. The GEOGRAPHY motif illustrates both the reality of the materialistic, wealth-driven American
Dream, and track the course of the resulting corruption of morals of its pursuit.
- By embarking on an empty pursuit of happiness and wealth, the characters corrupt
themselves, and sacrifice their morals. The settings of the East Egg, West Egg, the Valley of
Ashes, and Gatsbys House are reflections of the reality of corruption that results from the
empty pursuit of the materialistic American Dream
EAST EGG/ WEST EGG
- The dichotomy within the symbol of the physical separation of the East and West Eggs
represents both the separation of different economic classes, but also the division of the two
major social classes within society
- East Egg= Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the old aristocracy who have inherited their wealth
- West Egg= Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, les nouveaux riches, often looked down upon by the
East Eggers because they do not hold the traditional values of the high-class people
- However, the discrimination between the social classes illustrates a lack of morality
- The two islands represent the separation between Gatsby and Daisy
- Although Gatsby has attained wealth to win Daisy back, his dream is impossible
- Just as the water separates the East and West Eggs, the social disparity between the old
aristocracy and the newly rich separates the East Egg from the less fashionable (as Nick
calls it) West Egg
VALLEY OF ASHES
- Located between the West Egg and New York City
- This is a valley of ashesa 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 ash-grey men, who move dimly and already
crumbling through the powdery air. (26)
- The corrupt morality of New York City is what preyed on Gatsby Nick insists, the foul dust
floated in the wake of his dreams (8)
- The dust of corruption (like the ash in the Valley of Ashes) clouds Gatsbys vision and breaks
his moral value
- The wealthy of society inflict pain on those who live in the Valley of Ashes:
- Nick meets Toms mistress: Myrtle, Tom has an affair with Myrtle, Daisy kills Myrtle
- Tom and Daisy crush Gatsbys dream of winning Daisy back: Gatsby gave up trying to
convince Daisy, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to
touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost
voice across the room. (128)
- Also represents the plight of the poor: illustrated by grey colour imagery, to emphasize the
hopelessness of the ashen faces of the poor
- Valley = Absence of life, just as grey = absence of vitality
- George Wilson is among the poor of the dirty ashes who loses his vitality as a result of living
here, and being a victim of the cruelty of the rich

- His face is ashen after hearing of his wifes affair


GATSBYS MANSION
- Gatsby = victim of social class prejudice
- Acquires wealth quickly through illegal means to impress Daisy (thus initiating his corruption)
- His mansion appears to represent the success of the American Dream: Nick says, I was afraid
for a moment that my house was on fire () Turning a corner, I saw that it was Gatsbys
house, lit from tower to cellar. (79)
- In reality, however, Gatsby it is all a faade, and his success is hollow, based entirely on
superficiality
- He remains lonely and unhappy
3. The SEASON motif expresses the distinction between the fallatic ideals and realities of
discarding morals.
SPRING
- Spring represents a new beginning
- We are given little information about Gatsby. Gatsby? demanded Daisy. What Gatsby? (16)
- He lost sight of his goal, and that superficiality lead to his corruption. Which in turn corrupted
the means of his obtaining his dream (e.g. bootlegging liquor)
- Nick portrayed spring-cleaning when he threw out his morals and brought in corruption. This is
the start of his descent into corruption: I even had a short affair with a girl who lived in
Jersey City (57)
- As Nick gets involved with Jordan, he becomes more corrupted. He describes her as a
corrupted woman: She was incurably dishonest. She wasnt able to endure being at a
disadvantage (58)
- The symbol of spring expresses two contrasting ideas: rebirth and the start of the descent into
corruption
SUMMER
- Love seems to flare up but it is not the pure, carefree love
- Christine Deakers says that: Gatsby does not win Daisys love; therefore, summer renders
nothing except crushed fruitions and the decay of the human spirit.
- As the story develops, Nicks corruption becomes more relevant: Nick says: The friends
looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-Eastern Europe
[CORRUPTION], and I was glad that the sight of Gatsbys splendid car was included in their
sombre holiday (67). Materialism is a means of escaping sadness.
- Nick has tasted corruption and he now has to choose to stay within it
- Jordan foreshadows: Life starts all over again in the fall. The choice whether to stay with the
broken American dream or to bring back morals.
- Also, foreshadows Gatsbys death.
- The symbol of summer has two different connotations: prosperity and corruption
FALL
- The ending of summer is an indication of the end
- The death of Gatsby also happens on the first day of autumn.
- This marks the death of the corrupted American dream
- Nick gets a grasp of his morals again and Nick dumps Jordan. This loss exemplified Nicks lost
of corruption because his infatuated love is now fading away from his corrupted ex-girlfriend.
- The illusion is that this seems to be the end, but in reality this is only just the beginning
4. The motif of VISION emphasizes the rise of consumerism and manifestation of corruption in
the pursuit of wealth and power.
T.J. ECKLEBURG
- Eckelburg has blue eyes and yellow rimmed glasses
- Blue eyes represents purity
- Yellow represents corruption put over his eyes in the form of man-made glasses
- His blank face represents the emptiness in people.
- Even though they have the material goods, they are not happy

- The eyes of Eckleburg watch over the Valley of Ashes, he is a passive God, shown through his
empty face
- God himself has become a simple advertisement on a billboard
OWL-EYED MAN
- Owl = wisdom, eyes = Gods eyes
- first introduced as a drunk, tipsy man
- However, he is insightful
- Absolutely real, - have pages and everything. I thought theyd be a nice durable cardboard
- Thought that the books would be fake, just as how Gatsby is being fake
- Similar to Eckleburg, his glasses show him a corrupted view of the world, but that is undone
when Gatsby dies and he removes his glasses
WORKS CITED
1. Burnam, Tom. The Eyes of Dr. Eckleburg: A Re-Examination of The Great Gatsby.
College English, Vol. 14, No. 1. National Council of Teachers of English: 1952. (7-12)
2. Deakers, Christine. The Great Gatsby's Summer & American Dream.Suite 101. 2008. 11
Jan. 2010. <http://classic-americanfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/
summer_and_the_american_dream_in_the_great_gatsb>.
3. Eliot, T.S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Viewpoints 12. Ed. Elynor Kagan. Toronto:
Pearson Education Canada Inc, 2002. Print.
4. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Books, 1950.
5. Schneider, Daniel. Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby.Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby:
The Novel, The Critics, The Background. Martin Steinmann Jr., Ed. New York: Charles
Scribners Sons, 1970.
6. Will, Barbara. Great Gatsby and the Obscene World. College Literature. 2005. 11 Jan.
2010. < http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3709/is_200510/ai_n15739726/>