Authors often use color symbolism in their writing to show a deeper meaning. Often, these colors associate with a particular feeling of object. Fitzgerald is no different in his work, The Great Gatsby. It is discernible that Fitzgerald uses a multitude of color references in his writing. The ones most easily recognizable are the use of yellow, white, and green. There are, however, such colors as silver, blue and red that lack obvious recognition due to their vagueness in the text.
Yellow is identifiable as money and white as purity, however, the full aspect of the meaning is lost. White is the first color the Fitzgerald symbolizes through his writing. A strong contrast between light and dark shows whites in accordance with other colors (Schneider 1). The white represents the purity of Gatsby’s dream that mingles with darkness in the form of such people like Tom and Daisy. The Valley of the Ashes shows this contrast. In a world that is so grand, the American Dream is left to wallow in the true nature of humanity (Schneider 4).
In the first chapter, where Daisy and Jordan first appear, “They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house”(Fitzgerald 12). Here Fitzgerald wants to underscore the irony between their visible appearance and their actual corruption. In this specific example, white symbolizes the airiness and buoyancy, and the fact that everything is surreal (Schneider 2). In accordance with the symbolism of white and gold/yellow, Daisy is the most prominent character to which these colors apply.
Daisy represents the white flower with the golden center (Schneider 3). In Gatsby’s eyes, she is pure, but really her lifestyle revolves around money, which corresponds with the color gold. In the text, there are many references to this such as, ” Her voice is “like money”; she carries a “little gold pencil”; when she visits Gatsby there are “two rows of brass buttons on her dress” (Schneider 3). Gatsby’s car as Nick describes it as a “rich cream color” which shows the mixture of white and yellow.
The white again exhibit buoyancy and the purity of the dream, while the yellow shows the mixing of the dream with the materialistic nature of the money (Schneider 8). When Myrtle succumbs to death at the hands of the car, the purity vanishes, and the yellow overshadows the white so that the car is described as just a plain yellow car by a witness. This is the scene that most clearly reveals the dream for what it really is and shows that not only is Gatsby’s dream died, but the impurity of the American Dream in itself.
Silver is not a prominent color symbol in The Great Gatsby, however, there is one main scene in which it is an important symbol. When Nick sees Daisy and Jordan both lying on the couch a second time, they are “like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans” (Fitzgerald 122). Silver is symbolizing both the dream and the reality since as the color of the romantic stars and the moon represents the romantic hope and promise that govern Gatsby’s life (Schneider 3).
An example where this romantic side appears is in the first scene where Nick is observing Gatsby, who is staring up at the stars in a romantic sort of longing. Silver is also the color of money, which again represents the corruption of the dream. There is one conclusive color that deserves an explanation, and that is green. Yellow is one of the primary colors shown throughout the novel, but one of the other more subtle colors is the use of blue. The blue epitomizes with the promise and dream that Gatsby has mistaken for reality (Schneider 5).
The green light that Fitzgerald mentions in the novel represents Daisy and Gatsby’s dream to be able to finally be with her again. The green light is a mixture of the blue representing the hope in Gatsby’s dream but is impure due to the yellow of the money and the role that it plays in Daisy’s life. Again, the truth blinds Gatsby, which leads to his abatement in the end. It is in the pursuit of an adulterated grail that he succumbs to death and along with him, the purity of the American Dream. Fitzgerald’s use of color in The Great Gatsby is a pivotal part of obtaining the true corruption of the American Dream. He uses it so brilliantly that many of his uses are no more than an inkling, so as to give subtle hints here and there as to the true nature of things. Primarily, Fitzgerald’s uses of yellow, silver, and green are what reveal the true essence of this novel in its entirety.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.
- Schneider, Daniel J. Color- Symbolism in The Great Gatsby. n. d. Salem Press. 4 March 2012.
- http://search.ebscohost.com/login. aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=48218028&site=lrc-live>.
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