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does F. Scott Fitzgerald use colors in The
Great Gatsby?

F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest authors of
American literature, owing his success primarily to what has long been regarded
as his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby,
written in 1925. The novel contains a great amount of symbolism, especially in
depicting the “Jazz Age,” the period in which the plot takes place. The metaphors
decoded in this paper are represented by the colors white, yellow, grey, red,
green, blue, and gold. Color symbolism used in the novel is a great testament
to what an extraordinary stylist and visionary F. Scott Fitzgerald was. Guiding
through the novel, colors provide the reader with necessary imagery about the characters
and plot.

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The Great Gatsby
is a story told from the perspective of Nick Carraway about Jay Gatsby who just
moved in to East Egg to get closer to his love interest Daisy. In Gatsby’s
eyes, the only way to win Daisy’s heart is through money. He throws lavish
parties every week hoping Daisy would show up. However, when she does, Gatsby’s
ideal of Daisy is different from reality and leads to a great disillusionment
and disappointment, resulting in Daisy causing Gatsby’s death.

The story of the novel is set in
New York in 1920s, at the end of the World Was I. Nick Carraway, the narrator,
is a young man living in West Egg. Nick tells a story of his new mysterious
neighbor Jay Gatsby, whose mansion is right new to Nicks. Gatsby throws
fabulous and magical parties every week in his mansion to attract the attention
of Daisy, a now married girl with whom he fell in love years before. Gatsby eventually
manages to meet Daisy again and tries to win her over and the end up having an
affair. Meanwhile Daisy’s husband Tom takes a mistress Myrtle, who is later
killed by Daisy in an unfortunate car accident. Gatsby takes the blame for
killing Myrtle and is shot by Myrtle’s husband.

In Gatsby, colors act as a sign for a particular concepts, themes, or
ideas that Fitzgerald wants to present. One should look for symbols to capture
a better picture of the novel’s characters, and, more importantly, to help
interpret what the commentary and lessons of the novel are.

The symbolism and metaphors
used in the novel are certainly not connected only to colors, e.g., Gatsby
chasing after Daisy is often seen a metaphor to chasing American Dream, i.e., achieving
greatness via hard work etc (“from rags to riches”), however, for this paper, I
will comment on the metaphorical use of colors only.

Color symbolism is not something easily definable.
Just as everybody sees colors differently, everybody’s association to colors
will undeniably vary for each individual. As Charles A. Riley writes:

“The sheer
multiplicity of color codes attests to the profound subjectivity of the color
sense and its resistance to categorical thought. Color behavior does not
conform to one paradigm, chart, or episteme. The topic of color has become a
watershed for thinking about models and about art that is created by systems
simply because it is such a devourer of models and systems.” (Riley, 1996)

As will be evident from the
analysis of colors in The Great Gatsby,
hardly ever does a color have one simple connotation. More often, colors bear
various, often even seemingly opposite metaphorical meanings.

The first color used
abundantly in the novel is the color white. Since the Middle Ages the white
color has been perceived as a symbol of purity, innocence, joy, beauty,
virginity and honor. Despite the fact that white has predominantly positive connotations
in our minds, there is another side to the color white. In the novel, white is
mostly ascribed to Daisy. She dresses in white, owns a white car, and her mansion
is described as white in multiple places throughout the novel, e.g., “The
windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that
seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room,
blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags.” On the
contrary, white color bears a more undesirable meaning to the character of
Daisy. As one begins to realize while reading the novel, she is far from
perfect. She is spoiled with money to the point where she becomes unable to
feel any kind of empathy towards other people, she is a shallow and superficial
symbol of the whole Jazz Age of the 1920s. When speaking about her daughter,
Daisy says: “And I hope she’ll be a fool, that’s the best thing a girl can be in this
world, a beautiful little fool.” Daisy’s shallowness surfaces here, as we learn
that she would rather have a daughter that is pretty enough to get attention
and free things in life, but also foolish enough not to realize that there
should be and is more to life.

Another example of both sides
of the white coin could be Fitzgerald’s description of East Egg: “Across the
courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the
water”. Again, one could, at a first glance, see East Egg as a place of great
opportunities and new beginnings, but all that is only a shell inside of which
lies nothing but emptiness and superficiality.

White provides the reader with
the sad reality that lies behind lavish parties, opulent houses and lofty behavior,
how wealth can very easily consume people’s lives.

Yellow, in the novel, is mostly
associated with Jay Gatsby: “That yellow car I was driving this afternoon
wasn’t mine do you hear?” Yellow is often put in comparison to gold in the
novel, representing that even though Gatsby is wealthy, his fortune does not
mirror his social status, as he is unable to enter the high class society of
New York City. His newly acquired fortune is merely a veneer behind which he
hides in order to fit in and get closer to Daisy. “The lights grow brighter as
the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail
music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher”, writes the author about
one of the Gatsby’s parties, highlighting the fact that the parties Gatsby’s
throwing are merely a gimmick to allure Daisy and fit in her world. He is not a
shallow person consumed with money, he does not even take part in the parties
he throws. On the other hand, Daisy’s world is no mask, her life really is as
opulent as she gives out since she comes from a prominent family of high social
status. Fitzgerald even directly refers to Daisy as “golden” in chapter 7: “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.”

Another color closely
associated with the character of Gatsby is blue. Generally seen as a symbol of
bad mood and depression, e.g., evidenced by the English expression to feel blue, blue in The Great Gatsby represents mostly melancholy,
loneliness, serenity, and fantasy. Blue represents everything Gatsby tries to
hide behind his newly found lavish lifestyle, his inner lonely and unhappy self.
Fitzgerald refers to the water separating Gatsby from Daisy symbolically as “blue
lawn,” highlighting the melancholic nature of the disillusioned man’s fantasy
of love. Another association to color blue is fantasy and illusion. Gatsby is
blind to how superficial Daisy is, still holding on to the idea that she has
been in love in him all those years in between their separation, not realizing
how flimsy his dream is. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his
dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it,” explains
Nick referring to Gatsby’s failure to accomplish his dream.

Grey is a basic color, very
close to black, which is reflected in the associations we often make. In The Great Gatsby, there is a whole
location very symbolic of the color grey – The Valley of Ashes. Grey therefore
symbolizes bleakness, dreariness and gloominess and decay. Grey is not used
very explicitly, however it is evident how symbolism works nonetheless. George
Wilson is described in terms of words such as “ashen,” “pale,” and “glazed”,
suggesting his unimportance and association to the Valley of Ashes and his
industrial background. “When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an
agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife’s man and not his own.”

Red color is a symbol of life
and love as well as arrogance and violence. As previously mentioned, white is
associated predominantly with Daisy, and as Xu Dawen writes: “Red and white
were fundamental tone of color in Daisy and Tom’s villa. Since white symbolized
personality characteristics of Daisy, red can show Tom’s individual character:
selfish, arrogant, barbarous, and cruel.” ( Xu, 2013). Selfishness and cruelty
are traits that are not hard to find in Tom. His disloyalty is evident from the
fact that he cheats on his wife, even after he finds out that Daisy has an affair
with Gatsby, he parades her in front of his opponent as if he was no threat to
him. Finally, he even does not hesitate to contrive Gatsby’s death.

The last color of symbolism in
The Great Gatsby is green. Throughout
the novel there is a persistent image of the green light at the end of a dock
towards which Gatsby often glances, dreaming about his life-long pursuit of
Daisy. For Gatsby, therefore, the green color represents Daisy and his hope and
optimism to win her over again. As the novel continues, though, other meanings
to the color green begin to surface. As the English expression “green with envy”
suggests, envy is another common association often made to the color. Gatsby
could be seen as a character trying to break up a marriage, acting on his envy
and jealousy of Daisy’s husband. Another target of his envy is the whole
society he moved into – the high class society of East Egg. Gatsby compensates what
he lacks in status by his lavish lifestyle just to be able to relate to the
wealthy. Gatsby is blinded with envy and thinks that only with the money can he
ever again have a chance with Daisy. Later after meeting with Daisy, green
begins to become a symbol of disillusionment about his fantasy of Daisy and the
real Daisy. The green color takes on
the meaning of the idea of perfect future fading away and coming to realization
how fragile and unstable reality is.

From the color symbolism used
plentifully in the novel, Fitzgerald develops the plot, brings closer attention
to characters’ personality traits, importance within the novel as well as their
intentions and hidden motives. Furthermore, symbolism of colors deepens the
theme. Constantly reappearing throughout the novel, the six main colors (white,
yellow, blue, grey, red, and green) provide the reader with the knowledge, or
at least a hint, of what remains unuttered, as well as some motives or
intentions of various characters.

Apart from Fitzgerald’s accurate dialogues, metaphorical
use of color provides readers with a vivid sense of reality, in this case a colorful
world of the “Jazz Age” in 1920s. Color symbolism guides the reader and deepens
the moral ideas of the novel, especially Gatsby’s disillusionment and subsequent
failure in chasing his American Dream. SUN Xiao-fang cites from Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties: “Characters are more than the sum of
their own experiences: they constitute America itself as it moves into the Jazz
Age.” (Sun, 2017)

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