Howdoes F. Scott Fitzgerald use colors in TheGreat Gatsby? F.
Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest authors ofAmerican literature, owing his success primarily to what has long been regardedas his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby,written in 1925. The novel contains a great amount of symbolism, especially indepicting the “Jazz Age,” the period in which the plot takes place. The metaphorsdecoded 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 testamentto what an extraordinary stylist and visionary F. Scott Fitzgerald was. Guidingthrough the novel, colors provide the reader with necessary imagery about the charactersand plot.
The Great Gatsbyis a story told from the perspective of Nick Carraway about Jay Gatsby who justmoved in to East Egg to get closer to his love interest Daisy. In Gatsby’seyes, the only way to win Daisy’s heart is through money. He throws lavishparties every week hoping Daisy would show up. However, when she does, Gatsby’sideal of Daisy is different from reality and leads to a great disillusionmentand disappointment, resulting in Daisy causing Gatsby’s death.The story of the novel is set inNew 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 mysteriousneighbor Jay Gatsby, whose mansion is right new to Nicks.
Gatsby throwsfabulous and magical parties every week in his mansion to attract the attentionof Daisy, a now married girl with whom he fell in love years before. Gatsby eventuallymanages to meet Daisy again and tries to win her over and the end up having anaffair. Meanwhile Daisy’s husband Tom takes a mistress Myrtle, who is laterkilled by Daisy in an unfortunate car accident. Gatsby takes the blame forkilling Myrtle and is shot by Myrtle’s husband.In Gatsby, colors act as a sign for a particular concepts, themes, orideas that Fitzgerald wants to present. One should look for symbols to capturea better picture of the novel’s characters, and, more importantly, to helpinterpret what the commentary and lessons of the novel are.
The symbolism and metaphorsused in the novel are certainly not connected only to colors, e.g., Gatsbychasing after Daisy is often seen a metaphor to chasing American Dream, i.e., achievinggreatness via hard work etc (“from rags to riches”), however, for this paper, Iwill 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 colorswill undeniably vary for each individual. As Charles A.
Riley writes:”The sheermultiplicity of color codes attests to the profound subjectivity of the colorsense and its resistance to categorical thought. Color behavior does notconform to one paradigm, chart, or episteme. The topic of color has become awatershed for thinking about models and about art that is created by systemssimply because it is such a devourer of models and systems.” (Riley, 1996)As will be evident from theanalysis of colors in The Great Gatsby,hardly ever does a color have one simple connotation.
More often, colors bearvarious, often even seemingly opposite metaphorical meanings.The first color usedabundantly in the novel is the color white. Since the Middle Ages the whitecolor has been perceived as a symbol of purity, innocence, joy, beauty,virginity and honor. Despite the fact that white has predominantly positive connotationsin our minds, there is another side to the color white.
In the novel, white ismostly ascribed to Daisy. She dresses in white, owns a white car, and her mansionis described as white in multiple places throughout the novel, e.g., “Thewindows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside thatseemed 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 thecontrary, white color bears a more undesirable meaning to the character ofDaisy. As one begins to realize while reading the novel, she is far fromperfect. She is spoiled with money to the point where she becomes unable tofeel any kind of empathy towards other people, she is a shallow and superficialsymbol 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 thisworld, a beautiful little fool.” Daisy’s shallowness surfaces here, as we learnthat she would rather have a daughter that is pretty enough to get attentionand free things in life, but also foolish enough not to realize that thereshould be and is more to life.Another example of both sidesof the white coin could be Fitzgerald’s description of East Egg: “Across thecourtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along thewater”. Again, one could, at a first glance, see East Egg as a place of greatopportunities and new beginnings, but all that is only a shell inside of whichlies nothing but emptiness and superficiality.
White provides the reader withthe 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 mostlyassociated with Jay Gatsby: “That yellow car I was driving this afternoonwasn’t mine do you hear?” Yellow is often put in comparison to gold in thenovel, representing that even though Gatsby is wealthy, his fortune does notmirror his social status, as he is unable to enter the high class society ofNew York City. His newly acquired fortune is merely a veneer behind which hehides in order to fit in and get closer to Daisy.
“The lights grow brighter asthe earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktailmusic, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher”, writes the author aboutone of the Gatsby’s parties, highlighting the fact that the parties Gatsby’sthrowing are merely a gimmick to allure Daisy and fit in her world. He is not ashallow person consumed with money, he does not even take part in the partieshe throws. On the other hand, Daisy’s world is no mask, her life really is asopulent as she gives out since she comes from a prominent family of high socialstatus. Fitzgerald even directly refers to Daisy as “golden” in chapter 7: “Itwas 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 theking’s daughter, the golden girl.”Another color closelyassociated with the character of Gatsby is blue. Generally seen as a symbol ofbad 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 tohide behind his newly found lavish lifestyle, his inner lonely and unhappy self.Fitzgerald refers to the water separating Gatsby from Daisy symbolically as “bluelawn,” highlighting the melancholic nature of the disillusioned man’s fantasyof love.
Another association to color blue is fantasy and illusion. Gatsby isblind to how superficial Daisy is, still holding on to the idea that she hasbeen in love in him all those years in between their separation, not realizinghow flimsy his dream is. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and hisdream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it,” explainsNick referring to Gatsby’s failure to accomplish his dream.Grey is a basic color, veryclose to black, which is reflected in the associations we often make. In The Great Gatsby, there is a wholelocation very symbolic of the color grey – The Valley of Ashes. Grey thereforesymbolizes bleakness, dreariness and gloominess and decay. Grey is not usedvery explicitly, however it is evident how symbolism works nonetheless. GeorgeWilson is described in terms of words such as “ashen,” “pale,” and “glazed”,suggesting his unimportance and association to the Valley of Ashes and hisindustrial background.
“When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in anagreeable, colorless way. He was his wife’s man and not his own.”Red color is a symbol of lifeand love as well as arrogance and violence. As previously mentioned, white isassociated predominantly with Daisy, and as Xu Dawen writes: “Red and whitewere fundamental tone of color in Daisy and Tom’s villa. Since white symbolizedpersonality characteristics of Daisy, red can show Tom’s individual character:selfish, arrogant, barbarous, and cruel.
” ( Xu, 2013). Selfishness and crueltyare traits that are not hard to find in Tom. His disloyalty is evident from thefact that he cheats on his wife, even after he finds out that Daisy has an affairwith Gatsby, he parades her in front of his opponent as if he was no threat tohim. Finally, he even does not hesitate to contrive Gatsby’s death.The last color of symbolism inThe Great Gatsby is green.
Throughoutthe novel there is a persistent image of the green light at the end of a docktowards which Gatsby often glances, dreaming about his life-long pursuit ofDaisy. For Gatsby, therefore, the green color represents Daisy and his hope andoptimism to win her over again. As the novel continues, though, other meaningsto the color green begin to surface. As the English expression “green with envy”suggests, envy is another common association often made to the color. Gatsbycould be seen as a character trying to break up a marriage, acting on his envyand jealousy of Daisy’s husband. Another target of his envy is the wholesociety he moved into – the high class society of East Egg.
Gatsby compensates whathe lacks in status by his lavish lifestyle just to be able to relate to thewealthy. Gatsby is blinded with envy and thinks that only with the money can heever again have a chance with Daisy. Later after meeting with Daisy, greenbegins to become a symbol of disillusionment about his fantasy of Daisy and thereal Daisy. The green color takes onthe meaning of the idea of perfect future fading away and coming to realizationhow fragile and unstable reality is.From the color symbolism usedplentifully in the novel, Fitzgerald develops the plot, brings closer attentionto characters’ personality traits, importance within the novel as well as theirintentions and hidden motives. Furthermore, symbolism of colors deepens thetheme. Constantly reappearing throughout the novel, the six main colors (white,yellow, blue, grey, red, and green) provide the reader with the knowledge, orat least a hint, of what remains unuttered, as well as some motives orintentions of various characters.
Apart from Fitzgerald’s accurate dialogues, metaphoricaluse of color provides readers with a vivid sense of reality, in this case a colorfulworld of the “Jazz Age” in 1920s. Color symbolism guides the reader and deepensthe moral ideas of the novel, especially Gatsby’s disillusionment and subsequentfailure in chasing his American Dream. SUN Xiao-fang cites from Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties: “Characters are more than the sum oftheir own experiences: they constitute America itself as it moves into the JazzAge.” (Sun, 2017)