Symbolism in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
Scott Fitzgerald's novel, the Great Gatsby, is filled with symbolism that focuses on the extravagance of the twenties. The novel takes place during an occasion in history when materialism has hit an all-time high in America. Gatsby, the character, becomes just one symbol in the novel. Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom symbolize the greed and extravagance of this self-serving generation. Adultery becomes a symbol is the moral indecency that permeates the society. Fitzgerald has also incorporated numerous other symbols in the novel that represent the different aspects of this incredible generation. The green light on the Buchanan's deck, affluence, the Valley of Ashes, Doctor T.J. Eckleburg's eyes and the East and West Eggs are a few of the symbols Fitzgerald utilizes to illustrate his points regarding this group of people. These symbols allow us to understand the scope of what has happened with this generation. They are not simply rotten; they are corrupt beyond all hope. Adultery, murder, and a total lack of regard for life remain the only memories for Nick as he leaves New York. The Great Gatsby captures all that is real and ugly about humanity. The passion and the pain only scratch the surface of the human heart as that collective heart is calloused by decadent living. The last drops of sentiment are relief as Nick manages to escape the least unharmed.
Gatsby is a symbol of the materialism that ran through the twenties. He is a self-made man that has the world at his fingertips. He has unbelievable parties to impress not just everyone around him but Daisy and he brags that he keeps his home filled with "interesting people, night and day. People who do interesting things. Celebrated people" (92). Gatsby does not withhold when it comes to entertaining these people, either. On almost every Friday night, his festivities include everything including "five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiter in New York -- every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves" (40). In addition, buffet tables were lined and "garnished with glistening hors d'oeuvres, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold" (41). This lifestyle symbolizes the wealth and the waste of the twenties. These are the kinds of people that have so much money they do not know what to do with it. The last thing they worry about is how much something costs. Gatsby, being from poor roots, symbolizes the excess of this generation.
Gatsby is a complicated character because even as he symbolizes the lavishness of his generation, he also symbolizes the American Dream. His chronicle is actually a successful one in that he made his own wealth. He had an objective and he achieved it, which is admirable. He worked hard and made a name for himself. This is the epitome of the American Dream and Gatsby does this very well. However, in all his efforts, Gatsby misses the mark along the way. He lets his foolishness regarding love not only interfere with his fortune but also literally destroy it. We cannot look at Gatsby's achievement without also looking it his decline. Gatsby is a symbol of the silliness associated with love. He wagers everything on the notion that Daisy will return to him and when this does not happen, he is crushed in more ways than one. Her love was everything to him and when it seemed that love was lost, Gatsby lost his will to carry on with his extraordinary lifestyle. What energizes Gatsby to become great is what destroys him. In this sense, Gatsby is a symbol of the mistakes we make when we think we are doing the right thing but do not slow down enough to consider the risks.
Daisy is a symbol of what can go wrong with a human being that surrounds herself with the riches of the world and never truly discovering who she is. Daisy is happy with money and as long she has money enough to do whatever she pleases, she is content. There is no substance to Daisy and because of this, she represents the type of people that emerge from excessive wealth. She and Tom are symbols of the worst of what can emerge from wealth. They are despicable, self-centered people. They are, in a word, ugly people but they would argue otherwise. Daisy's world is fake and "redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new times" (154). It would be easy to feel sorry for Daisy and Tom except they would belittle anyone for doing so because there is nothing wrong with them. They would defend this position by pointing all of their things declaring all their wealth. Nick realizes their snobbery by the novel's conclusion, noting that the couple is careless because they "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made" (184). This statement captures the essence of what these people symbolize, which is basically everything bad in mankind.
Adultery is a symbol of the moral wasteland in which Gatsby lived. Again, when viewing Gatsby, we see how desire pulls Gatsby off course. He wants Daisy and he never stops to consider that face that her marriage is anything that should stop him. In fact, he is convinced that she still loves him as she once did and her marriage is simply something in the way. Gatsby cannot see himself committing adultery; instead, he sees two people in love. It is this simple for Gatsby and her marriage to Tom is nothing more than bothersome. This cavalier attitude toward marriage symbolizes the lack of morality that permeates society. Gatsby is not the only one infected; Tom and Myrtle are infected, too. These people carry on in affairs without one mention of the immorality of what is going on. Adultery is something that happens like anything else. It is not shocking; it is not loathed. These people were compelled not to do the right thing but to do what felt good. Gatsby do not care if Daisy is married and she certainly does not seem to care. Her marriage does not stop them from doing what they want to do. Her child never comes into question, either. Gatsby behaves as if Daisy's marriage or child did not exist. Sadly, Daisy seems to mirror these same sentiments. She feels no loyalty to her family and this is a symptom of the times. Gatsby hopes this is because of him but the truth is that Daisy is hardened to any kind of emotional connection to her family because of the excessive lifestyle she lives. In short, there is nothing wrong with having an affair. Everyone having an affair is too self-absorbed to think about immorality or the repercussions of their behavior. Guilt is bypassed in order to feel good. The damaged aftermath symbolizes the harm resulting from this behavior. These people do not believe in consequences and, should there be any, they will simply buy something to make themselves feel better. This mentality symbolizes an entire generation raised on greed and selfishness. They see nothing wrong with committing adultery and do it without thinking. Adultery leads to death. Tom and Myrtle, Daisy and Gatsby are playing a dangerous game. However, it is important to realize that they do not see things this way. They are simply satisfying their desires. The lack of morality is emphasized the how these people carry on as if adultery is acceptable. This type of mentality symbolizes the moral decay of the twenties.
The green light shining at the end of Daisy's deck is a significant symbol of Gatsby's dream. Like Daisy, Gatsby can see the light. He can reach out and have it seem inches from his fingertips yet he is unable to actually touch it. We see Gatsby reaching out toward the light early in the novel because, like Daisy, he is consumed with it. He comes incredible close to touching but it misses him. The light is "minute and far away" (Fitzgerald 22), as Nick tells us. Nick understands that Gatsby will never have it. It is far away and that is how it will remain. Even at the end of the novel, Gatsby still looks at the light longingly as if there is a chance for Daisy to come back to him even after all that has happened. The light, as long as it shines, represents hope just as Daisy, as long as she lives, will represent that same hope.
The enormous symbols of wealth represent the extravagance of the era. Houses become symbols of status and wealth. The houses in the novel symbolize extravagant wealth. Gatsby buys…