Symbolism in “The Great Gatsby” essays


F. Scott Fitzgerald has discussed class, wealth and social standing in his novel, “The Great Gatsby”. The character of Nick Carraway is displayed as being an educated young man, who grew up in the Midwestern United States while receiving education from Yale University. Later Nick joins the army and is posted in France during World War I. Returning home; he takes up the Bond business and settles in New York City, where Jay Gatsby lives as his next-door neighbour. Jay is a wealthy, man fond of throwing extravagant weekend parties at his huge mansion. The use of wealth as an instrument for shaping the lives of people is amply provided by the author, while describing the obsession of a lady, named Daisy, by Jay. She had rejected the marriage proposal of Gatsby, five years back, as he did not possess much wealth then. Daisy, in turn, married a wealthy businessman, Tom. However, Gatsby accumulated wealth, all these years, while hoping that daisy would leave Tom and marry him, as many of his shoddy dealings did bring him wealth and fame. Daisy being related to Nick, he arranges a reunion for her with Gatsby, at a time when she is upset by Tom’s affair with a gas station owner’s wife, Myrtle Wilson. This is yet another depiction of social standing, in the form of infidelity, as given by the author in this novel. 

The plot thickens with the confrontation of the two couples, in presence of Nick, in a New York Hotel room. As Daisy leaves Tom, going with Gatsby, driving Jay’s car she accidentally knocks down Tom’s mistress. As the theme of this novel is about wealth, social class and infidelity, which leads to various crimes; Jay Gatsby is shot to death, in his own swimming pool by the gas station owner. (The Plot summary)

Symbolism in “The Great Gatsby”

The novel is full of symbolism, as the author uses many symbols to get across his message to the readers. However, the three most important symbols are briefly described below.

Valley of ashes

The author wants to highlight the difference between the patterns of life, prevailing in East Egg and West Egg. Located midway between west Egg and New York City, the valley of ashes is symbolized by the ash growing farms, as ashes take the form of buildings and other structures, which reflect only the darkness. The author has used this symbol to highlight the moral decay, as well as, the underlying poverty. On the other hand, he has tried to compare the darkness present in this valley to the hope and beauty prevalent in the West or East Egg. As residents of this valley do not find any future for themselves, they realize that the valley does not hold anything for them, either for the present or for the future. This situation is rightly emphasized in the following quotes from the novel: (Harsha, 2008)

 “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into
ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take forms of houses and chimneys
and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and
already crumbling through the powdery air” (Chapter 2, page 23 to 26 –The valley of ashes)

Further, the author has symbolized the valley of ashes with the horrifying pain experienced by the residents, in the death of Myrtle Wilson, which occurred here only. The valley of ashes comprises a vast wasteland, which the author has compared with the absence of moral values of the people belonging to high-class society, as they show off their ill-gotten wealth. The barren land is also indicative of no sense of ethics and consciousness in their personal lives, as they do not bother about any inhibition when the same hinders their personal pleasures. (Symbolism)

The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg

This is another depiction of shallow feeling in the valley of ashes, as the pair of Doctor’s eyes, seems to be looking at nowhere and appear to have a fading look. These eyes are painted at the top of an advertisement hoarding of an eye surgeon. The eyes give a message that they are the divine eyes of god that look upon, sadly, the actions and misdeeds of the people down below; who have lost all virtues related to moral values and ethics. The paint of the hoarding is faded which hints towards the decaying relationship between God and human beings, as the author tries to bring in the similarities between wasteland – valley of ashes and the American society. The following quote from the novel symbolizes such feeling.

“The eyes of Doctor T J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic…they look
out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles” (Chapter 2, pg

Another interpretation to this symbol could be that these are the eyes of Nick, who has the knowledge of truth and happenings, as revealed in the complete novel. (Symbolism)

The appearance of Green Light

Green being the colour of hope, the author has associated this colour with the eyes of Jay Gatsby, which Nick has witnessed, as he meets Jay for the first time. The following quote, which is the reflection of Jay’s gazing at the green light, mentioned in his own words, summarizes the hope that Gatsby nourishes, in his endeavour to win over Daisy, one day.

“a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” Chapter 1, pg. 22

The author has again drawn similarities in this dream of Jay Gatsby for accomplishing his material desire to the great American dream.(quotes)


However, this dream perishes with the fatal death of Jay Gatsby, which in a way is symbolised being the end of the American dream, as well. The green light at end of the dock did inspire feelings of hope for Jay to attract Daisy. However, the turn of events resulted in the tragic end of this dream, as Gatsby paid the price of pursuing such immoral desire with his own life.  The Almighty’s destiny has its own ways of judging the deeds of earthly humans. 


  1. Harsha Sri, 2008, “The Most Important Symbols in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald”, Retrieved on 3rd Feb 2011 from:
  2. Plot summary, “Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald” (Novel), Retrieved on 3rd Feb 2011 from:
  3. Quotes from The Great Gatsby, Retrieved on 3rd Feb 2011 from:
  4. Symbolism in The Great Gatsby, Retrieved on 3rd Feb 2011 from: