The Great Gatsby: A dream undefined Essay

Many authors throughout their works often use symbolism to illustrate a point. The Great Gatsby written by American Author Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most intriguing novels witnessed by American society. The Great Gatsby is a fascinating novel that outlines the struggles and desires of a man in the later 1920’s. The setting takes place in a Long Island in which people are clearly distinguished in society through their status.  Fitzgerald’s aura shines brilliantly in his novel as he intrigued many readers up to this day. Fitzgerald has many themes, motives, and consistently uses symbolism in his novel.

One of the main themes that Fitzgerald often used was “the green light.” The green light had a profound meaning as it signifies Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future. Gatsby’s love for Daisy, as excellently illustrated in Chapter 1 as he reaches for the light, represents his quest to get Daisy. Gatsby had a strong attachment to this mysterious light as the author states, “Gatsby believed in the green light” (Fitzgerald 128). The green light was Gatsby’s only diminishing hopes to ever get back with Daisy, which unfortunately never occurred.  In addition, the green light also represents that of the quest for the “American Dream” that the new immigrants desired when they reached the “promised land” (Mellard 853). In essence, Fitzgerald believed that Americans were disillusioned by attaching meaning to America through their own dreams. Green is used to portray wealth and money that all people love to accumulate. Similarly, Gatsby is deceived as he attaches this perfect illusion to Daisy. Unfortunately, Gatsby is struck with utter failure as he fails to attain Daisy just as the American dream was devastated by the materialistic things in the 1920s. Gatsby’s bold attempt to re-create his best memory, which was to spend time with Daisy in Louisville, never happened. Sadly, Gatsby lost his will to live and looked forward to his death (Mellard 855).

Another key motive that Fitzgerald brilliantly displays in his novel was “the valley of the ashes.” Fitzgerald’s excellent ability to point of key flaws in society was perfectly illustrated by this symbolism. Fitzgerald describes the Valley of Ashes in his book “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” (Fitzgerald 22).  Clearly, the Valley of Ashes symbolizes evilness and death. The ashes stand for chaos, unjust, and immorality that give no hope to any of the characters. Wilson, one of the main characters in the novel, resides in this chaotic place symbolizes the poverty did exist, and not all characters were well-off. “The Valley of Ashes” represented the unethical practices to chase wealth that has caused an unequal distribution of money in society (“The Great Gatsby”).  Lastly, it also represents the struggle of the poor to survive during the great depression domestically.

One of the most fascinating symbolism ever illustrated in the Great Gatsby was the eyes of Doctor T.J Ecklesburg. The eyes of T.J Ecklesburg are symbolic because they represent God’s vision-looking society, who is busy indulging themselves with their materialistic wants(“The Great Gatsby”). The glasses become the focal point in this symbolism because of the corruption that haunts society, where the rich get richer and the poor continue to struggle (Mellard 855). Nick, one of the key characters in the novel that is Gatsby himself describes the eyes in a perfect manner as he states, “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic-their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. (Fitzgerald 22)” Undoubtedly, T.J Eckleburg was a very cryptic character as his eyes observed every little detail.  The retinas were hugely signified a profound vision that can see everything. This could be perfectly illustrated when Wilson, one of the key characters in the novel yells, “You may fool me but you can’t fool God!’” (Fitzgerald 167). Fitzgerald points out the fact that human beings think that they are alone when committing an unethical act, and must give account to God for all their sins committed. One can truly acknowledge that Fitzgerald had a firm belief that people can implement morality through God (Eble 36). Hence, the eyes represent the dishonesty that loomed society along with representing the Almighty God.

As mentioned above, Gatsby’s ability to use certain materialistic objects to illustrate his point is exceptional. Another object that Gatsby uses is his novel is yellow Rolls Royce (“The Great Gatsby”). The typical American society during the 1920s worshipped wealth, as the yellow Rolls Royce became a huge status. Gatsby’s car portrayed his desire to accumulate wealth along with his will to stay young. Fitzgerald once again brilliantly points out the detail of the car, “..a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns” obviously shows his materialism(Fitzgerald 68).” Interestingly enough, Gatsby’s car was yellow, unlike the traditional black color that seemed popular in society. Once again, the author picks the color yellow to show his readers the foolish desire of Gatsby to impress the girl of his dreams through status and wealth (“The Great Gatsby”). Moreover, Gatsby’s car is an “old junk,” but his affection to possess something that is slowly decaying proves his immaturity to be in a state of an illusion. Lastly, the color yellow represents greed and corruption that has doomed society in that particular era.

Another mysterious symbol that Gatsby used consistently in his novel was a set of Owl Eyes. Fitzgerald carefully utilizes these eyes as a critical symbol to demonstrate his perception. Fitzgerald first introduces Owl Eyes when Nick and Jordan were socializing at a party at Gatsby’s party. Owl Eyes has a mysterious personality and acknowledges people’s motives, especially Gatsby’s. Owl Eyes at once realizes Gatsby’s motives to impress Daisy and his other friends. On one occasion when Owl-Eye was clearly in a state of intoxication,  he states that Gatsby is a “regular Belasco.” Owl Eye perceives Gatsby as a “Belasco” as he takes abstract things and tries to mold them into realistic things (Eble 35). Interestingly enough, Owl Eyes was also the only person in the novel that participates in Gatsby’s funeral. Fitzgerald carefully hints at the fact that even though Owl Eyes was judgmental of Gatsby’s character, he still had compassion for human life (“The Great Gatsby”).  Owl Eye’s in essence was the only person that shared similar viewpoints of Gatsby with other characters in the novel such as Nick.

The Great Gatsby is one of the novels that really outlines a typical American dream. Materialistic things such as cars, houses, and money no doubt are what people what, but they can also lead to corruption. For instance, Fitzgerald uses Gatsby’s house to represent Gatsby’s ambitions, and his desire to portray himself through wealth to continuously chase after Daisy (Bettina 140). Gatsby, as a typical American in the 1920s, buys a house right across “the girl of his dreams,” and throws luxurious parties in a desperate attempt to catch her attention. Gatsby’s house is huge and is mainly paid through illegal earnings (Eble 40). Yet sadly enough, his house is not enough to fulfill his materialistic needs. Gatsby’s library inside his house however is like his dream as Owl Eyes states, “that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse” (Fitzgerald 50).  Gatsby’s house and his library in this scenario illustrate his collapse as he is never able to obtain Daisy. His futile attempt to even get on a personal level was a complete failure just like his house.

Another key element of symbolism that Fitzgerald uses was Gatsby’s shirts. In one situation when Daisy arrives at Gatsby’s mansion and sees his wardrobe filled with expensive shirts, she begins to weeps. Gatsby’s exquisite taste in his shirts is shown as they are different colors and different designs, which shows his dire attempts to impress the people around him. The reason for her crying is not due to the fact that she is impressed with his luxurious taste, but rather she is bitter towards the materialistic needs that Gatsby possesses(Eble 34). 

Without a doubt, the Great Gatsby is one of the brilliant novels are ever written that outlines the harsh reality of society during the 1920s. Fitzgerald used many symbols in this particular novel such as the green light, the valley of ashes, the eyes of Eckleberg, the yellow Rolls Royce, Owl Eyes, Gatsby’s mansion, along his shirts. All these objects have a profound meaning attached to them that the reader must acknowledge. One must realize the Fitzgerald saw the flaws such as greed, corruption, injustice, love affairs that plagued the American society during an era where hopes of wealth were diminishing slowly. Fitzgerald has not only to enlighten his readers with themes of past and present along with his allusions and other dimensions but has also puzzled his critics as well (Eble 34). Undoubtedly, The Great Gatsby will continue to teach lessons of morality and the effects of corruption for the future generations to come. 

Works Cited

  1. The Artifact in Imagery: Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, M. Bettina, Twentieth-Century Literature, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Oct. 1963), pp. 140-142, Published by: Hofstra University, URL:
  2. Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925 Counterpoint as Technique in “The Great Gatsby”, James M. Mellard, The English Journal, Vol. 55, No. 7 (Oct. 1966), pp. 853-859, Published by: National Council of Teachers of English, URL:
  3. The Great Gatsby, Kenneth Eble, College Literature, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 34-47, Published by: College Literature, URL:
  4. “The Great Gatsby.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 14 Dec. 2010, URL: