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F. Scott Fitzgerald?s novel, The Great Gatsby, is full of symbolism. Fitzgerald wrote in a way that allowed everybody, regardless of their reading level, to take something more from the novel. For the lower levels there is the green light on the end of Daisy?s pier, for the middle levels there is the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg, and for the high levels there is the symbolism of East Egg and West Egg. Throughout the entire novel Fitzgerald refers back to these symbolisms to reveal different aspects of the novel.
The green light has more meaning than it may at first seem. It represents the object of Gatsby?s desire. From this angle it is easy to understand. Gatsby desires Daisy because they once loved each other. He thinks that they can love again. His house is positioned across the bay from Daisy?s. She has a green light on her pier. Gatsby can see this light from his pier and the green light seems to bid him to come. It is a sign that says, ?Come and get me.? He cannot get enough of the light (Burnam 105). This light beckons him in a way that he has never known. It eventually leads him to his death (Bloom 38). His quest to acquire Daisy is cut short of his dreams because she chooses Tom over Gatsby. Even though she wants nothing to do with Gatsby, the light at the end of the pier still burns calling Gatsby to come. Robert Ornstein commented on this idea saying, ?Gatsby. . . destroys himself in an attempt to seize the green light in his own fingers? (Ornstein 74). This is true in the end. At first the light makes him who he is. Because of his desire for Daisy, he acquires his wealth. This wealth is used to try to impress Daisy. When this does not work, Gatsby loses hope. He is still drawn to the light. He dutifully waits around Tom?s house the night after the accident even though Daisy is obviously staying with Tom. Even after the death of Gatsby, Daisy?s light shines to seduce yet another unsuspecting victim.
The eyes of Dr. Eckleburg are a little bit more complicated. The eyes represent the only ?God? figure in the book (Dyson 113). He seems to look over the men in the valley of ashes. He sees the rich people pass on the highway, but he watches intently over the working class. Like the doctor that the sign advertised, the god of the valley of ashes had long since disappeared from the face of the earth. The eyes judge the men of the valley (Dyson 113). He either blesses them or scorns them. Myrtle was blessed for a while with the affair with Tom. She was able to have access to a great sum of money, which she could use at her pleasure. After the affair had lasted long enough, in the eyes of god, the very woman that her affair was scorning killed Myrtle. The eyes continued to judge, killing Gatsby and Myrtle?s husband. The eyes were able to judge Gatsby because he was truly just a man that the eyes had blessed with money. This money was not gained legally so the eyes saw it fit to take it away. The eyes never saw favor in Myrtle?s husband. He suffered from the beginning. The eyes were the only true omniscient figure in the book. They were technically silent, but they saw everything.
The symbolism of a high level is found in the East and West Eggs. The Eggs are the places where the people with money live. West Egg represents new money and East Egg represents old, family money (Bloom 13). The new money is unrefined and vulgar, like Gatsby and his parties. The old money is well mannered and refined, like Tom and Daisy. The East is always seen as complete where as the West is seen as incomplete (Bloom 44). This is shown when Tom and Daisy stay together even after the fight about Gatsby and Myrtle. The West is shown incomplete when Gatsby, after he has been rejected, stops having parties. He has one little setback and it is like he no longer exists. His house is no longer lit up with all of the gaiety of his parties; he is hardly ever around Nick like he used to be.
The novel is easy reading. It has a good plot for those who like a story to be straightforward without hidden meaning that has to be interpreted to understand. However, it also has some deep symbolism for those that like to dig deeper. The novel has symbolism on a level for everyone, and it also presents a puzzle for even some of the most acclaimed critics.
Burnam, Tom. The Eyes of Dr. Eckleburg: A Re-examination of The Great Gatsby.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Authur Mizener.
Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N. J. 1963.
Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1996.
Ornstein, Robert. F. Scott Fitzgerald?s Fable of East and West. Ed. Harold Bloom.
Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1985.