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Symbolic representation is common amongst people and cultures around the world, but it is also used in literature to change the meanings or instill a different meaning in the mind of the readers. People hold different things to be symbolic. Dove and peace, rose and love, they are simple yet symbolic. In the novel The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, symbolic representation is present in many forms. It is seen in the general color scheme used in descriptions, a billboard, Nick Carraway as Fitzgerald himself, and the setting of the entire story. Through this symbolism Fitzgerald creates an amazing American novel that has withstood the test of time and will continue to do so.
The popularity of this novel was heightened because of the obscure manner in which Fitzgerald uses to describe Gatsby. Throughout the novel he adds to the reader s curiosity about Gatsby s life by leaving them wondering about his personality, and the bewilderment that was caused by his death. Although other characters played roles subordinate to Gatsby s, their lives as they relate to the story are a lot more defined and clear. Fitzgerald describes the other characters with precision and deliberateness, but Gatsby remains clouded. Without that cloudiness, the character of Gatsby, as well as the book, would not have captured the imaginations of so many people.
Throughout the novel, the character of Nick Carraway can at times symbolize Fitzgerald s views and feelings about certain things. Tom Burnam explains this in his 1952 essay:
For Fitzgerald-as-Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald-as-Carraway, the gleeman of the Gatsby saga, are not the same, though both appear alternately throughout the novel, interwining like the threads in a fabric whose sheen depends not only on the materials out of which it is made but on the light in which it is viewed. (153)
The entire story of The Great Gatsby is told through the eyes and thoughts of the narrator, Nick Carraway. But Fitzgerald created Nick Carraway and his thoughts are incorporated into, and create the novel. This is why the reader must be careful to judge the characters present in the story, because Nick has already judged the characters, or for that matter Fitzgerald has. Fitzgerald has even admitted in a letter to John Peale Bishop that he and Carraway are both present in the story. I never at any one time saw him clear myself for he started out as one man I knew and then changed into myself [n.b.!] the amalgam was never complete in my mind (154). Although Fitzgerald did admit to his influence in Carraway s role, one would have to wonder whether a bond salesman of his background would be capable of creating the wonderful description of things such as Gatsby s parties. The reader must realize that Nick as Nick is one thing and Fitzgerald as himself is another.
Another dominant symbol in the novel is the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. His eyes are displayed on a billboard, and passed by the motorists traveling to the city. These eyes are symbolic of God looking down on the people in the novel. The readers finally realize the importance of the billboard when Wilson exclaimed, I told her she might fool me but she couldn t fool God. I took her to the window and I said God knows what you ve been doing, everything you ve been doing. You may fool me but you can t fool God! (167). Wilson said all of this while staring whole-heartedly at the image of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg s eyes. Through Wilson s beliefs Fitzgerald explains that the eyes can see everything including Myrtle s mistakes. 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 non-existent nose his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground (Fitzgerald 27-28). Through Fitzgerald s wording in describing the image of Eckleburg s eyes the reader develops a mental image of an omnipotent being watching over the land. The reader discerns that the eyes not only see everything but that they are morbidly unhappy. The use of the word brood suggests that whatever the eyes are seeing has made their owner disappointed. This symbolizes Fitzgerald indicating that the people of the 1920 s are disgraceful and undignified. The eyes not only symbolize a God-like being but also his negative views of 1920 s society as a whole.
Fitzgerald uses color to allow the reader to take a second glance at the novel for a deeper meaning. Color flourishes throughout The Great Gatsby like water falls from a waterfall. The use of color enhances the novel and also allows a character and color to match up together. The three main colors present in The Great Gatsby are yellow, white, and green. Yellow means jealousy and adultery, so it seems natural that it is represented by Myrtle. Myrtle lives in a building of yellow brick. A yellow car driven by Daisy Buchanan also ironically hits her. Daisy is matched with the color white, which means peace and faith. She represents faith for Gatsby. He holds his faith of love for her. Her name is also associated with white. A daisy is a flower with white petals and a yellow center, which means she is innocent and pure on the outside, but on the inside, one can only find jealousy and hatred. The final and widely used color is green, which symbolizes Gatsbys hope for Daisy. Nick notices Gatsby standing in his backyard one summer night, Gatsby suddenly stretches his arms out toward a small green light in the distance, and as he does so, Nick observes, I could have sworn he was trembling. Later we learn that the green light is at the end of Daisy s dock (Sutton). Without color symbolism, the novel would seem pointless and not as enriching as the final product is now.
The final symbolic representation was not a small portion of the book, but the novel as a whole, which was symbolic of America and the time period the book was written in. The Great Gatsby embodies a criticism of American experience not of manners, but of a basic historic attitude to life The theme of Gatsby is the withering of the American dream (Bewley 96). At the time the book was written America had produced an idealism so impalpable that it had lost touch with reality (Gatsby) and a materialism so heavy that it was inhuman (Tom Buchanan) (Raleigh 251). Fitzgerald brought the book together to symbolically represent America in its decline and its failures. Much like Mark Twain, Fitzgerald saw around him only chaos. He structured the novel to mean a story of the decline and fall of American hopes the west in its largest sense standing for the westward course of empire, for the dream of America as mankind s last best hope for social and moral redemption (Rowe 95).
Symbolism in F. Scott Fitzgerald s novel The Great Gatsby is used to emphasize the time period and the problems that some of the characters face. Symbolism is interesting because it can mean different things to different people. Every two years televisions around the world show the images of five multicolored joined rings at the Olympic Games. To different people these rings could represent the unity of the world in celebration, or the endless love and friendship we share with the countries around the world. Symbolism is common around the world. Everyone seems to hold certain images or objects to mean something different than its original meaning. This is why symbolism that is present in literary works create a much more enjoyable piece to the reader. It allows the reader to use his or her imagination and doesn t rob them of that. Many would agree that Fitzgerald has created a great American novel that will be present for many years to come, and this is aided by his wonderful use of symbolism. It is through wonderful writing, which included symbolism, that Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of the dream destined to fail because its basis was illusion.