The Great Gatsby Essay Example: Symbolism and American Dream

The Great Gatsby Essay Example: Symbolism and American Dream

Any time students are required to write The Great Gatsby essay, the first (and the most obvious) idea that occurs to them is to write about the American dream in The Great Gatsby essay. Indeed, this topic is a default choice. However, there are other, more creative approaches to this task. For example, you can analyze the notion of the American dream through symbolism in The Great Gatsby essay, or through carelessness in The Great Gatsby essay, or even through wealth in The Great Gatsby essay. The following sample focuses on all of these subjects and should give you plenty of inspiring ideas to work with.

Symbolism and the American Dream in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, a novel written by Francis Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, nowadays is rightly seen as the classics of the American literature. On the face of it, the plot seems to be a usual story of broken hopes and expectations. However, with a closer look at this novel, one can discern a number of social issues and problems such as inconsistency of the American dream, the destructive power of money and the futility of the upper class. All of these themes are being subtly revealed by Fitzgerald through a number of symbols, such as lights, colors, everyday habitual objects, time, the personality of the characters and, of course, through a symbol of money.

Probably the most vivid and memorable symbol in Fitzgerald’s imagery is the green light in Daisy’s house, which reflects Gatsby’s longing for his lost love, his dreams, and expectations. Green has always been associated with hope; however, some imply to it the notion of money (being associated with dollars) as well. Perhaps, the most obvious and clear explanation to Gatsby staring at the green light, dreaming of Daisy is the one of his longing for love and making plans for the future.

Light, not necessarily green one, but any light, in general, can be considered to have a special meaning in the novel. For instance, Fitzgerald describes a number of colors in clothes and household articles that are to portray the characters according to the symbolic role they play in the narration. Daisy and Jordan, for example, are often depicted in white clothes, which might seem as a symbol of innocence and purity. Nevertheless, neither Daisy, nor Jordan, are seen as chaste and blameless characters in the novel. Thus, it is possible to suppose that in this novel, white only seems to symbolize chastity, while in fact, it shows false purity and hypocrisy. From the very first pages of his novel Fitzgerald strengthens the idea of the girls’ coldness and indifference, which is emphasized by their bright but wintry clothes and their manner to talk “that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire” (Fitzgerald 15).

The bleak grey hues of the valley of ashes symbolically reflect the transition between the West Egg and the East Egg, each of them symbolizing certain notions as well. West Egg and East Egg both stand for money; East Egg is the place for the rich American aristocracy, while West Egg is the domain of the ones who gained the money during their lives, not inherited them. Thus, the valley of ashes shows something in between, something that belongs neither to this world, nor to that. Doubtless, it is associated with the middle class, with the average population, leading a dull and uninteresting life, left out of the entertainments and sparkling luxury of the Jazz Era. Grey is the color of mediocrity, and so, by depicting the valley where common people live and toil in grey colors, Fitzgerald emphasizes the idea of a contemptuous attitude of the upper class to the lower one.

A previously described contrast of the upper and lower classes is not the only one in The Great Gatsby. West Egg and East Egg, situated opposite each other, show the gap between the American aristocracy and newly rich entrepreneurs. However, by drawing a special attention to the similar shape and size of the islands, Fitzgerald seems to emphasize the idea, that in fact, the difference can hardly be seen from a distance.

Another important symbol is the symbol of time. Time, separating Gatsby and Daisy is seen as an inevitable reality, while Gatsby’s romantic idea of bringing the past back is shown as a symbol of an impossible dream. “It seems that Gatsby cannot grasp the concept that time changes everything, including people; and that the Daisy he sees today is no longer the same as the Daisy that he used to love” (Bates). Interestingly, while talking to Daisy for the first time in many years, Gatsby is leaning on a defunct clock, which strengthens the idea of the futility of his aspirations and hopes. The symbol of defunct clock vividly shows the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby. “Can’t repeat the past?” (Fitzgerald 118), he cries indignantly to Nick, obviously contradicting him. To repeat the past is Gatsby’s sole ambition in his vain pursuit of Daisy.

Still, in spite of all the things mentioned above, the main themes in the novel remain the destructive power of money and the twisted ideals of the American dream, which originally was associated with “the notion of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Bates). With a number of subtle hints, Fitzgerald reveals how this ideal turned into the everlasting pursuit of materialistic values. Fitzgerald’s main concern is to show the fruitlessness of the money-pursuit as “the wealthy in this novel – Daisy and Tom Buchanan – turn out to be empty, worthless people. Through Nick Carraway’s disillusionment, as he observes Gatsby’s failure and destruction, Fitzgerald is commenting on American attitudes toward money and success in the 1920s. Step by step the author is depicting Gatsby’s desperate attempts to impress Daisy with his money, and the way he is bitterly disappointed by the end of the story when the realization of his dream seemed so close at hand.

Indeed, money seems to interfere in all spheres of life, even the romantic Gatsby states bitterly that Daisy’s “voice is full of money” (Fitzgerald 128). Interestingly, money seems to draw people together or tear them apart, depending on circumstances. The lack of money was the reason why Gatsby and Daisy could not become a couple at the beginning of their acquaintance and money is shown as the basis of the Buchanans’ marriage. A number of tiny details depicting the importance of money and the carelessness in the 1920s society are found in the description of the cocktail parties, expensive evening dresses and jewelry, tremendously ornate houses and new cars. On the one hand, these things are shown as the attributes of an American dream; though, on the other one, Fitzgerald seems to mock the extravagance of the unnecessary things that do not bring real happiness. Quite on the contrary, they destroy people’s will and desire for life, harm innocent people, like Myrtle Wilson. Here Daisy and Tom are shown as the vivid examples of the corruptive influence of money and of the destruction it brings upon others.

The notion of the American dream, traditionally seen as the liberty of expressing oneself, one’s individuality and the freedom of choice, is gradually transformed into the inequality, mockery, and hypocrisy. The tough world of money where the rich could do whatever they wanted to do, while the poor had no other choice but to endure is an undeniable opposite to the values that have been hypocritically praised in the 1920s America. The climax of the story, when Gatsby, originally coming from the lower classes dies for the thing Daisy had done is seen as one more example of the inconsistency of the American dream, and another example of the carelessness of the upper aristocracy.

To sum it up, one should say that though Fitzgerald implies a great number of symbols in The Great Gatsby, the true meaning of them is not in the foreground. What is even more important, all the symbolic imagery mentioned above such as light and colors, people and objects, time and space are interwoven exquisitely to underline the main theme of the novel, that is the futility of people’s aspirations if money becomes their primary means. The subtle entanglement of Fitzgerald’s symbols makes it difficult to distract one from another, as each symbol follows logically from the preceding one, and their combination in the narration makes the novel vivid, realistic and true-to-life. Fitzgerald’s characters are unique and multifaceted, each representing a separate world of their own. Finally, the most extraordinary and impressive thing is that “there are no heroes in Gatsby, only moral failures – and his suspenseful plotting only half disguises the class barriers that separate and defeat, his characters” (Mirapaul 42).

Works Cited

Bates, T. “Symbolism in the Great Gatsby”. Bookstove.com. n.d. Web. 6 Sept.2008.

Fitzgerald, F.S. “The Great Gatsby”. Planetebook.com. n.d. Web.

Mirapaul, M. “American Dream, American Opera”. The American Prospect. 14 Feb.2000: 42. Print.

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