Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Table of Contents

Most of the imposing novels have symbols that represent the themes in pushing forth the objective of the book. In The Great Gatsby there are several symbols but the most powerful appears to be the eyes that overlook the valley from a bill board.

Although this symbol is marginally influencing the course of events, it holds a deep meaning in the intention of the novel. There are other symbols which essentially have a bearing on the way people perceive the symbols in the book as affecting their value judgments. In the literary context, symbols represent the different concepts and ideas in regard to the colors, figures and characters (Matthew J. Bruccoli, 2002).

The Eyes

The Eyes are in fact a pair of spectacled and pale eyes that appear tinted on a bill board that watches over the valley of ashes. Although the novel has never made this conclusion directly, it is much evident that the eyes symbolize that they are observing the deeds of the American society in looking upon the valley as a moral wasteland.

It is known in this context that throughout the novel Fitzgerald has suggested that symbols are in the nature of only conveying a meaning since it is the characters that infuse them with the inherent meanings. A different meaning is only drawn by George Wilson, who in being struck with grief draws a connection between God and the eyes of Doctor T J Eckleburg.

There is a visible lack of tangible meaning to the character of the image which brings about an unsettled feeling to the observer. Hence it can be implied that the eyes also connote the lack of meaning in the world as also the randomness in the mental process of people in drawing meanings from objects.

Such ideas are explored by Nick in Chapter eight while he is engrossed in his imagination about Gatsby’s thought processes which lead to depression in thinking of the prevailing emptiness in dreams and symbols (Jonathan Yardley, 2007).

Ample significance of eyes is implied in this regard by F. Scott Fitzgerald when he says, “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg… look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. …But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” (1999, p 27-28)

The Green Light

The green light is positioned at the ending of Daisy East Egg docks and is hardly noticeable from the West Egg lawn of Gatsby and symbolizes the dreams and hopes for Gatsby’s future. In his book Gatsby has associated the green light with Daisy who is depicted in chapter 1 as making efforts in reaching towards it in the dark in assuming that it will lead him in the direction of his goals.

Since the American dream that Gatsby has is largely associated with the pursuit for Daisy, the green light is in the nature of symbolizing this rather sweeping ideal. Nick also compares in chapter nine, the green light with America in imagining how it must have appeared to the earlier colonists of the new nation as it rose out of the oceans (Dan Morpurgo, 2008).

In regard to the green light F. Scott Fitzgerald has aptly narrated, “And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him….” (1999, p 189)

The Valley of Ashes

The Valley of ashes is initially presented in chapter two as being located between New York City and West Egg. It comprises of a lengthy expanse of deserted land which became so as a result of the large scale disposal of industrial ashes.

The Valley of Ashes is in the nature of representing the social and moral decaying in society which is a result of the unreserved quest for wealth on the part of the richer strata of society who indulge in such practices just for their own satisfaction and pleasures.

It also symbolizes the suffering of the poor just as George Wilson, who had no option but to exist with the unclean ashes and in the process to have lost his vigor and vitality. The valley of Ashes has a lot of significance as evident from the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat…”(1999, p 26)


Dan Morpurgo, Book Review: The Great Gatsby, February, 2008, Associated Content

Jonathan Yardley, ‘Gatsby’: The Greatest Of Them All, January 2, 2007, The Washington Post

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1999, Scribner

Matthew J. Bruccoli, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: A Literary Reference, 2002, Carroll & Graf

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *