Essay, Research Paper: Great Gatsby Symbolism

Literature: The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel about one man's
disenchantment with the American dream. In the story we get a glimpse into the
life of Jay Gatsby, a man who aspired to achieve a position among the American
rich to win the heart of his true love, Daisy Fay. Gatsby's downfall was in the
fact that he was unable to determine that concealed boundary between reality and
illusion in his life. The Great Gatsby is a tightly structured, symbolically
compressed novel whose predominant images and symbols reinforce the idea that
Gatsby's dream exists on borrowed time. Fitzgerald perfectly understood the
inadequacy of Gatsby's romantic view of wealth. At a young age he met and fell
in love with Ginevra King, a Chicago girl who enjoyed the wealth and social
position to which Fitzgerald was always drawn. After being rejected by Ginevra
because of his lower social standing, Fitzgerald came away with a sense of
social inadequacy, a deep hurt, and a longing for the girl beyond attainment.
This disappointment grew into distrust and envy of the American rich and their
lifestyle. These personal feelings are expressed in Gatsby. The rich symbolize
the failure of a civilization and the way of life and this flaw becomes apparent
in the characters of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Nick Carraway, the narrator of the
story, quickly became disillusioned with the upper social class after having
dinner at their home on the fashionable East Egg Island. "Nick is forced
unwillingly to observe the violent contrast between their opportunities- what is
implied by the gracious surface of their existence- and the seamy underside
which is it's reality" (Way 93). In the Buchanans, and in Nick's reaction
to them, Fitzgerald shows us how completely the American upper class has failed
to become an aristocracy. The Buchanans represent cowardice, corruption, and the
demise of Gatsby's dream Gatsby, unlike Fitzgerald himself, never discovers how
he has been betrayed by the class he has idealized for so long. For Gatsby, the
failure of the rich has disastrous consequences. Gatsby's desire to achieve his
dream leads him to West Egg Island. He purchased a mansion across the bay from
Daisy's home. There is a green light at the end of Daisy's dock that is visible
at night from the windows and lawn of Gatsby's house. This green light is one of
the central symbols of the novel. In chapter one, Nick observes Gatsby in the
dark as he looks longingly across the bay with arms stretched outward toward the
green light. It becomes apparent, as the story progresses that "the whole
being of Gatsby exists only in relation to what the green light symbolizes This
first sight, that we have of Gatsby, is a ritualistic tableau that literally
contains the meaning of the completed book" (Bewley 41). A broader
definition of the green light's significance is revealed in Chapter 5, as Gatsby
and Daisy stand at one of the windows in his mansion. "If it wasn't for the
mist we could see your home across the bay," said Gatsby. "You always
have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."
"Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he
had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of
that light had vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had
separated him from Daisy it has seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It
had seemed so close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a
dock. His count of enchanted objects has diminished by one" (Fitzgerald
94). Gatsby had believed in the green light, it made his dream seem attainable.
Upon meeting Daisy again, after a five-year separation, Gatsby discovers that
sometimes attaining a desired object can bring a sense of loss rather than
fulfillment. It is when Gatsby makes this discovery that the green light is no
longer the central image of a great dream, but only a green light at the end of
a dock. The most obvious symbol in The Great Gatsby is a waste land called the
Valley of Ashes, a dumping ground that lies between East and West Egg and New
York City. Symbolically "the green breast of the new world"
(Fitzgerald 182) becomes this Valley of Ashes. As the illusions of youth give
way to the disillusionment of the thirties, so green hopes give way to the dust
of disappointment. Certainly Gatsby's dreams turn to ashes; and it is
dramatically appropriate that the custodian of the Valley of Ashes, George
Wilson, should be Gatsby's murderer. That Wilson is the demise of Gatsby's
dream- and that the dream gives way to ashes- is made clear through descriptive
detail. Over the desolate area, known as the Valley of Ashes, brood the eyes of
Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. "Gatsby is a kind of T. J. Eckleburg; he has created a
god like image of himself, but the image is doomed- the dream will turn to dust-
and like Eckleburg, Gatsby also has occasion to brood over the ashes of the
past, over the solemn dumping ground of worn out hopes" (Lehan 121). The
death of Gatsby comes ironically from George Wilson's total misunderstanding of
the world from which the Buchanans and Myrtle come. The eyes of Dr. Eckleburg,
brooding over the Valley of Ashes, become what is left of the Son of God Gatsby
has imagined himself to be. As the novel closes, the experience of Gatsby and
his broken dream become the focus of that historic dream for which he stands. In
the final thoughts of the novel, Fitzgerald would like the reader to see a much
broader picture of the theme- a vision of America as the continent of lost
innocence and lost illusions. He compares Gatsby's experience to that of the
Dutch Sailors who first came to Long Island and had an unspoiled continent
before them. As Nick lies on the beach in front of Gatsby's home, his last night
in the East, he contemplates this thought, "I became aware of the old
island that flowered once for Dutch sailor's eyes - a fresh green breast of the
new world. It's vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house,
had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for
a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of
this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood
nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something
commensurate to his capacity for wonder. 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 he could hardly
fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him"
(Fitzgerald 182). Gatsby's greatness was to have retained a sense of wonder as
deep as the sailor's on that first landfall. Gatsby's tragedy was to have had,
not a continent to wonder at, but only a green light at the end of Daisy's Dock
and the triviality of Daisy herself. The evolution of such triviality was
Gatsby's particular tragedy and the tragedy of America. Gatsby fades into the
past forever to take his place with the Dutch sailors who had chosen their
moment in time so much more happily than he. By the close of the novel,
Fitzgerald has completely convinced the reader that Gatsby's capacity for
illusion is touching and heroic, despite the worthlessness of the objects of his
dreams. It is through combining faultless artistry with symbolism that
Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of the dream destined to fail because it's
basis was illusion. not reality The Great Gatsby Cary L. Pannell Eng. 206 Rough
draft of Final Word Count 1328 Thesis: The Great Gatsby is a tightly structured,
symbolically compressed novel in which predominant images and symbols reinforce
the idea that Gatsby's dream exists on borrowed time. I. American Rich symbolize
the failure of a civilization. A. Fitzgerald's feelings toward wealthy B. Nick's
disappointment with Buchanans C. Rich fail as aristocracy D. Gatsby betrayed by
class he idealized II. Green light symbolizes hope. A. Gatsby's being
significant to symbolism of green light. B. Green light ceases to be an
enchanted object. III. Most obvious symbol is Valley of Ashes. A. Hope gives way
to dust of disappointment. B. Death and destruction of dreams lie among ashes.
C. T.J. Eckelberg's eyes are God-like symbol. IV. America the continent of lost
innocence and illusions. A. Gatsby's experience compared to Dutch sailors. B.
Gatsby's tragedy was triviality of Daisy. Conclusion: Symbolism and artistry
paint a vivid picture of a dream destined to fail.
Bibliography
Bewley, Marius. "Scott Fitzgerald and the Collapse of the American
Dream." Modern Critical Views F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House
Publishers. 1985. p. 41. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons. 1925 Lehan, Richard D. "The Great Gatsby." F.
Scott Fitzgerald and the Craft of Fiction. Chicago: Southern Illinois University
Press. 1966. p. 121. Way, Brian. "The Great Gatsby." Modern Critical
Interpretations F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. New York: Chelsea House
Publishers. 1986. p. 93.
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