The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald On the superficial level, The Great Gatsby tells the story of a young middle class man who happens to get mixed up in the chaotic affairs of his wealthy cousin and neighbor. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story of life in the 1920s is much more than it appears to be, though. Even such things as the colors used in description play a crucial part in the “big picture” of the entire novel. Symbolism adds a whole other level of comprehension to the story. Even from the smallest pieces of the puzzle, this symbolism broadens the view of what the “big picture” of the novel actually is.
These pieces of the puzzle come even from the characters themselves when viewed merely as symbols and the setting when analyzed more closely. The character of Jay Gatsby himself is a symbol of the “American dream.” His entire life, Gatsby strives to convert himself and his life into what all Americans wish to attain. Only through hard work and an adventurous nature, though, can these goals usually be accomplished. An object that helps support the idea that Gatsby represents the “American dream” is his childhood “schedule” kept on a blank page in a copy of The Adventures of Hopalong Cassidy. “Rise from bed .6:00 AM Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling ..6:15-6:30 ” Study electricity, etc.
.7:15-8:15 ” Work 8:30-4:30 PM Baseball and sports .4:30-5:00 ” Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it .5:00-6:00 ” Study needed inventions .7:00-9:00 ” GENERAL RESOLVES No wasting time at Shafters or (indecipherable name) No more smoking or chewing Bath every other day Read one improving book or magazine per week Save $5.00 $3.00 per week Be better to parents” (174). Hopalong Cassidy is a typically romantic American figure of heroism and adventure. Gatsby’s program for self-improvement written in the back of this book reflects Gatsby’s struggle to acquire the two basic qualities of the American Hero: hard-working ambition and a robust desire for adventure. Gatsby’s change from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby is his first step towards his vision of reaching his goals. After that point, all his actions were devoted to becoming the manifestation of the American dream.
Another symbol of great importance is the ladder dream that Gatsby has about himself and Daisy. This dream represents Gatsby’s willingness to turn his back on morals and a wise life just to be with Daisy. “..He could climb to it (the ladder), if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of GodThen he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete” (112).
By choosing rather to stay with Daisy than to climb the ladder to better things, he gave up his morals so he could be with the object of his obsession. This shows that Gatsby is really no better than any other of the characters are. He would rather get what he wants than take the moral path. Something that also plays an extensive role in the symbolism of the novel is the color green. Green is the color of promise, hope, and renewal. By reaching towards the green light on the dock of Daisy’s estate, Gatsby reaches for his dreams. His dream is of one day meeting again with Daisy.
His hope is to return to passed days when he and Daisy were in love and renewing their relationship. Green, though, is also the color of envy and want. By reaching for his dreams of Daisy, Gatsby also reaches straight into a chaotic world full of wants and lusts. By going to Daisy, he also becomes mixed in with everybody else involved with Daisy directly and indirectly. This ultimately leads to his downfall with George Wilson believing that it was Gatsby who killed his wife and not Daisy. By walking into the world of Daisy, Gatsby walked into a world he could not keep up with. One of the most important of symbols in the novel is the valley of ashes.
The valley, basically, represents what destroys Gatsby and his dream. The valley of ashes represents the American society poisoned by the wastes created by the “factories” of wealth. It is a desert that represents the spiritual and moral desolation of the society. Over the ash heap sits the billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg. The faded eyes of the doctor represent God’s disappearance from society.
The idea of God is still there, but there is no real depth to the thought. Dim and worn away by time, the eyes watch over a world that has become a dumping ground for the morals of the wealthy world. The middle class works in this heap of waste. The lower class is forced to deal with the problems of the wealthy after they have been tossed aside. It is ironic, though, that the face overlooking the ash heap should represent God.
The billboard was obviously created by an ambitious doctor just out to make money. The ashes reappear throughout, especially in chapter two, as a visible symbol of moral decay. They reoccur as the dust on George Wilson’s broken-down car and the heavy powder on the face of Catherine, Myrtle’s sister. The obvious lack of morals creates the “smoky air” Nick describes at the party in Myrtle’s apartment. All these symbols seem to connect back to Gatsby and the “American dream.” The American dream may not be what it is played up to be.
Gatsby, while trying to procure this dream ran into several obstacles and ultimately met his defeat. Perhaps this dream is not exactly a dream at all, but a nightmare. If a so-called “dream” can bring on so many complications and so much pain, is it worth it?