We have looked at several symbols in The Great Gatsby. Select 3 key symbols from the text and do the following for each symbol:
- Provide a description (using quotes) of the symbol from the text.
- Explain when and why the symbol appears throughout the text.
- Analyse what the symbol helps you to understand about an important character.
- Make a link between the symbol and the idea of illusion.
Symbol 1. The Green Light
In the novel, the green light is a very significant symbol because it represents hope. We associate the colour green with a new beginning, a fresh start so you can grow in a different direction. Green is special to Gatsby because he sees Daisy through ‘the green light’. When he sees this light, it reminds him of what they used to be like and it drives him even more to win back Daisy. “He stretched out his arms towards the dark water in a curious way…Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” This was the first time Nick found out about ‘the green light’, it shows that Gatsby is looking at it from a far, reaching out to it as if he can grab it…but then just misses. At the start of the novel it describes the light being ‘minute’ and ‘far away’, this is because Gatsby hasn’t yet met with Daisy, he can’t reach the green light across the bay because the two of them have not yet reunited. The green light is what keeps him going in his illusional life, the hope that he will again be with Daisy is represented through this. The green light also represents Gatsby succeeding the american dream, the poor Jay Gatsby is together again with the rich Daisy Buchanan. “Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had seperated him from Daisy, it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on the dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” At the end of the novel, Gatsby’s importance of Daisy and the green light had disappeared, the fairytale ended. The idea of getting those 5 years they were apart back had finally became unrealistic for Gatsby, he realised that the way he was leading his life was just an illusion. By referring to it as the ‘star and moon’ shows that they seem close together but really there is so much distance between them. With the green light disappearing, the illusion of him getting back with Daisy also disappears, along with the lifestyle she lives. The green light was no longer seen as a symbol of hope of reuniting with Daisy, it just became a light on the end of a dock.
Symbol 2. Water
Water represents time in the novel. The water that fills distance between Gatsby’s doc and Daisy’s doc, is the past 5 years that they’ve been separated for. The bay represents the separation between East and West Egg, that no matter what they do, they’re living seperate lives. It shows how Gatsby’s attempt to live the american dream was a failure because the water, the time lost, it was all signs that Gatsby and Daisy’s lives were too different to successfully be together, no matter how hard anyone tried. Water is also spoke about in the novel when Daisy and Gatsby reunite for the first time as it is raining heavily. The rain represented how the time they lost between them had all came back at once, the memories they had but also the thought of times they could have had over those years. The tension was so strong at first and the rain was pouring heavily, however, as the tension died down and they were feeling more comfortable talking to each other again, the rain started to die. Another moment when water occurs is when the mist covers the green light at the end of the dock. This symbolises that the water, time, is covering the hope that Gatsby will be with Daisy again. Overall, water makes me understand the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, that the time they lost is what really kills their relationship. You can never get back the past, you can only control the future. However, as Gatsby has tried so hard for so long to repeat the past, he gets stuck, he doesn’t know where to move on to in the future. This is shown at the end of the book when Gatsby dies in the pool, all the years of trying to be a different person just for Daisy has literally killed him. When he fell into the water to die, it renewed new, he gave up on his fake identity and accepted who he truly was, even if that was without Daisy.
Symbol 3. Eyes and Mouth
In The Great Gatsby, the mouth represents how you can cover the truth through a smile. You can put a smile on your face when you’re down or pretending to be something you’re not, it’s a mask. Gatsby is known for his amazing smile, so much in fact that Nick believes it’s Gatsby’s best feature. “He smiled understandingly – much more than understandlingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.” Nick thinks that Gatsby’s smile is so special and there’s no other quite the same. However, as a smile is used o cover the truth, it’s true, there is no smile quite like Gatsby’s but that’s because it’s fake. Gatsby smiles as a way to cover up all his pain, it is just another element in his changing of identities, just another part to the illusion.
Not all facial features can been disguised, however as the eyes only tell the truth. In the novel, eyes appear mostly when talking about the eyes of T.J Eckleberg. These eyes are located in The Valley of Ashes on a optometrist billboard and they are looking over the town. Some say that these are the eyes of God looking over the town. America is so caught up in having the most money, that money is what defines people rather than their personality, the American dream is not real. East Egg and West Egg have it pretty good financially speaking, they are seen as respectable, where as the people who live in The Valley of Ashes are not. Therefore the eyes are watching out for the people from The Valley of Ashes. The eyes look down on to everyone who passes through, such as Tom and keeps look-out as if the eyes are making sure everything is going alright.