We have looked at several symbols in The Great Gatsby. Select three symbols from the text and do the following: -Provide a description (using quotes) of the symbol from the text. -Explain when and why the symbol appears in the text. -Analyze what the symbol helps you to understand about an important character. -Make a link between the symbol and the idea of illusion.
Green Light: The green light appears in various parts of the novel, providing a significant symbol of Gatsby’s character. “… -he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way… Involuntarily I glanced seaward- and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and faraway, that might have been the end of a dock.” This quote references the first time the green light appears in the book, at the introduction of Gatsby’s character, whilst Nick is observing Gatsby staring seaward into the prominent green glow across the bay. The green light symbolizes hope for Gatsby to be with Daisy, this can be told from how precious this green light is to him and the fact that the green light omits nearly at the end of the dock, close to the Buchanan’s house- specifically mentioned in the quote “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay’ symbolizing that the mist shrouds his chances of seeing Daisy. The dark and foggy water in the boy represents the various problems in the way of Gatsby and Daisy’s romance specifically the 5 years that separated the two from ever being together. The fact that the green light is minute and far away means that this hope is little and the dream is unlikely, yet Gatsby still obsesses over the possibility of catching that green light at the end of the dock, to grasp hold and keep it for himself. Green can also be associated with hope, growth, and money. Possibly the green light also represents the wealthy life that Gatsby has so desperately maintained and clung onto, his illusion. Because Gatsby’s entire life is an illusion, this green light cannot be reached for he is one of the “poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air,” he isn’t real and this hope symbolism by the green light is what he breathes every day. But his illusion, the fact that he had to create a fake persona to be with Daisy blocks him from reaching this green light and the more he reaches, the more it’s too late. Everyone has this hope and dream at the end of their dock, we all have ambition and desire to pursue greatness but are always blocked by the distance between reaching this dream, and sometimes we cannot see it, feeling hopeless. But no matter what, this green light will always be shining and we stretch our arm towards the light.
Water: Water plays a significant role in showing the symbolism of how the past can come up and block your way of the future. The different occurrences of water symbolizing time in the novel are the Bay, Gatsby sailing in Dan Cody’s yacht (sailing to escape his shameful lower class past, rebirth) the rain showering and the mist clouding on chapter five’s reunion, the pool in which Gatsby is killed and the rain returning in Gatsby’s funeral. I will only look at the three most significant occurrences of water symbolizing the past, the rain, the Bay and mist between Gatsby and the green light and the pool that Gatsby dies in.
First, the rain, in Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion in chapter five. “The day agreed upon was pouring rain. At eleven’ o’clock a man in a raincoat…” Rain is constantly showering over Gatsby, particularly in the Daisy and Gatsby reunion scene during chapter five. When Gatsby first arrives at Nick’s house he is very nervous (even mowing Nick’s lawns for everything to be perfect) and ironically is wearing a raincoat possibly to shield himself from the past. The rain interrupts the repatching of Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship, washing away for Gatsby’s future. “the rain would stop at about four” after the panic of Gatsby’s nervousness because of the 5-year separation has passed. Just when Gatsby thinks he has gained close to Daisy the rain briefly stops as the tension disappears only to return just before Daisy leaves, reminding him of the corruption of his desperate dreams. “…three cars reached the cemetery and stopped in a thick drizzle beside the gate.” The rain again appears again at Gatsby’s funeral symbolizing that the past was responsible for showering onto his future and that time is washing his dreams away.
The Bay represents separation, struggle to overcome distance a failure to achieve the American Dream. “… -he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way… Involuntarily I glanced seaward- and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and faraway, that might have been the end of a dock.” The Bay is first mentioned in Gatsby’s introduction at the end of chapter one when Nick sees him out stretching his arm towards the green light across the bay. In this passage, the Bay represents Gatsby’s separation holding the dark water, the 5 years that separate the two from being together. The bay separates East Egg from West Egg meaning that because of the bay separating the two economic classes (new money and old money). Because of the bay, there is divide with “East Egg condescending to West Egg”.
“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay’,” The mist shrouds the Bay later on in the novel after the rain interrupts Gatsby’s reunion with Daisy. The mist is obscuring the image of the green light from view, the view of hope. Because the mist looms over the bay the “colossal significance” behind the green light grows more minute and the hope feels more distant to Gatsby because the past is clouded his hopes for the future.
“…moved irregularly down the pool…the touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing like the leg of a transit, a thin red circle in the water.” Gatsby is swimming in the pool for the first time all summer during his death. Unbeknownst to him, George Wilson lurks about, thirsty for revenge, one of the two “poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air”. George shoots Gatsby and shoots himself shortly after, the “frightening leaves” (representing the uncertainty of being with Daisy) clustering around the thin red circle of blood. The water in the pool represents the past, time-consuming him, cleansing him of his wrong doings and relieving him of his painful obsession. Jay Gatsby is dead, along with him his dreams, his illusion, and his green light no longer omitting hope.
Eyes: Eyes are mentioned frequently throughout the novel, has important significance in showing a character’s true emotions that they conceal. The eyes are said to be the window to the soul, showing one’s true emotions despite what they tell or intent to hide. This is first mentioned when Nick visits the Buchanan’s “palace”, commenting on Daisy and Jordan’s “impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire”. The eyes are absent of all desire, showing that they have everything they ever wanted, having drowned in their own wealth for all of their life. Their eyes are also impersonal, showing a lack of care or personal qualities shown in the people of the Valley of Ashes for example. Eyes appear more frequently during and after chapter four. First with “Gatsby looked with vacant eyes.” This says that Gatsby is truly very empty having no family, job or true friends to live for, only the dream of being with Daisy he so willingly desires.“Over the ash heaps, the giant eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg kept their vigil.” This quote inter laps with the symbolism of Doctor T.J Eckleburg being a god watching over the valley of ashes but the eyes being the most prominent features show how vigilant the stare is. The eyes of this iconic billboard show immense sadness with tears dripping from its giant eyes, observing the sadness of society possibly because of how such great people will never achieve their American Dream no matter how hard they try. Another example is the quote “No, we couldn’t meet. But both of us loved each other all that time, old sport, and you didn’t know. I used to laugh sometimes’ -but there was no laughter in his eyes -’ to think you didn’t know”. There is no laughter in his eyes because of his eyes -being the true window to the soul- show Gatsby is lying, he is broken about the fact that they couldn’t meet during all this time that they were separated. “Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage, she had had, were definitely gone.” This quote shows that Daisy, no matter what she says cannot hide that she is frightened, courageless and her intentions to be with Gatsby are gone because her eyes reveal her true emotions. “He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy’s, but he was a tough one.” This means that Gatsby had thrown dust into Daisy’s eyes so she couldn’t see the illusion that Gatsby conjures on everybody, this including Nick. He does this so that their eyes cannot see Gatsby’s true intentions, the truth behind Jay Gatsby that he conceals so skillfully.