The Great Gatsby Study Guide

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of the roaring 20's, told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, who moves in next door to the eccentric millionaire Jay Gatsby. Over the course of the summer of 1922, Nick becomes drawn into Gatsby's world of excess, a world that also includes Nick's married cousin Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby's obsession. Portraying a world of decayed social and moral values, The Great Gatsby serves as a critique of the Upper class and an exploration of the decline of the American dream.

Symbols

The Green Light at the End of Daisy's Dock

The green light at the end of Daisy's dock is a symbolic representation of Gatsby's desires, and future apirations. The green light is a clear symbol of Gatsby's yearning for Daisy. Fitzgerald's choice to make the light green, the color of money, was deliberate, as financial wealth and grandeur is Gatsby's one true desire, both of which are ultimately represented by Daisy. The green light may also be interpreted as a symbol of the American Dream, aptly represented by Gatsby's ruthless desire for wealth. Gatsby's first appearance in the novel occurs at the end of Chapter I, when Nick sees him standing on his lawn by the shore, arms outstretched and trembling toward a green light across the water. Nick assumes that the light shines from the end of a dock in neighboring East Egg. Nick's suspicions are soon confirmed when he learns that the light is indeed the light at the end of Daisy's Dock, and that Gatsby has moved to West Egg to be near her.

The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg

Although the symbolic meaning of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg's large, bespectacled eyes is never explicitly defined, they are commonly interpreted as a representation of God. George Wilson is the only character in the novel to directly connect the God and Eckleburg, which he does after the death of his wife, Myrtle. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg watch, unflinching, over the morose, gray valley of ashes from an old billboard which is visible from the commuter train. The eyes had been painted onto the billboard many years ago, and are now faded and peeling. Eckleburg's eyes are like the eyes of God, a moral judge, staring down onto the valley of ashes disapproving of its social and moral decay, and that of American society.

This lack of concrete significance contributes to the unsettling nature of the image. Thus, the eyes also come to represent the essential meaninglessness of the world and the arbitrariness of the mental process by which people invest objects with meaning. Nick explores these ideas in Chapter VIII, when he imagines Gatsby's final thoughts as a depressed consideration of the emptiness of symbols and dreams.

The Clock

Gatsby knocks over the clock on Nick's mantle, just after reuniting with Daisy, and catches it just before it smashes to the ground. The clock represents Gatsby's idealization of the future, his obsession with the past, and his conviction that he can recreate his former love affair with Daisy.

The Valley of Ashes

The valley of ashes lies between West Egg and New York City in Astoria, Queens, through which the commuter train passes. The valley is a desolate, gray wasteland, barren but for the ashes dumped there by commercial industry. This wasteland is inhabited by spiritless, downtrodden characters, such as George Wilson, and represents the negative, life-draining effects of the American pursuit of happiness which, in essence, translates to the ruthless pursuit of material wealth.

New York City

New York City symbolizes wildness, moral decay, and unpredictability. It is a city of indulgence, excess, and possibility. When Gatsby first takes Nick to New York to meet Meyer Wolfsheim, Nick remarks that "anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridgeanything at all" (Chapter IV). Later in the novel, at the Plaza Hotel in New York, Tom confronts Gatsby about his affair with Daisy, and chaos ensues.

Motifs

The Weather

Throughout the novel, the weather often correlates to the plot and narrative tone of the story. Tom confronts Gatsby about his affair with Daisy on the hottest day of the summer, on a sweltering, oppressive afternoon. At once, emotions explode with the intense heat; the season and plot reach a simultaneous climax. Initially, Gatsby's reunion with his beloved Daisy is awkward and embarrassing, and mirrors the accompanying downpour of rain. Their reunion ends, however, with bright sunshine and a rekindling of their passion. Likewise, the book begins and ends with the summer season; the mainstay of the novel is confined to a single summer, and ends upon Gatsby's death, as the first chill of autumn lingers in the air.

Color

Different colors are correspond to respective representations in The Great Gatsby . When Nick first sees Daisy and Jordan, they wear feminine, flowing white dresses that billow in the breeze. Daisy's character is often associated with white, a common symbol of purity; she wears white dresses and drives a white car. Gatsby is frequently depicted as wearing a garish pink suit. Although his pink suit is surely expensive, it is in poor taste, and is therefore representative of his membership in the class of "new rich." Similarly, the color yellow appears throughout the novel in association with both Gatbsy and Daisy, particularly in reference to Gatsby's expensive yellow car. Yellow is popularly associated with cowardice; Tom calls Gatsby a coward because he did not stop his car after it hit and killed Myrtle in the valley of ashes.

Geography

In The Great Gatsby , geographic location is representative of various socio-economic situations, values, and cultures. West Egg is the choice residence of the gauche new rich, representative of garish opulence, moral decay, and indulgence in excess. By contrast, neighboring East Egg, home of the blue-blooded and well-bred, represents the traditional values of the aristocracy. The valley of ashes epitomizes the moral decay and spiritlessness that results from the pursuit of money and the American Dream. Generally, the values of the East represent greed, lust, and indecency, while the morals of the Mid-West, where all of the characters originate from, are more traditional and honorable, by comparison.

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