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Fitzgerald’s Use of Symbols in The Great Gatsby

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Symbols determine emotions and how readers choose to perceive hidden ideals in a story. It is common knowledge that very often authors share the message of their story with the reader with the help of certain symbols. In The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald, the author, uses an abundance of symbols to make his book more intriguing to the reader such as the green light, the Valley of Ashes, and the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleburg.

In The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald, the author, uses an abundance of symbols to make his book more intriguing such as the Green Light, situated at the end of Daisy and Tom’s dock. This represents Gatsby’s unconditional love for Daisy. At the end of Chapter 1, before Nick has even met Gatsby, we see Gatsby with outstretched arms reaching towards the light that sits across the water as if reaching out to Daisy. As readers, we instantly understand that it is a significant and powerful object that has great symbolic meaning to Gatsby. In Chapter 5 when Gatsby is showing Daisy around his mansion after he “accidentally” runs into her at Nick’s house, he says to her, “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay, . . . You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock” (Fitzgerald 92). The appearance of the light in this chapter is just as important as the first one, mainly because the light is now presented in a totally different way than when we first saw it. Instead of it being this enchanted, mysterious object as we first saw it, now the light has had its symbolic meaning removed from it. This is because Gatsby is now actually standing there and holding Daisy herself, so he no longer feels the need to stretch out his arms toward the light or worry that it’s hidden in the mist. The last time we encounter the green light is at the very end of the novel. Nick explains, “And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, 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 that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night, . . . Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning” (Fitzgerald 180). The light is now just a symbol and nothing else; Daisy is gone for good, Gatsby is dead, Nick is not on a long island anymore, and the green light only exists in Nick’s memories. Nick realizes that the green light had been behind Gatsby all along, not in front like the many times we’d seen Gatsby reaching towards. This is because Gatsby had been chasing Daisy all along. He didn’t realize that in reality the light was “behind him”, meaning his dream to spend his life with Daisy was left in the past even before they reunited after five years.

Between the gleaming excitement of Manhattan and the mansions of East and West egg lay the Valley of Ashes, a gray and jaded stretch of road that goes through an area covered in dust and ash from the nearby factories. Although it is not actually made out of ashes, it seems that way because of how gray and smoke-covered it is. In the valley, the gray dust is so thick that it looks like everything is made out of the ashy substance. Men who work and live in the valley are described as “ash-gray men.” We see this description specifically applied to George Wilson, a gas station and garage owner living in the Valley of Ashes. In chapter 2 we are given some hint into what the Valley of Ashes is all about. “About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” (Fitzgerald 23). In this case, the Valley of Ashes symbolizes the anti-American dream and those trapped in their pursuit of the American dream while people like Tom and Gatsby entertain themselves in East and West egg.

In F. Scott. Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, the author uses an abundance of symbols to make his book more intriguing to the reader; one being the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleburg. The first time we are introduced to this old advertising billboard, is in Chapter 2, when Nick is describing the Valley of Ashes as “grotesque” and a “desolate” place. Nick also describes the billboard as a watchful presence. The billboard does what Nick could never do-be a completely equal observer of the events around it. As the reader, we gain some knowledge that these eyes symbolize something greater than just an old billboard. They may represent God staring down upon American society and judging the moral wasteland. However, the connection between God and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg only exists in George Wilson’s mind. In chapter 8 we see Michaelis speaking to George Wilson after Myrtle, George’s wife, was hit and killed by an automobile. Mr. Wilson has many thoughts going through his mind and is very upset after being convinced that Gatsby was the one who hit his wife and drove away from the crime scene. He also is convinced by Tom that Gatsby was also the one supposedly having a secret affair with this wife. Mr. Wilson explains to Michaelis his conversation with Daisy about her secret affair days before her sudden death. “‘I spoke to her,’ he muttered, after a long silence. ‘I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window–’ with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it – ‘and I said “God knows what you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” “Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night. ‘God sees everything,’ repeated Wilson” (Fitzgerald 159). Wilson is looking at the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg while explaining how God sees everything. He tells Myrtle when she was still alive that she could fool him but could not fool God. Wilson doesn’t go to church, therefore he doesn’t have access to daily proclivities that will help him control his inner actions. Still, Wilson seems to want a God, or at least a God-like influence-based on how he tries to transform the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg into a God that will make Mytle feel bad about “everything [she’s] been doing.”

When looking through different perspectives you can notice different symbols in a story. No matter how you choose to view what these symbols may represent, you will completely understand why authors choose to put objects and hidden messages in a book. Symbols make a story more exciting to readers because they have something to analyze and think about. They create an emotion in a story and help underlying concepts more relatable to readers.

Works Cited

  1. Fitzgerald, F.Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 2018. 

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Fitzgerald’s Use Of Symbols In The Great Gatsby. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/fitzgeralds-use-of-symbols-in-the-great-gatsby/
“Fitzgerald’s Use Of Symbols In The Great Gatsby.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/fitzgeralds-use-of-symbols-in-the-great-gatsby/
Fitzgerald’s Use Of Symbols In The Great Gatsby. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/fitzgeralds-use-of-symbols-in-the-great-gatsby/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Fitzgerald’s Use Of Symbols In The Great Gatsby [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/fitzgeralds-use-of-symbols-in-the-great-gatsby/
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