Symbolism The Great Gatsby
• • A symbol is an element of imagery, in which a concrete object stands not only for itself but for some abstract idea as well. Symbols are an important element in all literature.
What do these symbols mean to you?
Full Skull Full Moon Red Rose Dove Crown
Valley of Ashes
• “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take 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” p21
• Why would the Valley of Ashes be a symbol?
• What are they are a symbol of?
• • The Valley of Ashes resembles something dark and lifeless. Ashes stand for destruction and death – ashes are the result of fire – one of the most destructive natural forces.
• • • The death of Myrtle Wilson in the Valley of Ashes stands as a symbol for the pain associated with this valley. The fact that the Wilsons live in the valley shows that they are not of such high social standing as the other characters in the novel. By having to pass through the Valley of Ashes in order to get to New York, the other characters are ‘touched’ by this lower status. They never let it actually affect them though.
• But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic- their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose … But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground. p21
• But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of God. The eyes of God … look out of no face … But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
Eckelberg and God
• • Fitzgerald compares the eyes of Dr Eckleburg to God. In talking about the eyes of God looking over the world, Nick describes it as a dumping ground.
Eckleburg and Nick
• • • This passage be also be seen as symbolising the eyes of Nick. He is the only one in the novel who really knows what is going on. The other characters are not able to judge situations except from their own perspective. They are all as blind as these eyes which are just painted on a billboard.
Eckleburg and Wilson
• • • Because of Wilson's strong belief in God this poster is not just an advertisement. It has a deep meaning to him – and, through him, to us.
His words “God sees everything” (127) shows his belief that God is watching over him through the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. His neighbour Michaelis makes fun of Wilson's faith and says about the billboard "that's an advertisement" (127).
The Green Light
• • The green light is probably one of the most important symbols in The Great Gatsby. Green is the colour of hope and it first appears when Gatsby stares across the bay towards a green light at the end of a dock. p20 Later the reader finds out that this light stands on Daisy Buchanan’s dock. In the context of the novel this green light represents Gatsby’s hope to meet Daisy again and a chance to win her back. “Gatsby believed in the green light.”p144
East and West
• The Midwestern states and the Eastern states of America are very different and marked by very values and attitudes.
• While in the Mid West you find more traditional values , for example living on one’s own, not needing anyone else and being self-supporting, the East has a closer connection to Europe and orientates itself by European values and qualities.
• • • • The West is described as the country of “wide lawns and friendly trees”, “prairies” and “lost Swede towns” (p.125,19). There, agriculture is the major economic factor and the landscape is full of long wheat and corn fields. During winter, the land freezes, they get “real snow” and the temperature drops far below 0° C. The people living in the West tend to have a very strict and conservative attitude and not to be open for most changes. It was there, where prohibition started.
• • On the other side of the Ohio, the major eastern side stream of the Mississippi, the Eastern states begin. They represent the modern America where the immigrants first arrived in order to start a better life (American Dream). Also, the East is much more densely populated and you find more big cities like New York. The Easterners are said to be open-minded and sophisticated.
• In The Great Gatsby, East Egg and West Egg are used as metaphors for the East and the Middle West. While the "aristocrats" Tom and Daisy live in East Egg, the newly rich Gatsby lives in West Egg. Even though Gatsby shows off with his wealth and tries to fit in with wealthy society, the fact that he is living in West Egg, shows that the distance between East and West has not become smaller, as West Egg stays the “less fashionable of the two”. p8
• • Most of the settlers, who explored the western country, were Finnish.
The “Finnish woman” (p7) who works for Nick, is another example of the connection between West Egg and the Middle West.
• A lot of these ‘super wealthy’ families earned their fortunes through the shipping and railway empires that were built during the American expansion West.
• Pembroke House is seen as the model for Gatsby's mansion.