Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is brimming with rich symbolism, archetypes, motifs, and all-around gorgeous literary devices. Everything from typically symbolic aspects, like colors and weather, to usually mundane commonplaces, such as cars and clothing, serve to greatly accentuate the multi-dimensional characters and enduring, elevated themes of Gatsby’s tale. One such recurring symbol is the presence, or absence, of light. Throughout The Great Gatsby, light serves as the physical manifestation of the progression of the unattainable, imaginative dream Gatsby has fabricated around Daisy.

In the beginning of the story, Gatsby’s lifestyle is full of light, mostly due to the luxurious parties he holds every weekend. Nick describes the extravagance of these affairs on a large scale saying, “The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun…” (40). This description characterizes the parties and lifestyle as nearly comparable to the sun, as they are consistent, cyclic, and unfading. This engulfing presence of light directly correlates with the amount of hope Gatsby has for attaining the life he desires for himself and Daisy. At this point in the story, he is on the very edge of pursuing his dream and is immensely hopeful that he will reach the perfect life he craves. Light continues to track with the progression of Gatsby’s pursuit. The night Nick returns to his home and agrees to Gatsby’s plan, Gatsby’s house is brightly lit. He notes, “the whole corner of the peninsula was blazing with light… I saw that it was Gatsby’s house, lit from tower to cellar” (81). In this scene, the mansion is more open and lit than it has ever been before. Gatsby is closer to his dream than he has ever been before. Meeting Daisy again is the pinnacle of Gatsby’s plan to get her back, and the entire house is blazing in anticipation for it.

The absence of light, at least of that as bright and permeating as the light at the beginning of the book, reflects Gatsby’s loss of hope and the failure of his dream. After the disastrous trip into town, Nick tells how he and Gatsby open all the windows at dawn and fill “the house with a gray-turning, gold-turning light” (152). This gray, simplistic light paints a melancholy scene that rests in sharp contrast to the parties and extravagance and hope that danced through the mansion’s halls only weeks before. Daisy has failed him; the life Gatsby built upon the green light is still, and always will be, out of his reach. And while he holds on to a last scrap of hope, the “gold-turning” light, the perfect life he planned and pursued and slaved for fades with the rise of the “grey-turning” light of dawn.

2 thoughts on “Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

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  1. This is very eloquently written. Your voice and writing style are both poised and unique. I loved that you have drawn a connotative meaning between Gatsby and light. Your description, along with the evidence, is very vivid and beautifully recorded.


  2. I am obsessed with your thesis that “Throughout The Great Gatsby, light serves as the physical manifestation of the progression of the unattainable, imaginative dream Gatsby has fabricated around Daisy.” Fascinating analysis of light/dark imagery, McKinley.


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