The colors of specific objects described over the course of the novel serve as symbols that help convey Fitzgerald’s thoughts of the American Dream. An example of this is the color white, which is used to represent perfection throughout the novel. For instance, Daisy Buchanan who is seen as perfect by Jay Gatsby, is always depicted by Fitzgerald as wearing white throughout the novel. Another character that associates white with perfection is Myrtle Wilson. Myrtle desires to achieve the perfection that she believes the rich have. Like Daisy, Myrtle’s clothes are symbolic. At her secret apartment, Fitzgerald depicts Myrtle in “an elaborate afternoon dress of cream-colored chiffon” (Fitzgerald 30). Myrtle does this to try to impress her friends by showing off the wealth and consequently, her idea of perfection, that comes from her affair with Tom Buchanan. However, her cream-colored chiffon dress is not white, or perfect in her mind, even though cream-chiffon and white are very close to each other. Myrtle coming close to her idea of perfection, and her inability to reach it, is Fitzgerald’s method of showing that the American Dream is a mirage that can never be reached.
Besides the color white, Fitzgerald uses other colors such as gold and silver, to represent ideas that help him communicate his perception of the American Dream. The colors gold and silver are commonly used to describe many objects in the prosperous lives of the characters. Tom and Daisy live in a house that has French windows that reflect gold (Fitzgerald 6). And at the opulent parties of the wealthy, “All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the ‘Beale Street Blues’ while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust” (Fitzgerald 151). Gold and silver are the colors that represent wealth, and wealth exists in the lives of the characters in abundance. Nick Carraway even describes the wealthy Jordan Baker as having golden arms and shoulders (Fitzgerald 33 79). However, the gold and silver objects of wealth cannot appease any of the characters and each of the characters longs for more. In Jordan’s case, merely being “golden girl” is not enough to satisfy herself. Therefore, she strives for perfection in golf through dishonest means. All of the characters in The Great Gatsby long for more than what they have and try to in numerous ways to sate their needs. However, none of the characters are successful in doing so. Fitzgerald does so to show that all desires will never be satisfied, regardless of effort exerted, making the American dream an unattainable dream.
Fitzgerald also uses discernible physical symbols in The Great Gatsby, in addition to the colors that stand for abstract ideas, to represent the American Dream. Of all the symbols used to represent the American Dream, the green light on the dock of the Buchanan property that Gatsby associates with Daisy, is the most prominent. Nick states at the end of the novel, “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-to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning—” (Fitzgerald 180). Gatsby believed in the concept of the American Dream, where perseverance would lead him to his goal, and in the green light that symbolized his goal of winning Daisy. Daisy is Gatsby’s foremost longing who he dedicates his life to. At the beginning of the novel, Gatsby is observed standing on his lawn reaching towards the green light, and his goal. Yet, at the end of the novel, Gatsby is once again seen gazing towards Daisy’s mansion. However, this time, the green light is off. The symbolic green light no longer shining is Fitzgerald’s method of saying that Gatsby’s illusion of American Dream, that he could win Daisy by acquiring wealth, has been shattered. Whether Gatsby realized that the idea of the American Dream was superficial is unknown, but Fitzgerald makes his belief clearly known with the symbolism of the green light.
The American Dream is also alluded to by Fitzgerald with the subtle comparing and contrasting of the characters of the novel. For instance, three characters, Jordan, Daisy and Tom, all appear to be vastly different people with diverging thoughts and personalities. Jordan who confides to Nick that others will “…keep out of my way, it takes two to make an accident” (Fitzgerald 58), is self-centered and cynical. Daisy is careless and leaves many messes in her wake, such as the deaths of Myrtle and Gatsby. Finally Tom is a bullying bigot who physically abuses others (Fitzgerald 37) and believes in white supremacy (Fitzgerald 13) . Yet, upon closer examination, all three of them share a common characteristic. This unifying characteristic is that neither Daisy, Jordan or Tom are content with what they have. Since, they are not content, they each go out of the way to try to sate themselves in various ways. This is Fitzgerald’s way of showing that the American Dream is an universal idea. However, none of the characters are fully able to appease their desires. Doing so would be fulfilling the American Dream which from Fitzgerald’s point of view, would be impossible.
Fitzgerald shows that the American Dream is a impossible dream to achieve in The Great Gatsby. On the surface, The Great Gatsby, is a novel about the classic idea of obstructed love, such as Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. However Fitzgerald alludes to his real purpose in the novel with color symbolism, comparisons and contrasts, and symbols representing the American Dream. The reason why Fitzgerald had such a cynical view towards the cherished American Dream is only known to him. Perhaps he became jaded after becoming a famous author overnight, suddenly acquiring wealth and fame. If Fitzgerald had been positive and happy about his new life, The Great Gatsby might have been a much more cheerful novel.
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