Examples of the Symbolism of Colors in "The Great Gatsby"

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a symbolic mix of colors throughout The Great Gatsby.

From its first few pages, it is clear that the symbolism of color plays an essential role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s renowned novel "The Great Gatsby." Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald employs a rainbow of different hues to symbolize the limitations of social class, the innocence and moral decay of certain characters, and the hope and desire of the Jay Gatsby himself.

All Things Green

The color green is probably the most recognizable use of color as a symbol in the novel. Not only does green symbolize new money and greed, but it is also prominent throughout the novel as the green light at the end of the Buchanan dock -- the one for which Gatsby yearns -- symbolizing his quest for an “orgastic future” with Daisy. Green also describes the Long Island Sound. And, while Fitzgerald uses it to describe George Wilson’s face after he discovers that his wife is having an affair, Fitzgerald rarely uses the color as a description of jealousy. Rather, he uses green as a symbol of Gatsby's hope of a future with Daisy.

Innocence Lost

When the narrator Nick Carraway first arrives at the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the home – and the characters -- are bathed in white. The Buchanan home is white and red; Daisy and her cousin Jordan are both wearing white dresses and the windows are described as “gleaming white.” Daisy is described as having a white girlhood and a white neck. Later, Gatsby is dressed in a white flannel suit and flashes a white card at a police officer to get out a speeding ticket. In literature, the color white typically symbolizes innocence and purity, as in Nick’s struggle to remain innocent and detached from the self-indulgent and destructive lifestyles of his cohorts.

Gold Standards...and Turkeys

Another color that is weaved throughout the novel is gold – the color of “old money” and class. From the sheen of the Buchanan’s house when Nick first arrives (“glowing with reflected gold”) to the turkeys at a Gatsby party (“bewitched to a dark gold”) to Jordan’s golden arms and shoulders, the use of gold in the novel indicates prosperity and wealth. On the contrary, the use of yellow indicates the vulgar tastes and lack of refinement of the “nouveau riche:” Gatsby’s ostentatious car, which he buys only to impress Daisy, is yellow, and the girls dressed in “twin yellow dresses” at Gatsby’s party are painted in stark contrast to the “golden” Jordan. Further cementing the color yellow as symbolic of the lower class, the windows in the apartment Tom shares with Myrtle Wilson are yellow, as are the glasses on the eyes of the T.J. Eckleberg billboard, which stands as “big brother” over the downtrodden Valley of Ashes.

Awash in Ash

The pervasive use of grey in the novel further illustrates the separation of classes as well as the lack of realization of dreams for Gatsby’s future with Daisy. The most notable use of grey relates to the Valley of Ashes, which symbolizes the poverty and hopelessness of the lower class: “a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track,” and “ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades.” In addition, the taxi that takes Myrtle and Tom to their love nest has grey upholstery, and the vendor who sells Myrtle her puppy is described as a “grey old man.”

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