The colors used throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel The Great Gatsby are an important part of the imagery and symbolism of the story. Fitzgerald uses color to convey deeper meanings and themes in the novel. By looking at the specific colors Fitzgerald uses and how they are described, we can gain a deeper understanding of the story and its characters.
The color green is associated with the character of Jay Gatsby more than any other color. Gatsby’s extravagant mansion is described as having a “green light” at the end of its dock, which shines out towards the bay. This green light is an important symbol throughout the novel – it represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future, which are closely tied to his love for Daisy Buchanan. The green color symbolizes these aspirations of renewal and hope.
In chapter 5, when Gatsby finally reunites with Daisy, Nick observes: “Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it has seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects has diminished by one.”
Here, the fading of the light’s symbolic power reflects how achieving Daisy does not necessarily guarantee happiness for Gatsby in the way he had dreamed it would. So while green is tied to Gatsby’s hopeful desires, it does not always lead to favorable outcomes.
The color white in The Great Gatsby represents innocence, purity, and perfection. It first appears in Chapter 1, when Daisy is described as having a “white girlhood” in Louisville. Her dress is described as “rippling and fluttering as if she had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house.”
The air of innocence associated with the color white stands in contrast to the story’s tragic events. Daisy is linked to white throughout the novel through her clothes and the interior of her house to portray her outward purity and innocence, which ultimately masks moral corruption and dysfunction underneath.
Yellow is a color that symbolizes money, wealth, and corruption in the novel. It first appears in Chapter 2, where a billowing yellow curtain is described at the Buchanan house. The color reappears in Gatsby’s car, his gorgeous yellow Rolls-Royce.
In Chapter 7, Gatsby offers Nick a ride in his luxury yellow car and Nick observes: “I saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees…and I had a glimpse of a face, that little oleander, and all at once I remembered Gatsby and the night when I first came to his ancestral home.”
Here, the yellow color of Gatsby’s decadent car evokes the sense of reaching a higher status and wealth. But yellow ultimately has corrupt undertones as the means of obtaining that station is morally questionable, just as Gatsby himself is revealed to be involved in illegal activities.
The color gray is symbolic of bleakness, boredom, and emptiness in the novel. It is often associated with the “valley of ashes,” the decrepit area between opulent East Egg and West Egg. First introduced in Chapter 2, it is described: “This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat…occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track.”
The imagery of gray cars against the gray ash heaps evokes a lifelessness that contrasts with the vibrancy of Gatsby’s parties. The bleak gray valley is where the Wilsons live – their entire existence lacks meaning or joy. The color gray reflects the aimlessness and moral decay of people stuck in the valley without means or prospects.
Blue represents ideals, dreams, and fantasies in the novel. Gatsby gazes at the blue gardens of his neighbor across the bay, which to him epitomizes a perfect life he hopes to one day have himself. In Chapter 1, Nick observes Gatsby reaching towards the blue gardens: “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling.”
Here, blue symbolizes aspiration – the yearning for some ideal just beyond one’s reach. For Gatsby, the blue gardens embody everything he desires and dreams for.
Later, in Chapter 5 during Gatsby’s reunion with Daisy, much emphasis is placed on the blue gardens:
“We could see nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock…Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.”
Here, the green light that once seemed so near is now far off again, showing the difficulty in making dreams into reality. The blue gardens still remain a distant ideal for Gatsby.
The color red in The Great Gatsby represents violence, blood, and emotion. Red first appears in the story when Myrtle Wilson buys a dog for her apartment and paints its nose red with lipstick. She later remarks, “I want to get one of those police dogs; I want to get one for the apartment.” This hints at impending danger and conflict ahead.
Red reappears in the novel during the climactic Plaza Hotel confrontation between Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby over Daisy. Nick observes: “Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.” The image of Gatsby submerged in a puddle evokes a sense of drowning in blood, foreshadowing his violent death to come.
Overall, red in the novel symbolizes intense emotion and the violent undercurrents beneath the glamorous facade of the wealthy.
The color pink in The Great Gatsby represents wealth, social status and privilege. It first appears in Chapter 3 at Gatsby’s lavish party, where tables in Gatsby’s gardens are “with glistening hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs,” all served on pink plates. The pink plates connote an image of decadence and conspicuous consumption by the wealthy.
Later in Chapter 7, pink reappears during tea at Gatsby’s mansion with Daisy and Jordan: “On the cream colored carpet a dozen men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” The pink cream colored carpet underscores the air of privilege and luxury that Gatsby tries to evoke in order to win over Daisy.
Overall, the color pink in the novel highlights social status and wealth, but also the emptiness hiding beneath all that affluence.
In summary, Fitzgerald’s use of colors like green, white, yellow, gray, blue, red and pink in The Great Gatsby all have symbolic meanings. Green represents Gatsby’s dreams and hopes for the future. White symbolizes innocence and purity, while yellow signifies wealth and corruption. Gray conveys lifelessness and bleakness. Blue embodies ideals and fantasies just out of reach. Red represents violence and intense emotion. Pink depicts privilege, status and decadence. Through its strategic use of colors, the novel presents a vivid picture of social classes and aspirations in the Roaring Twenties, bringing deeper metaphorical meaning to the story.
Table of Colors in The Great Gatsby
|Valley of Ashes
|Gatsby’s neighbor’s garden
|Privilege, social status