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Who represents water in The Great Gatsby?

Who represents water in The Great Gatsby?

Water imagery plays a significant symbolic role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, The Great Gatsby. Set during the roaring 1920s on the shores of Long Island, the novel uses water motifs to represent certain characters and themes. In particular, three female characters—Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson—are associated with water symbolism in The Great Gatsby. By analyzing how water imagery and aquatic settings are connected to these women, we can better understand the deeper meaning behind their roles in the novel.

Daisy Buchanan as the Green Light

Of all the characters, Daisy Buchanan has the strongest ties to water symbolism in The Great Gatsby. She is often linked to the color green, which represents freshness, promise, and new beginnings. The most iconic use of water imagery related to Daisy is the green light at the end of her dock across the bay from Gatsby’s mansion. The green light represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future, which are intimately connected to Daisy as his lost love. Here is a relevant quote highlighting the green light’s significance:

“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

The green light burns as a beacon for Gatsby’s longing for Daisy and the chance to rekindle their past love. Water and light merge to symbolize Gatsby’s deep feelings and aspirations to regain what he once had with Daisy. As such, she embodies fresh starts and renewed hope to Gatsby, like the green light guiding him across the dark bay.

Daisy’s representation as the green light also connects to her portrayal as an ethereal, fluid character throughout the novel. Much like water itself, Daisy is beautiful but unreliable and ever changing. When she cries over Gatsby’s luxurious shirts, it evokes “the triumphant curve of her nostrils” and “the water trembled with ecstasy” in her eyes, mingling her emotions with aquatic descriptors. Daisy flows wherever the current leads her rather than standing for something concrete. Hence why water, with its fluctuating nature, suits her character so well.

Jordan Baker as the Golden Girl

In contrast to Daisy’s green aura, her friend Jordan Baker radiates a golden glow that also links her to symbolic water imagery. Nick first notices Jordan’s “slender golden arm” extended to balance a wine cup, introducing her metallic luminosity. When Nick sees Jordan on the golf course, her ball is described as a “white sun” that seems to draw its radiance directly from her.

Jordan’s shimmering golden color pairs her with brilliance, wealth, and vitality. These traits suit her public persona as a professional golfer and celebrated socialite in the sparkling Jazz Age scene. Jordan’s golden glow also connects her to light playing on water, like glinting sunshine over the rippling waves of a river or lake.

As Nick gets to know Jordan, he sees through the glittering facade to the careless and dishonest person within. Her dishonesty links back to the fluidity of water, as she shifts the truth to suit her needs. While Daisy flows wherever the tide takes her, Jordan actively manipulates situations and people to maintain her golden image. Ultimately Jordan uses her fluidity in a more malicious way than Daisy does.

Myrtle Wilson as the Valley of Ashes

The final female character symbolically tied to water in The Great Gatsby is Myrtle Wilson. As Tom Buchanan’s mistress, Myrtle comes from the desolate Valley of Ashes, halfway between West Egg and New York City. The valley represents the moral and social decay of 1920s society corrupted by wild parties and bootleg liquor. Myrtle wants nothing more than to leave the stagnant wasteland and join the lavish fun, so she leaps at Tom’s offer to have an affair.

The Valley of Ashes is defined by dull gray colors and a lack of life or fresh water. It sluggishly sits under constant clouds of smoke and soot from nearby factories. The dismal setting mirrors Myrtle’s despair at being stuck with her lifeless mechanic husband George. She thrives as she enters the vivacious scenes of parties and hotel suites with Tom, although the valley will always haunt her.

Myrtle’s ultimate demise comes when Daisy strikes her with a car near a garage in the valley. Myrtle’s blood mingles with the dust and gray water to show the violence lurking beneath the exuberant surface of the 1920s socialites’ lives. Her lifeless body literally colors the stale water, representing how death and misfortune have tainted the supposedly fresh promise of the era.

Connecting Water Imagery to Broader Meaning

Analyzing the symbolic connections between Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle and various forms of water provides deeper insight into these characters and the themes of the novel.

Daisy as the green light represents hope and renewal, but also fleeting inconstancy. Jordan as glimmering gold symbolizes her outward radiance and inner corruption. Myrtle as the Valley of Ashes shows her despair and willing risk-taking. Together, they reflect the complex dualities of the 1920s – glitter on the surface, yet decay underneath.

The female characters’ links to water imagery also explores The Great Gatsby’s broader focus on the American Dream. Each woman approaches the promise of financial success and status in different ways. However, their moral failures show the unfulfilled promise of America in the Jazz Age, much like the stagnant Valley of Ashes in a world of dazzling wealth.

Ultimately, water symbolism lends the characters a fluidity that mirrors the novel’s larger points about social mobility, idealism, ethics, justice, and illusion versus reality in 1920s American life. Their diversity of associations with water motifs reinforces the story’s exploration of timeless and universal themes through poetic symbols that lend richer meaning to the surface details.

The Significance of Water Motifs AcrossCharacters

To summarize key points on how Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle represent different facets of water symbolism:

Character Water Association Symbolic Meaning
Daisy Buchanan The Green Light Hope, promise, renewal but also inconsistency
Jordan Baker Golden Girl Vibrancy, wealth, and deception
Myrtle Wilson Valley of Ashes Despair, decay, risk-taking

Together these diverse water representations reflect the glittering facade and moral decay of Jazz Age society and the elusiveness of the American Dream. The fluidity of water ultimately mirrors the characters’ internal contradictions and conflicts as they navigate love, ambition, integrity, and the blurred lines between right and wrong.


In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald employs water imagery related to female characters including Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle to symbolize shifting themes of hope, corruption, and despair. By associating Daisy with the green light, Jordan with golden radiance, and Myrtle with the Valley of Ashes’ stagnation, Fitzgerald links these women to different aspects of water symbolism. Their varied connections to water motifs helps underscore the story’s deeper concern with dreams, deception, and the promise and failure surrounding American life in the 1920s. Analyzing the significant role of water imagery reveals the complexity beneath the shimmering surface of Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel.