The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the story of a self-made, wealthy man named Jay Gatsby who tries to regain the love of an old flame, Daisy Buchanan, an upper class, now married girl. In this novel, imagery and symbolism are used to develop aspects of certain characters throughout the story. Colour imagery of green, white and gold provide contrast for the “Nouveau-Riche” character Jay Gatsby with established society (the old rich) and thus highlight differences and character traits. The physical description of objects, specifically by their colour, is seen consistently throughout the novel. The prevalent colour, however, is the colour green. The significance of this colour evolves as the story progresses but it mainly represents Gatsby’s hope. This can be inferred in the last sentences of the book that says: “Gatsby believed in the green light [at the end of Daisy’s dock], the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us” (Fitzgerald, 171). This seems to say that Gatsby never believed in giving up on taking Daisy back.
He wished his dream to come true but, because of the social differences between him and Daisy, “the current would drag him away from the green light” no matter how much effort he put in. Furthermore, green represents money. When Daisy is invited to Nick’s for tea, “at two o’clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby’s” (81). This profuse display of Gatsby’s “Nouveau-Riche” money is conveyed through the colour green, to, once again, take Daisy back. Moreover, the colour green represents the future. “The moment that witnessed the beginning of [James Gatz’s] career” (94) involves him wearing “a torn green jersey and a pair of canvas pants”(95). It is not by coincidence that Gatsby is wearing green the day of his commencement in life, because the green represents once again hope for a future of prosperity, glory and money. Another prevalent colour is white. What is to be noted though, is that Gatsby is never described as white in the present tense. On the other hand, the East-Eggers are repeatedly associated with that colour; a total of nine times in the first chapter. This makes sense, as the colour white represents the perfect values associated with the East.
It represents innocence and old money: “Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water” (11). This signifies that the West-Eggers, like Gatsby, have corrupt values and represent new money. This is proven later on when it is implied that Gatsby takes part in illegal business to make his outlandish fortune. In contrast, white is used to describe the protagonist when he was young and non-wealthy. Five years before the story takes place, Jay and Daisy walk in a place where “there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight”(106). This represents the purity and innocence of the two young lovers and an incorrupt Gatsby. Finally, there is white representing a new beginning or a rebirth. When James changes his name to Jay and when he becomes part of Cody’s crew, he is given “six pair of white duck trousers”(96). These white pants given to James represent an opportunity for a pivotal turning point in his life.
As a result, it is possible to say that the colour white represents old money and perfect values, innocence and rebirth in the novel The Great Gatsby. Finally, there is the colour gold. As in most cases, gold represents wealth; or rather the old-money of East-Egg. When Nick, the narrator, first goes to Daisy’s house, he describes it as such: “The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold”(12). Although this “reflected gold” is only the gold-like light of the sunset, it expresses the fact that the Buchanans are rich even if they don’t display it aggressively. On the other hand, Gatsby, a “Nouveau-Riche” feels like he has to display his wealth to prove that he has money. At his party, there is talk of “turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (41) and later there is a reference to his “toilet set of pure dull gold” (89).
These references to gold make Gatsby a man who wants to be like the old-rich but fails miserably as he displays his wealth profusely unlike the East-Eggers. Furthermore, there is the colour yellow, a synonym of gold. The colour yellow comes to represent moral corruption. The “Death Car” that killed Myrtle is “a yellow car…”(134) Daisy, being the culprit of this death, never admits to the crime. To her, the only thing that matters is money and an easy and luxurious lifestyle. In brief, the yellow colour of the car represents money and the putrid morals of charming East-Egg Daisy. The colour gold also represents the West-Eggers wanting to be like the East-Eggers. To conclude, the colours green, white and gold/yellow work together to reveal Gatsby’s Old-Rich character by contrasting him with the New-Rich of the novel. Ultimately, colour symbolism is used to develop aspects of the characters in The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin, 1990. Print.