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Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Symbolism is an extremely important device for F. Scott Fitzgerald in the writing

of his novel The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald is very clever in the ways he uses and

demonstrates symbolism in The Great Gatsby. Virtually almost anything in the novel can

be taken as a symbol or represented for something in some form. However, one can

believe that they’re three major symbols in the novel which Fitzgerald conveys. Those

symbols include: the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleberg, the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock,

and the valley of ashes. Symbolism is what essentially makes The Great Gatsby one of

the greatest American novels of all time.

One of the first symbols introduced in The Great Gatsby is the valley of ashes.

The valley of ashes is unlike any other setting in the book. It is the complete opposite of

life in East Egg and West Egg. The valley of ashes is located halfway between West Egg

and New York City. The men who live there work at shoveling up the ashes. In the novel

the valley of ashes is described as, “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into

ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take forms of houses and chimneys

and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and

already crumbling through the powdery air” (Chapter 2, page 26) The valley of ashes

resembles something lifeless and dark. It symbolizes poverty and the moral decay hidden

by the beauty of East Egg and West Egg. The people who live here basically have nothing

to look forward to in the future and have little going on in their lives. The death of Myrtle

Wilson in the valley of ashes stands for the pain associated with this area.
Secondly, the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleberg are a pair of fading eyes also located in

the valley of ashes. “The eyes of Doctor T J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic...they look

out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles” (Chapter 2, pg

26). It is seen high above on an old advertising billboard for an optometrist. The eyes

look down at everything that takes place in the valley. Fitzgerald uses the eyes as an

important symbol in the novel to help clarify the different perspectives. The eyes have no

fixed meaning because each character has a different opinion on what it means. They may

symbolize the eyes of God as thought by Wilson in the novel. To Wilson it is much more

than an advertisement; he strongly believes that they are the eyes of God looking upon

everyone and judging them and the American society as a moral wasteland. Wilson is

made fun of because of his strong faith with God. The faded paint may symbolize the

distant and decaying relationship between God and humanity. The eyes of Dr. T.J

Eckleberg are very disturbing due to the lack of a distinct meaning of the image. In

addition, the eyes can also be seen as symbolizing Nick because he is the only one who

really knows what is going on in the novel.

Finally, the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is probably the most crucial

symbol in The Great Gatsby. The initial appearance of the green light is when Nick sees

Gatsby for the first time. Gatsby was standing in front of his mansion and had stretched

out arms saying, “A single green light, minute and far away that might have been the end

of dock”. Green is the colour of hope. The green light at the end of the dock symbolizes

Gatsby’s distant hopes and dreams of one day reuniting with Daisy again and winning her

heart back. Throughout the novel it is well put that Gatsby believes in the green light.

Gatsby’s desire for Daisy is associated with the American dream therefore the green light
symbolizes the American dream as well. The end of Gatsby’s life also represents the end

of the green light and essentially the American dream.

In conclusion, symbolism is a very important and effective tool in the writing of

the novel The Great Gatsby. Almost anything can be taken as a symbol in this novel

however they are symbols that have more importance throughout the book. For example,

the valley of ashes represents poverty in the 1920’s and lives that have no future at all.

Another important symbol is the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleberg which may be the eyes of God

looking down at the moral decay of the 1920’s. Finally and probably the most crucial

symbol, the green light at the end of Daisy dock. This symbols both Gatsby distant hopes

of being with Daisy and the American Dream. These hopes and dreams end with the

death of Gatsby in the novel.