Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Francis Scott Fitzgerald author of The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, is one of the greatest pieces of literature out there. But, perhaps, it is best remembered and spoken about for its color symbolism. For example, at the end of the novel, green color symbolism is used to depict the limitless promises of an unachievable dream which the main character, Gatsby, pursues until the very end. The main reason why Color symbolism in the Great Gatsby is a highly studied topic is due to the fact that the writer also happens to be a painter. Naturally, he has used various colors to make this literary work extremely visual.

Let us study some of the most symbolic representations of different colors in the Great Gatsby.

Color Symbolism

Almost every chapter of Fitzgerald’s novel uses colors in their purest shades to make readers get an insight into the different characters’ lives. Naturally, to fully fathom these colors mentioned, readers must also first understand the situations within which they are used.

Green color symbolism in the book

Green has been mentioned nearly 18 times in the novel. Traditionally, green is associated with wealth, growth, Spring etc. It is also used to convey envy. Gatsby is thus shown to be an envious character as he is jealous of the fact that Daisy belongs to another man (Tom). Green is also used to represents the power of money which Gatsby has plenty of. Until the end Gatsby is hopeful that he can win Daisy with this power of Money. Another area depicting Green color symbolism in The Great Gatsby is the green car which is called the “death car’. Michaelis describes the car that kills Myrtle as light green, though it’s yellow. The witness of the tragic accident towards the end of the novel is actually not even sure whether the ‘death car is indeed green or yellow in color’ –so experts believe this to be representative of the fact that only money brings death.

Perhaps the greatest and most important representation of Green color in The Great Gatsby is the green light mentioned at the end of the novel which is used to depict that Gatsby remains a dreamer throughout. This color thus represents an orgiastic future or romantic reunion which Gatsby continues to believes in. Sentences such as ‘tomorrow we will run faster and stretch our arms wider’ also reinforce this belief.

Use of Gold in Great Gatsby

Golden, brass or Gold has been used nearly 15 times in the novel. Traditionally, these colors symbolize wealth and riches and particularly old wealth. Gold and green used in the book thus contrastingly symbolize old wealth and new riches (Gold for Daisy and her husband Tom’s old wealth and green for newly acquired Gatsby’s wealth). (It is also believed that Tom is Gold while Gatsby is Green). Jordan, another character is also represented with Gold (‘I rested my arm on Jordan’s Golden shoulder’ or ‘with Jordan’s golden arm’). This is again used for representing old money. In chapter 7, Golden tea is served at the grey tea hour which indicates the turning light. Gold turning to yellow is used often through use of sentences like Yellow press, or yellow cocktail music etc to symbolize beauty, old money and even sometimes, negativity.

White Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

Daisy is of course the Golden girl but the author has also used white (used 49 times) to show fairness and innocence of her character. In fact, Fitzgerald has used white color symbolism very effectively to portray Daisy character. Experts who have studied the novel in depth often use the example of an egg (which is white on the outside but yellow inside to show Daisy) to explain this character. She seems pure and innocent outside but inside she is yellow and corrupt- just like an egg. White is also vital to the novel as it has been used for portraying beauty, cleanliness, wealth, innocence, purity and also laziness and virginity.

Shades of red

Red and gold books, wine colored rug, crimson room, pink suit, red circle on water etc are used for depicting richness, elegance, danger, tastelessness and death respectively.

Black color symbolism in the novel

Black wheel represents mourning, black wreath shows nervousness and black rivulets show sorrow. Black is also used to represent injury and gloomy setting. Words like black morning, black beach etc show gloominess or an impending doom and Tom’s black eyes are shown to represent hostility and anger.

In conclusion

The Great Gatsby is one of the most visual pieces of literature and many different colors are used repeatedly for its different characters. For example, white is used for Daisy as Gatsby continues to think of her as his innocent bride, whereas she is actually yellow or corrupted. Gatsby on the other hand is mostly linked with Green. Thus, Fitzgerald has used color symbolism in The Great Gatsby to literally paint a vivid canvas.