Saturday, August 13, 2011

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Uses Colour Imagery in “The Great Gatsby”

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Throughout the novel “The Great Gatsby”, F. Scott Fitzgerald consistently uses colour imagery to create atmosphere in different scenes, to bring out the characters’ personalities, and to reinforce theme development. Even though he refers to a vast array of colours, they differ in prominence and influence.

The most prominent colour Fitzgerald uses is green. Gatsby can be said to be green with envy over the fact that he lost the love of his life, Daisy to Tom Buchanan. He is also envious of the “old money” people he invites to his parties. This fixation with old money and his belief that Daisy rejected him because he did not have enough money is what drove him to be rich. This desire for money brings out the dark side of Gatsby’s character, because of the illegal and unethical means by which he obtained his money through his connections to Wolfsheim. When Gatsby was rich enough to move into his own mansion in West Egg he would at night watch “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been at the end of a dock”. This green light at Daisy’s house and the “ green breast of the new world” symbolized to Gatsby hope, a chance to revive his love, to relive the past with Daisy, and a promise of his dream of being reunited with the American dream.

The most frequently mentioned colour is white. The author uses it to enhance the character of Daisy. He notes that the first time Nick Carraway meets Daisy at her home, that the house itself was “ …white Georgian mansion” with “windows gleaming white” and Daisy was dressed in white. All of this reflects on the wealth, cleanliness, innocence, purity, and beauty associated with Daisy. Daisy herself recalls her “ white girlhood”. This use of the colour white suggests privilege, purity, freshness, and innocence and helps characterize her as the princess who appears in Gatsby’s dream. Moreover the continuous use the colour white throughout the text in relation to Daisy reinforces the perfect, goddess like, pedestaled image that Jay sees her as.

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Fitzgerald uses the colour yellow in the novel to contrast the wealth of Gatsby and the Buchanans. He also uses it to indicate the corruption and decay, which contributed to destroying Gatsby’s dream and ultimately the American dream. The citizens of East and West Egg have their lives centered on money. It is the yellow and gold colours that represent old money of Tom and Daisy while green represents the new money of Gatsby much like the old currency of gold and the current currency of paper. Gatsby wanted very much to be a part of that old money. Money allowed him to entertain the wealthy class and he believed with money he could win Daisy back. At his parties the orchestra played “yellow cocktail music”, and Gatsby was wearing a “caramel coloured suit” when he lied to Nick about his past. He bought the yellow car so he could win over the true love of Daisy, but this did not fool anyone. The yellow car became the most important symbol of decay as it became the topic of conversation among the townspeople for it was the cause of Myrtle’s death. It was termed the “death car” by the newspapers. These examples regarding the use of the colour yellow by Fitzgerald emphasize the corruption and decay of that era.

The colour blue in the novel represents hope for the future. It brings to a land that is dead, a smidgen of hope for lost time. In the Valley of Ashes it is a colour that is displayed by “the eyes of Doctor T.J.Eckleburgh as blue and gigantic”. His blue eyes present a contrast to the grey atmosphere that prevails in the Valley of Ashes, which is symbolic of both a God looking down on a superior world and a pure colour amongst all the grey. Blue is also used to emphasize the fantasy world that Gatsby aims to create. Tom and Daisy’s relationship, which is based on wealth, not love, is seen as an unhappy, blue relationship. Gatsby’s parties were just part of his dreams and illusions and seen as being out of touch with reality. “In [Gatsby’s] blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths” thus leaving the impression that Gatsby’s house and blue garden was a place where people came to get away from the realities of the real world. Gatsby’s lawn was blue, “he had come a long way to this blue lawn” but failed to reach his dream, a dream so close, but yet so far away which he failed to grasp.


Fitzgerald uses the colour grey to characterize George Wilson as a man with no hope in an atmosphere of desperation in the Valley of Ashes. He uses the Valley of Ashes scene to provide the majority of uses for the colour grey in the novel. This colour is symbolic of the hopelessness that thrives in the valley. Phrases such as “a fantastic farm”, “a grey land where a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track”, and “ash grey men stir up clouds of ashes with spades” all emphasize that people who live in the Valley of Ashes are of the lowest class, with no hope of escape from that environment. The atmosphere surrounding them is grey, thus, contributing to a situation of destitution and hopelessness. When George Wilson, who operates the garage in the Valley of Ashes, is introduced to the reader the use of grey ashes allows the reader to see that Wilson is not that well off and the grey ashes crush him, leaving him no hope for a better future. The fact that Myrtle Wilson died in the grey setting of the Valley of Ashes leaves the interpretation that grey is symbolic of death.

Fitzgerald’s use of colour imagery is integral to the novel in that it connects the characters, sets the atmosphere throughout, illustrates various themes clearly, and emotionally affects the reader and their attitude towards the novel.


Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York Simon and Schuster, 15. 11-18.


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