Consider Fitzgerald's use of symbolism. Choose one symbol, and analyze it in detail.
One of the most recognizable, prominent symbols throughout the novel is the green light situated at the end of Daisy's dock, which is across from Gatsby's home. Jay Gatsby ritually stands at the edge of his lawn and gazes at the green light across the water. At the end of chapter 1, Nick Carraway witnesses Gatsby standing with his arms outstretched staring in the direction of the green light coming from Daisy's dock. The green light symbolizes Gatsby's hopes and dreams. Gatsby's goal is to win Daisy's affection and eventually live a fulfilling life with her, which is what motivates him to become wealthy and successful. His obsession with staring at the green light represents his hope in a future with Daisy. In chapter 5, Gatsby reintroduces himself to Daisy and shows her around his mansion, which impresses her. When Jay Gatsby believes he has attained his goal of winning Daisy's affection, Nick says,
Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one (Fitzgerald, 56).
In addition to symbolizing Gatsby's hope in a future with Daisy, the green light also represents everything that Gatsby craves, particularly money. The light connotes money, and the color green also holds symbolic significance throughout the novel. At the end of the novel, Nick reminisces about Gatsby staring at the green light dreaming of one day attaining his goals. Unfortunately, Gatsby was too naive to realize that his goals were unattainable. Nick ends the novel by saying,
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning— (Fitzgerald, 87).
One significant symbol in The Great Gatsby is the billboard, featuring the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. The billboard is first mentioned in chapter 2, seemingly just an addition to the in-depth description of the gloomy and repressive area of the valley of ashes. Fitzgerald writes, “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, which pass over a non-existent nose” (Fitzgerald 23). At this point, the reader is aware of the strangeness of the valley of ashes, and it seems that these gigantic eyes merely add to the imagery of the lost and forgotten place located between the West Egg and New York.
However, as the novel continues, the image begins to evolve into an important symbol of an omniscient, powerful force, such as God, watching and judging the sinful actions of these characters.
The second mention of the billboard occurs when Tom and Nick pick up Myrtle from Wilson’s garage. Tom, looking around the room with distaste, exchanges a frown with Doctor Eckleburg (Fitzgerald 26). This moment reveals the billboard as a character with the ability to interact with others and evaluate situations. Later, Nick comments that Doctor Eckleburg was keeping a vigil over the valley of ashes (Fitzgerald 124). “Vigil” is a word heavy with religious connotations and is indicative of the watchfulness kept by Doctor Eckleburg over the valley of ashes.
By the end of the novel, the full revelation of the significance of this symbol is shown. After Myrtle’s death, Wilson points to the billboard and declares, “God sees everything” (Fitzgerald 160).
Throughout the novel, these characters are dishonest, adulterous, judgmental, and, by the end, murderous people. Although some characters, Tom and Daisy specifically, emerge from the events of the novel without serious punishment, the reader can trust that God, through the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, has witnessed everything and that they will receive proper punishment in time.