How does symbolism show some of the themes of The Great Gatsby?I need to prove, through symbolism, 1 theme of the novel. Thanks!

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, is replete with symbols such as

  • color symbolism
  • flower symbolism in names
  • the Valley of Ashes itself
  • the billboard of T.J. Ekleberg
  • West Egg and East Egg
  • people as symbols [Owl Eyes, Daisy, Wolfscheim, etc.]
  • cars
  • houses, shirts, etc.


While an entire research paper can be written on the varied symbols contributions to a certain theme, the scope of an essay is too limited for such an extensive analysis. Perhaps, then, choosing one or two symbols for the one theme may be more appropriate. For instance, an examination of the symbolism of Gatsby's car and its colors can readily exemplify the illusionary American Dream that Gatsby pursues. 

In Chapter Four, Gatsby's car is described in mythological terms:

....Its was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns....With fender spread like wings....

However, like Gatsby's materialistic dream, it is green with hope and the suggestion of money in the interior and a "rich cream color" with innumerable accessories that distract one from the essential vehicle that appears decadent, excessive, frivolous, and representative of the empty and reckless pursuit of pleasure by the parvenu, Jay Gatsby. This status symbol later becomes known as "the death car," the "yellow car" of excess and recklessness, and the corruption of Jay Gatsby's dream of wealth and social status. Even Romance is contaminated in this car of evil--yellow-- that the decadent social elite has merely driven away in after having killed Myrtle Wilson.

Truly, the green interior of Jay Gatsby's extravangant automobile with its many mirrors and excessive fenders represents what Nick calls the "green bulk of America," the weathly, materialistic, selfish, corrupt, hollow, careless, excessive, amoral wealthy and nouveau riche who aspired to the upper classes. Exemplifying the theme of the illusionary American dream destroyed by excessiveness, greed, and the amoral pursuit of pleasure, the car of Jay Gatsby is contaminated by hollowness and moral corruption; its fender is damaged, and its owner is destroyed.

Further Reading:
booksrfun211 | Student

adding onto color symbolism, the yellow car that Gatsby drives can be compared to the gold hat in the epigram of the novel.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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