Throughout chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the color yellow as a symbol of happiness, youth, and decadence. The chapter describes one of Gatsby’s lavish summer parties where champagne-swilling guests congregate at his mansion to feast on buffets of hors d'oeuvres and fancy meats and dance to live music. The motif of yellow and its various shades highlight the carefree joys of the freeloading revelers.
Before the evening festivities begin, "men and girls" splash in the ocean and sunbathe on Gatsby’s beach. The hot sun warms the entitled guests as they enjoy their leisurely frolicking. Guests arrive in droves to join the party, with Gatsby’s station wagon "like a brisk yellow bug" fetching crowds arriving from the city at the train station. Although his other car—the Rolls Royce—is more comfortable and stylish, the worker bee station wagon is a mobile of fun.
Abundant fruits in yellow and the closely related color orange feed the ravenous people.
Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb.
The multiple crates of oranges and lemons juiced by a tireless butler with an elaborate gadget demonstrate conspicuous consumption on the part of the Long Island host; he goes to great lengths to please his guests with the fresh nectar of imported (at least from the mainland) citrus fruit. The foods and alcoholic drinks are enticing and trimmed with shades of yellow, including "pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold" and a wet bar "with a real brass rail." Continuing the metallic yellow motif are the orchestra's brass instruments, including trombones, saxophones, and cornets. Gatsby wants his guests to enjoy the music, but his hiring of a full orchestra ("a whole pitful") instead of a "thin five-piece affair" is a lavish gesture.
The party’s atmosphere is one of joy and extravagance:
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music…. Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality.
As the sun sets and the mansion's lights brighten, a yellow glow and music illuminate the joy of the partygoers.
At the party, Nick sees Jordan and two girls in "twin yellow dresses" who remark on Jordan’s latest golf tournament:
"Hello!" they cried together. "Sorry you didn't win."
Bright and cheerful, they are fans who met Jordan at one of Gatsby’s parties the previous month. Apparently, Jordan and the two yellow-clad girls are regular revelers who partake in Gatsby’s festivities. Nick takes Jordan’s "slender golden arm" and escorts her away. The girls and Jordan are young, and Jordan’s "golden arm" also wins her prize money as a professional golfer.
As the evening wears...
on, the guests become more decadent and unrestrained. In addition to drunken dancing couples and guests "doing 'stunts' all over the garden," Nicks observes that
A pair of stage "twins"—who turned out to be the girls in yellow—did a baby act in costume and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger bowls.
The reader can only imagine what the yellow-clad girls' baby act and costumes are, but Fitzgerald is pretty explicit in illustrating the gluttony of champagne served not in slim champagne glasses, but in vessels larger than finger bowls. Later, one of the girls in yellow plays the piano to accompany an inebriated singer who weeps. Eventually, the guests grow less happy and pampered and more morose and antagonistic as the sun's yellow glow and the mansion's lights fade to darkness.