What is the significance of such colors as gold/yellow, green, gray, and white in The Great Gatsby?
F. Scott Fitzgerald paints many a scene and character with color in his memorable novel, The Great Gatsby. Colors are symbolic, as well as evocative.
A dull, neutral color, grey represents things that are faded and ashen and lacking life. As one critic writes, the Valley of Ashes
..suggests that in the triumph of the industrialized, commercialized, and banalized world to come, the American dream of open horizons and limitless possibilities would be reduced to a burned-out, undifferentiated mass.
Those who reside there, such as George Wilson, are covered with ashen dust; he "mingles immediately with the cement color of the walls" of his garage. A "grey, scrawny Italian child sets fireworks along the railroad tracks.
While the color of the sky, there is nothing else in nature that is this color. So, it is unnatural and illusionary in Fitzgerald's description of Gatsby's "blue lawn," gardens that are "blue" with "ghostly birds" that sing in the "blue leaves." Interestingly, Dr. Eckleberg's eyes are blue, and Wilson's are a "light-blue." After the death of Myrtle Wilson, Michaelis stays with George Wilson until he finally notices
a blue quickening by the window, and realized that dawn wasn't far off....About five o'clock it was blue enought outside to snap off the light.
Here blue seems to symbolize unreality, a non-existent condition. The graveyard where Gatsby is buried is described as blue, as Nick comments that he "had come a long way to his blue lawn."
Another blue object is Tom Buchanan's coupe that he swaps with Gatsby on the drive in to New York City. This blue car can also represent illusion as Tom's life is one of false appearances.
Traditionally, green is the color of nature, new life, and, thus hope for the future. Gatsby stares across at Daisy's green light as he looks to the hope of meeting her in the future. It is the color of Gatsby's car interior, the color of money, the nouveau riche, who are not the "old money" of gold and social status. In the final chapter, Nick looks to the future of returning to the Midwest where values are sounder; he recalls those who came to America in the hope of a new life, those who sought "the fresh green breast of the new world."
White is traditionally the color of purity and innocence, unworldliness and femininity. But, it is deceptive in Fitzgerald's narrative; for, Daisy and Jordan are dressed in white, the car of Daisy is white as are the French windows of the Buchanan's house and the curtains and "frosted wedding cake of the ceiling. Like the flower daisy, the exterior is white, but the center is yellow, the color of corruption. Curiously, Daisy's daughter projects this corruption in her little person as she has "old yellowy hair" as Daisy refers to it.
Often in novels, yellow represents corruption and evil. Gatsby's car is referred to as the "yellow car" and "the death car." Yellow also evokes a sense of fraud to it as it imitates gold. T.J.Eckleburg's glasses are yellow, two young unknown women at Gatsby's party are attired in twin yellow dresses, representative of artificiality.
The color of the most precious metal represents money, specifically the money of the upper class. Daisy, in white, seems innocent, but she is of the class with money; her voice "sounds like money" and she is "the golden girl." At times the gold at Gatsby's house turns to yellow, signifying the falsity of his wealth, symbolized in "the yellow cocktail music."