What do colors represent in The Great Gatsby?

In The Great Gatsby, different colors represent different conditions of life. Gray represents bleak, unhappy conditions. Red and gold, the colors of the Buchanan house, represent established wealth. White represents freshness, allure, and a life to which Gatsby aspires. Green represents money and dreams, specifically Gatsby's dream of being with Daisy.

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In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald makes clever use of color symbolism, using colors to indirectly convey information about the the lives of certain characters.

GrayIn The Great Gatsby , the color gray generally represents people who live lives that are bleak and unhappy. For instance, in describing...

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In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald makes clever use of color symbolism, using colors to indirectly convey information about the the lives of certain characters.

Gray
In The Great Gatsby, the color gray generally represents people who live lives that are bleak and unhappy. For instance, in describing the “valley of ashes,” Fitzgerald uses the word “gray” at least three times, writing that there is an occasional line of “gray cars” that meet “ash-gray men” above the “gray land.”

Red and Gold
In contrast, Tom and Daisy live in "red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion," which is Nick describes as "bright" and “cheerful.” Notably, when Nick first visits, he mentions that the windows along the front of the house glow with "reflected gold." The colors red and gold—often mentioned in association with the Buchanans—represent riches and, more specifically, established wealth. Their home is expensive but not gaudy, emphasizing the difference between the taste of the old-money Buchanans and the flashy taste of the new-money Gatsby. The symbolic connection between red, gold, and wealth is reinforced when Nick purchases a set of red and gold books on banking and credit and investment securities that will inspire him to make his fortune.

White
White is a color associated with privilege; it represents cleanliness, freshness, allure, and a life to which Gatsby aspires. The windows at Daisy’s home were “gleaming white against the fresh grass outside,” showing how inviting the house is. The Buchanans are the elite to which Gatsby aspires, and their home is a reflection of their status and position in the world. In the novel, white is also associated with facade and deception, creating an appearance of innocence and brightness that hides an inner darkness or ugliness. The sparkling and bright interior of the Buchanan's home, for example, masks the dysfunctional reality of their marriage.

At one point, Daisy and Jordan wear white dresses that are attractive and cooling against the hot summer wind; however, these dresses also underscore their lofty position in life. Imagine the difficulty of keeping white clothing sparkling clean in those days, which necessarily must have involved the hard labor of others. In speaking about Jordan, Daisy uses the color white to allude to their privileged upbringing, referring to their "white girlhood" in Louisville.

White is generally thought to represent purity or innocence, but by the end of the narrative, it's clear that none of the wealthy characters associated with the color white—like Daisy—display these qualities. This suggests that white is a color of illusion or deception, calling to mind the common phrase "white lies."

Green
Green—a color often associated with Gatsby—represents money and dreams. The most notable reference to the color green in the novel is the green light on Daisy's dock, which Gatsby gazes at from his own home across the bay. The green light symbolizes Gatsby's dreams—not only of being with Daisy, but of truly belonging in her elite and privileged world. From his distance across the bay, Gatbsy can only just make out the tantalizing green light, suggesting that his dreams will always remain just out of his reach.

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