What do the Parties in The Great Gatsby symbolize?

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readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many meanings to the parties in the Great Gatsby. Let me give you a few of them. 

First, the great parties are a commentary on the times in which Jay Gatsby lived. It was a time of unprecedented wealth in America. The "roaring twenties" were a time of conspicuous spending and wealth. The fact that the novel does not end on a happy note shows that money cannot buy happiness. 

Second, there is also a note of autobiography in these parties, as Fitzgerald himself was known to lead a wild life of partying. He also tried to win a girl's heart in the process, much like Jay Gatsby. 

Third, from a literary point of view, the parties are over the top and beyond excessive. So, from this point, Jay Gatsby lives up to the title of the book, "The Great Gatsby." He is like an illusionist or performer who can bend reality and create something from nothing. It is about showmanship. The tragedy is that it is all an illusion, and in the end nothing will come of it. 

Finally, these parties serve to heighten tragedy in that all these friendships are fickle. When Jay dies, no one is there except Nick. Big parties, lots of people, but they are users. These parties, therefore, show the hollowness of the people. 

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Determining the symbolic meaning of the parties in The Great Gatsby is an interpretive act, which means that there are multiple possibilities to explore. The most compelling reading of the symbolic meaning of the parties is to see them each as "a show".

  • Gatsby's life is a lie. His name is made up and his wealth is ill-gained. Yet he presents himself as "old money". We can say then that his whole persona is a show.
  • Gatsby communicates this image through his parties.
  • Also, at the parties, the guests contemplate Gatsby almost as an audience contemplates a performer. Additionally, the guests themselves are described as performing. Their social and professional roles are compared to their appearance at the parties.

The notion of appearance vs. reality is at the forefront of the parties, reinforcing the idea of each party as "a show" and a performance.


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The Great Gatsby

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