What different roles does the color green play in The Great Gatsby?I need to know how to explain that the color green represents the  American Dream?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Color imagery is especially significant in Fitzgerald's novel as it is both symbolic and descriptive in its imagery.  The color green recurs throughout the narrative, suggesting various meanings and underscoring implications.  Here are some examples:


Gatsby stands at the end of his lawn at the end of Chapter One, gazing with longing at the green light at the end of Daisy's pier, extending his arms and trembling with his hopes of winning Daisy back to him. For, Gatsby, then, green symbolizes the new vines of the future as he seeks to rise in social status by purchasing the house on West Egg where he is near Daisy, hoping to one day reclaim her for his own. Thus, green also symbolizes renewal as the light on Daisy's pier which Gatsby longs for represents his desire for renewal of their relationship. The mention several times of greenhouses implies regrowth for the relations between Gatsby and Daisy.

However, in Chapter Nine, Nick Carraway, the narrator, likens the green America of those who initially arrive on its shores to this green light--the aspirations toward an ideal.  His analogy to Jay Gatsby's reaching for the green light, thus,places Gatsby's hopes as those of a false ideal as compared to the green bulk of America. 


Gatsby's American Dream is an illusive one, for it is purchased with money and material possessions and not based upon genuine values.  His almost mythical automobile has green leather seats, his green lawn is impeccable, and he always has a greehouse of flowers.  When Daisy visits, Gatsby pulls out his many-colored shirts in which she buries her head delightedly, crying at the magnificence of what money can purchase.

Ironically, Gatsby senses the shallowness of Daisy, the corruption of social values in her response.  With an absorbed look, Gatsby says,

"If it wasn't for the mist we could see you home across the bay....You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."

After Daisy puts her arms through his, Nick comments on the shallowness of Gatsby's dream of having Daisy,

Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever.

The easy attainment of money on the part of Daisy--"Her voice is full of money" (Ch.7)--is a corrupting force, just as Gatsby's quick attainment of wealth through illegal channels is corrupting.  As a result social values--"that light" are now less than ideal. 


In Chapter Seven when Tom calls Gatsby and Nick outside onto his veranda, the water between Gatsby and Daisy seems green and sullied,

On the green Sound, stagnant in the heat, one small sail crawled slowly tward the fresher sea.

Later, when they head for the city, they stop at Wilson's garage. "In the sunlight his [Wilson's] face was green" after he "discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him."

In Nick Carraway's thinking, the ability to create meaningful symbols is an intrinsic element of the true American Dream, for ideals and values are necessary.  Jay Gatsby's dream lacks these true ideals and values, for it is based upon the green of money and materialism that harbor envy and jealous, the elements of the decay of the soul.






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The Great Gatsby

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