What are some of The Great Gatsby's most important symbols ? What does the novel have to say about the role of symbols in life ?

Expert Answers
missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some specific symbols include:

  • The green light at the end of Daisy's dock. For Gatsby... this green has meant go, but beyond that, it's a future for him, a new life, something to look forward to.
  • Locations: the Valley of Ashes, the city of New York proper, and the East and West Eggs. This Valley of Ashes is indeed where much death occurs or is sparked and the characters travel through there in order to go from the "good life" to evil quite often, almost always in the name of fun, not necessarily for business in NYC. East and West Eggs represent old and new money. The Buchanans being those who live among old.

I think the use of symbols was indicative of the era and the author. This era introduced much film and entertainment and symbols provide another layer of complexity in that. The art of the era is also impressionistic meaning much was left on the canvas for a viewer to interpret.

This reminds readers that it's worth looking at life in more than one way. Yes, sometimes we give items more meaning than they deserve, but that also provides for an additional perspective sometimes when we might otherwise look at something for it's surface value and move on.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a lot of symbols in this book.  Here are some examples:

  • Colors.  Fitzgerald uses colors to symbolize various things.  For example, white is actually used to show lack of morality and innocence.
  • Cars.  The rich people in the book are always driving and doing it very badly.  This shows how little they care about other people.
  • Eyes.  The eyes on the billboard in the Valley of Ashes, especially, are meant to show that we are always being evaluated.

As far as the role of symbols in our lives, I think that the novel says that we tend to pursue symbols (Gatsby pursues Daisy) instead of the things that really matter.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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