What is the symbolic meaning of flowers in The Great Gatsby?how does it show Fitzgeralds views of 1920s society?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As flowers are an aesthetic representation of transitory beauty, F. Scott Fitzgerald employs their meanings in his narrative, especially in the names of two of his main characters, Daisy Buchanan and Mrytle Wilson.

Daisy Buchanan

A fragile flower, the daisy represents innocence, purity, and beauty.  To Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan's name is an appropriate one; however, her innocence and appearance of purity are ephemeral, and at her center is the yellow of her cupidity and moral corruption.  For, at the core of Daisy Buchanan, whose voice "sounded like money," is the desire for wealth and it accompanying social position. Like the ephemeral flower, then, Daisy's love for Gatsby soon withers and dies.  Her name, then, is symbolic of the impermanence of the empty values of the Jazz Age.

Myrtle Wilson

An ancient flower, the myrtle became associated in Greek mythology with Aphrodite, the goddess of Love.  Roman gardens often contained myrtle as it is a hardy plant.  So, the myrtle has come to represent joy, love, and immortality.

Ironically, then, it seems that Fitzgerald used the name of his character to demonstrate, as Daisy's name does, the impermanence and falsity of the Jazz Age.  Whatever, joy and love that all associated with Myrtle Wilson have had--George, her husband, Tom, her lover, and Jay Gatsby who is with her on that fatal day--is destroyed along with her.  Therefore, her name symbolizes the impermanence of love and the reality of mortality.


In addition to the names of Daisy and Myrtle, Fitzgerald employs flowers in the characterization of others.  For instance, at one of Gatsby's parties attended by frivolous and dissolute guests representative of the era, one actress stands in great contrast to the other guests.  In her refinement and rarity, she is described as a flower symbolic of her character:

Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white plum tree.

Flowers, like Gatsby's great American Dream, symbolize the illusionary and transitory values of his life and the era in which he lives.  Nick reflects upon this duplicity of flowers that only briefly create the illusion of beauty, then decay and die:

He [Gatsby] must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered when he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how the raw sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.

For, even the rose, symbolic of great passion and love, decays, an ugliness concealed by beauty and appeal.