Fitzgerald’s Symbolic Use of Color

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate

machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away” (6). Even before he was Mr. Gatsby, when he was still referred to as James (Jimmy by his father) Gatz, Jay had a sense of life’s infinite possibilities. From his yellow car to his pink suit, everything about Gatsby portraits his idealism. Fitzgerald’s many references to color play a key part in making Gatsby the iconic character he has become.

The first time the reader sees Gatsby he is staring into the night. At first Nick believes Gatsby is looking at the sky, peppered with silver stars. In fact, Gatsby is enthralled by a green light in the distance. The light, coming from the end of Daisy’s dock, symbolizes how close Gatsby is to his dream. In the United States, a green light means go (Wikipedia), which is perhaps the easiest way to summarize what Gatsby is thinking to himself as he stares into the green light. Gatsby had spent five years building himself up to the position and location he is now located in. With all the effort and illegal activity Gatsby ahs put into his transformation, he is, no doubt, telling himself to just go for it. Daisy is only inches from his grasp.

Green is also a symbol of wealth, especially in the United States (Wikipedia). It is fitting that Daisy’s light should be green. Daisy weighs everything in her life on its financial value. Thus the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock also symbolizes her greed and superficial values, which Gatsby embraces, just as he reaches out to embrace the green light. “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way…” (25). Not only does it resemble the wealth which is a crutch for all of Daisy’s decisions; the light also resembles the wealth that Gatsby worked so hard to obtain, in order to please Daisy.

The first time Nick and Gatsby go to New York together, Gatsby is dressed in a caramel suit. Brown, in many cultures, resembles poverty (Wikipedia). Despite all his efforts to reinvent himself, Gatsby will always have a little bit of James Gatz in him. Even though he had long ago left his family behind to find a better life for himself, Gatsby travels back to visit his father and buy him a house. Brown can also represent wholesomeness, friendliness, and dependability (Wikipedia), all of which are characteristics of Gatsby. Finally, brown can be used to mean simplicity (Wikipedia). This is especially fitting after we see Gatsby’s personal bedroom. “His bedroom was the simplest of all – except where the dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold” (97).

Gold is another color often associated with Gatsby, whether it is in the form of his toiletries or his clothing. As cold is a precious and expensive metal, it is used to symbolize something that is precious or costly (Whyte). For Gatsby, gold represents the great wealth he has obtained. Everything he has earned is precious to him only based on Daisy’s reaction. She adores his rich clothes and gold hairbrush, so they mean that much more to Gatsby.

While Gatsby now wears gold suits, he once wore a blue coat given to him by his mentor Dan Cody. His chauffeurs too wear uniforms of robin’s egg blue. This is fitting because blue often represents idealism (Wikipedia), a virtue with which Gatsby is very familiar. In fact, the entire book is formed around Gatsby’s attempts to achieve his ideals. Further, it is symbolic that Cody should be the one to give Gatsby the blue coat, because it is Cody who teaches Gatsby how to obtain wealth, and therefore reach his goals.

Blue also appears in the form of a dress which Gatsby buys for a guest. It is “gas blue with lavender beads” (48). The dress comes into the story after a party. One of his guests accidentally rips her dress, so Gatsby replaces it with the blue one. Blue can also symbolize peace (Wikipedia) which Gatsby hoped to keep by purchasing the dress for $265.

Gatsby not only buys rich clothes but also for himself, including a white suit which he wears on the day he is finally reunited with Daisy. White was a wise choice because it represents security (Wikipedia). During their first romance, Daisy leaves Gatsby because he lacks the money needed to guarantee her security. Now, however, Gatsby has an abundance of wealth and is perfectly capable of offering her the security she needs.

Aside from his luxurious attire, Gatsby also has a fancy yellow car. Yellow often symbolizes optimism, as well as idealism (Wikipedia). Not only is Gatsby the epitome of idealism, he also very much embodies the practice of optimism. Ever since he was a child, Gatsby has believed in the potential of his life and his ability to better himself. “‘Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that’” (182).

However, yellow can also stand for dishonesty (Wikipedia). Gatsby’s dishonesty is a critical aspect of who he is. Displeased with his poor upbringing, James Gatz creates an entirely new identity (Jay Gatsby). When he first meets Daisy he lies about his background to gain her attention and make her believe he is worthy of her. Among all of his ‘friends’ Gatsby is dishonest about where he obtained his wealth, claiming inheritance. He is also well-known throughout the novel for his white lies. Gatsby likes to stretch the truth, for example, saying that he is an Oxford man, when he only attended for five months.

Aside from his yellow car, Gatsby is most characterized by his pink suit. His pink suit seems to deny the credibility of some of his claims, such as being an Oxford man. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit” (129). However, pink often tends to symbolize admiration (Wikipedia). Despite the fact that no one really knows anything about Gatsby (mainly because there isn’t anything to know, since Jay Gatsby isn’t actually a real person), he is still extremely admired and respected by his party guests and acquaintances.

Fitzgerald uses color symbolism to set up the array of characteristics of Gatsby. These colors play a key role in establishing Gatsby’s strong personality. Throughout the entire novel Gatsby is an idealistic and optimistic young man with an incredible ability to realize life’s infinite possibilities. He truly is the great Gatz.