The great gatsby
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The Great Gatsby. Major Themes, Motifs, & Symbols. Theme. STATUS class wealth social standing It is either desired (Gatsby) or carelessly abused (Buchanans) ALL symbols/analyses fall under this notion of jockeying for position plague of American Dream & culture. General Symbols.

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The great gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Major Themes, Motifs, & Symbols



  • class

  • wealth

  • social standing

  • It is either desired (Gatsby) or carelessly abused (Buchanans)

  • ALL symbols/analyses fall under this notion of jockeying for position

  • plague of American Dream & culture

  • General symbols
    General Symbols

    • ASH HEAP

      • constant plight of the poor

      • toxicity of capitalism (ash—literally dirtied by industry)

      • oppression by wealthy (Tom & Daisy to the Wilsons)

      • people in Valley of the Ashes & ash heap one in the same

    • CLOCK

      • Gatsby’s futile desire to turn back time

      • relive life with Daisy


      • real, but never read/opened

      • surface rather than substance

      • represents the superfluous extravagancies of the wealthy & Gatsby’s false image

    • partial images & water

      • faded moonlight, stars, single body parts, thin moons, etc.

        • indicate fragmented world—composed of parts without connectivity

        • cannot grasp a purpose (e.g. “Lost Generation”)

      • water images plentiful

        • indicate uncertainty of life for the characters & a lack of solid foundation on which to build their lives, uncertainty of where fate will take them

        • futile attempts for purity—Gatsby shot in his pool; cannot cleanse himself of Daisy (& Myrtle’s death)

    East west egg
    East & West Egg

    • metaphor: divide between classes & social standings

    • East Egg = old money, refined & well-bred

    • West Egg = new money but don’t have any real standing

    • water as barrier between two worlds; barrier that keeps people apart from one another & from what they want

    • Eastern/Western U.S.

      • East = established, power

      • West = new frontier, progress, new ideas

    • Egg symbolism: white (pure) exterior, yellow (corrupt/rotten) center

    • Green Light

      • basic: longing for Daisy

      • deeper: ”green” envy for everything he can’t have: “green” wealth, success, acceptance, & Daisy

      • Gatsby kept his dream of Daisy before his wealth alive & their relationship will always be affected by money

      • Wanting/longing for something better that is unreachable (money, success, acceptance) off in the distance

      • Nick connects the green light to the longings of all people

    Eyes of dr t j eckleburg
    Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg

    • On a billboard that looks over the Wilsons’ garage, where iniquities, elfish acts, & unpunished crimes occur, such as Tom’s affair, Myrtle’s death

    • always watching: reminder of guilt of unpunished crimes that characters forget to have for what they have done

    • Characters have no fear of judgment or consequences; the eyes offer a judgment on the characters and their actions

    • Color symbolism: blue eyes, yellow spectacles

    Flower symbolism daisy
    Flower Symbolism: Daisy

    • “day’s eye”

    • “common” Daisy

      • indicates Daisy as archetype

    • weed in lawns

      • Gatsby fixated on lawns…hmm…

    • Western plant native to Europe & America (Western plant)

    • COLOR: white outside (façade of innocence), yellow center (internal corruption)

    • closes at night, opens in morning

    • fed to babies in medieval times, as mass consumption in infancy can cause miniaturization. (Daisy as eternal child)

    Flower symbolism myrtle
    Flower Symbolism: Myrtle

    • “true” Myrtle

    • white color

    • most cultivated flower in world: used as perfume/scented oil (and perfume is sign of wealth)

    • decorative hedge clipped into desired shape

    • known for tolerance: will endure any condition

    • sacred to Aphrodite & Demeter

    • in America (only) sometimes called “creeping myrtle” and “flower of death”

    • valued for tolerance of hot dry summers (grows in areas such as Arizona & New Mexico, even Africa)

    Names etymologies

    • Nick (Nicholas)

      • victory of the people

      • represents common, educated, middle class—everyman (reader)

    • Jay

      • Ignorant, naïve person (archaic def)

      • bird in the crow family, known for flashy, handsome appearance

    • James

      • one who supplants (supplant means to replace or oust somebody)

      • Gat = slang for pistol

    • Tom (Thomas)

      • a twin

      • Tom as archetype

    • Jordan

      • descending, descendant

      • inherited vs. earned wealth

      • Jordan Baker- descending, descendant, car

    • George

      • tiller of soil/farmer

      • represents working/labor class oppressed by wealthy (Tom)

    • Daisy/Myrtle: see flower slides (Myrtle also means tree & victory)


    • Yellow

      • dirtied white

      • Color of corruption and greed (gold of wealth & extravagance of rich —true wealth, the gold that backs the paper dollar…); snobbery of money, carelessness of wealthy people who are considered high class

      • Gatsby’s car: cream to yellow

      • Daisy: “Golden Girl”

      • Jordan’s hair: “autumn leaf yellow”

      • Gatsby’s gold tie

      • twin’s dress at party

      • “yellow cocktail music”

        White: purity/innocence

      • Main color in Nick & Gatsby’s wardrobes: Gatsby never loses his childlike faith in his relationship with Daisy, and Nick claims he never lies and that he is one of the few honest people he knows

        - VEIL of innocence: Buchanans’ house, Daisy, Daisy/Jordan’s dress when we 1st meet them, eggs…

    More colors
    More Colors!

    • Blue (debatable…)

      • Illusions/romantic dreams/fantasy; dreams & otherworldliness

      • heavily associated w/Gatsby (e.g.- “blue lawn,” “blue smoke of brittle leaves” (in his garden), “blue coat” from Dan Cody, “blue gardens (an essential part of Gatsby’s life where people could escape from the world and be out of touch with reality)

        • Gatsby’s whole world is a fantasy…

      • melancholy?

    • Green: envy, vitality/life, new wealth…

      • Mix of yellow/blue: corrupted/tangled dreams, dreams & wealth tangled (Gatsby)

      • color of spring/new beginnings: green light as Gatsby’s hope for a new future/relationship with Daisy

      • “green breast of new land” likens green light & Gatsby’s dream to American Dream

    And more colors
    And More Colors!

    • Purple/Lavender

      • long associated w/royalty, luxury, wealth,& indulgence

      • rooms in Gatsby’s mansion & Gatsby’s shirts

      • accessories of wealthy characters; hats, necklaces, etc.

      • things which were done that were not necessary, things that the rich characteristically do

    • Gray

      • absence of blue = absence/disappearance of dreams/hope

      • everything in Valley of Ashes (cars, people, buildings, etc.): people there lead lives without dreams that consist mainly of work with no hope for escape

      • Things from which one cannot escape

      • Jordan’s eyes : spiritual emptiness & superficiality; she does not love anything, no plan for her life nor dreams for the future