The Great Gatsby Contents
After looking out of Gatsby’s window at ‘a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea’ in Chapter 5 Daisy comments that she would like to:
This passage is ironically counterpointed with the description of the view from Wilson’s window as dawn breaks the day after Myrtle’s death:
Pink may seem an ideal romantic colour, and is associated twice with the romantic Gatsby himself: his suit is said to be pink, once when Tom criticises it and then in Chapter 8 where Nick describes it as a ‘gorgeous pink rag of a suit’. Daisy’s bedroom emits a pink glow in Chapter 7 and Gatsby is watching for any sign from her that he is needed: ‘she’s going to turn the light out and on again’. However, the pink glow seems to be an empty promise, since Daisy merely came
extinguishing all Gatsby’s hopes as she does this.
Green for go
Gatsby’s gesture towards the distant green light on The Buchanan’s jetty is the most significant image of Chapter 1, associated with mystery and emotion:
It may be that Gatsby is encouraged by the colour because he associates it with the newly-implemented traffic light system in the 1920s whereby a green light meant ‘proceed if safe to do so’. Given the emphasis on cars as symbols in this text, it seems plausible that the green light is a related image.
Wealth and exchange
Nevertheless, several other objects are identified as green in the novel:
- the golf course where Jordan plays
- the leather interior of Gatsby’s car
- the water of Long Island Sound
- the apple-green shirts in Gatsby’s cabinets
- the ‘fresh, green breast of the new world’
- the cards which Daisy says she is giving out to allow people to kiss her.
Green here seems to be associated with economic wealth and exchange, even temptation and promise. Elsewhere, James Gatz is said to have worn a ‘torn green jersey’ when he encounters Dan Cody, and this is rapidly exchanged for a ‘blue coat, six pairs of white duck trousers, and a yachting cap’.
In a human-being, green has less positive associations. Wilson’s face is described as ‘green’ and ‘physically sick’ with the shock of discovering his wife’s infidelity, indicating very clearly the negative impact of Myrtle’s romantic hopes and striving for wealth. Wilson’s actions result in a chain of deaths and disillusion; the green of the spring is replaced with the yellow of autumn and a sense of decay.
There are many references to the colour white in the novel. One of its primary associations is with wealth. Nick describes the ‘white palaces of fashionable East Egg’, while the Buchanans’ house has French windows of ‘gleaming white’. Nick also makes a comment about Daisy in response to Gatsby’s observation that her voice is ‘full of money’: ‘High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl…’ Gatsby and Nick also wear white suits at different points in the text: Nick attending his first party at Gatsby’s, and Gatsby when he is meeting Daisy at Nick’s house. Each time when they are needing to impress others.
Many of the references to white are directly associated with Daisy. Not only does her name imply whiteness, she also wears white dresses (twice, alongside Jordan), drives a white roadster and comments on sharing her ‘white girlhood’ with Jordan. Such images imply Daisy’s innocence or purity, yet we know that she is sexually experienced by the age of seventeen and is later engaged in an extra-marital affair.
So, whilst white is a token of privilege, it can also imply deception or even corruption:
- Gatsby presents a white card to the police officer in order to escape punishment for speeding in his car
- Jordan and Catherine use powder to lighten their skin tone: ‘a complexion powdered milky white’ while ‘Jordan’s fingers [are] powdered white over their tan’.
Another aspect of whiteness is its association with fantasy or surreal images in the text. These two examples are from chapters 4 and 6:
- the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money.
- the sidewalk was white with moonlight. … Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees…
The most striking example to combine the dazzling glamour and the surreal elements comes at the end of the novel, in Nick’s vision of the East, and West Egg in particular, which features a ‘drunken woman in a white evening dress’ in a scene of grotesque and nightmarish horror, where the woman loses her identity and her will and ‘no one cares’.
In summary, it may be said that white is a superficially appealing colour which hides corruption or decay, being therefore a symbol of deception. White is only once directly connected with decay, in Chapter 2 where Wilson is covered with a ‘white ashen dust’ (the ashes are usually described as being grey).
Gold and silver (as colours and as metals)
References to gold and silver abound in this text.
Gatsby and gold
The prologue addresses a ‘gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover’, possibly referring to Gatsby. Gatsby wears a silver shirt and gold-coloured tie when he reintroduces himself to Daisy, and his toilet set in his bedroom is made of ‘pure, dull gold’. On the final day of his life, Gatsby opens the windows in his house, filling it with ‘grey-turning, gold-turning light’, diluting and possibly undercutting the associations of glamour and wealth, and hinting at the approaching climax.
Daisy and silver
Daisy is more commonly associated with silver: ‘Daisy, gleaming like silver’ and ‘like silver idols’. She and Jordan wear ‘small tight hats of metallic cloth’. Such descriptions help convey the way in which Gatsby has idolised his beloved – metaphorically made her into an untouchable deity. However, the comparison of gold and silver may have the effect of creating a moral hierarchy, whereby Gatsby is ‘worth the whole damn bunch put together’ and certainly has more fidelity than Daisy.
Gold and silver symbolise wealth but these metals are also inescapably associated with the instant riches created by the ‘rushes’ in America. Dan Cody is said to have become a multi-millionaire in the copper and silver rushes of the late nineteenth century. The 1920s was an era when ‘anything can happen’, such as Gatsby’s rapid transformation from ‘rags to riches’. Inevitably the nouveau-riche threatened the old social order which was based on inherited wealth, represented in the novel by the Buchanans.
Scan and go
Scan on your mobile for direct link.