Symbols

“I glanced seaward and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and faraway” (21-2).  This green light is an example of the many symbols that F. Scott Fitzgerald uses in his three novels: The Great Gatsby, The Love of the Last Tycoon, and This Side of Paradise to reveal deeper meanings and messages in his writings, although some novels have more symbols than others.  By examining what symbols that Fitzgerald uses, their meaning, and the similar symbols among his books, we will be able to understand how dynamic of a writer Fitzgerald truly is.  After all, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year receded before us” (182).    

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F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a variety of symbols within his works to express an important value or issue.  In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the symbol of the green light to convey his hopes and dreams for the future. However, this symbols also conveys other meanings too, such as The American Dream, money, and wealth.  For Nick Carraway, the green light is far away but still visible.  Throughout the book, he desires to be part of the socially elite who were born into money.  However, he will never be a part of that old aristocracy (represented by East Egg) because he has to work for his money and can only dream of wealth like Gatsby’s.  Nick also associates this green light with Daisy; he says to her: “You have always been a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock” (94).  For Nick, Daisy is a former flame who is a part of the social elite and has the  money, social status, and friends that Gatsby desires.  Fitzgerald not only uses the symbol of the green light to express the desires of humanity, but in The Love of the Last Tycoon, he uses the symbols of light and darkness to represent reality and fantasy, respectively.  Monroe Stahr, a movie director, has a projection room in which he can turn reality and fantasy on and off with the flip of a switch.  When he turns the lights on, he is back in reality talking to his crew members, but when the lights are off, he is the fantasy world of the film.  They symbol of light and darkness is also often revealed through his relationship with Kathleen.  After a date, “They were both smiling just faintly…as the inch between them melted into darkness” (86).  This shows that romance is still just a fantasy.  However, when Stahr takes her out to his house, she asks if they “[should] put out the candles” (91).  He doesn’t want them to be extinguished because now he wants their relationship to be a reality.  These symbols show the meaningful thoughts on humanity that he wanted to express.

Often, F. Scott Fitzgerald will use symbols to make a commentary on society.  In The Love of the Last Tycoon, Stahr talks about “the sheep on the back lot of the…studio” (21).  The sheep are meant to represent people and how they just follow blindly, without thinking for themselves.  Also in this book, Monroe Stahr’s house isn’t finished and is empty.  He has no roof on his house; he enters one day after a rainstorm and finds “dripping beams…and wet wood” (87).  This house represents the emptiness of society and the meaningless life people lead. To add to this symbol of emptyness, he reveals that he will probably “live here all alone” (82).  Fitzgerald makes another commentary on the disintegration of society in The Great Gatsby.  A symbol of the moral and social decay of society is the valley of ashes which is located half-way between West Egg and New York, two very wealthy places.   Everything is falling apart and “ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” (23).  The valley of ashes is also where Tom and Myrtle have their affair, showing the lack of moral values.  This place is also a symbol of the dilemma of the poor.  George Wilson is a primary example because he has lost his vivacity and has wasted away living here. Fitzgerald even describes Myrtle “walking through her husband as if he were a ghost” (25).  Another symbol that is incorporated with the valley of ashes is Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes: “They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose” (23).  These eyes signify God, watching over and judging the American society.  It continues: “his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (23).  Finally, Fitzgerald uses the symbol of alcohol in This Side of Paradise to portray escape.  Amory would drink uncontrollably to “shield himself from the stabs of memory” (226) and to escape thinking about his problems.  However, “the advent of prohibition…put a sudden stop to the submerging of Amory’s sorrows” (226).  As a result, Amory has to face his issues with love and relationships.  Fitzgerald uses many symbols in his novels to make a commentary of the faults of society.

Finally, the main symbol that Fitzgerald carries throughout all of his writing is the car as a symbol of status and wealth.  Monroe Stahr drives a convertible in The Love of the Last Tycoon because when “a sudden gust of rain bounced over them, Stahr halted beside the road…and lifted the canvas top” (87).  Only some one wealthy would drive a nice car as compared to one Kathleen drives.  According to this symbol, Kathleen is of a lower social class than Stahr because “she point[s] at her jalopy in the parking lot” (78).  Jalopy is the word for an old and decrepit car.  The contrast in the cars that they own shows the contrast because the social status of Kathleen and Stahr which also proves why they can’t be together in the end of the novel.  In This Side of Paradise, Isabelle only dates men that are “terrible speeds” (76).  Also, Dick Humbird, the ideal man that Amory idolizes and wants to be like, is killed in a car crash when he “was driving and he wouldn’t give up the wheel, [though they] told him he’d been drinking too much” (96).  The car as a status symbol is also clearly revealed in The Great Gatsby. The only car in Wilson’s garage is “the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner” (25).  This shows that the car is not worth much and it seems to be hiding in shame in the corner.  Conversely, Gatsby’s car has a “three-noted horn” (63) and “it was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length…” (64).  It goes on to say that his car has green seats, connecting to the green symbol in the book.  Gatsby’s car exudes his wealth and provides an excellent example of the car as a status symbol by comparing it to Wilson’s.  The car accidents in both This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby are ironic because they show the recklessness and irresponsibility of the society at the time.  Fitzgerald often uses this car symbol in many of his novels to depict the status and comment on society’s status system and materialism.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is very symbolic in his writing and uses these symbols to make observations of the world around him.  He uses symbols to criticize humanity and American society in multiple ways.  He displays his superior writing skills by often times, creating his symbols to represent more than just one idea or thing.  By taking the lessons we have to learn from Fitzgerald’s work, maybe, just maybe, that elusive green light is closer than we think. 

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