Symbolism In The Great Gatsby
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As one of the timeless novels of the 20th century, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald provides great insight into the life of the author as well as of the society in which he lives. All the basic elements of a novel contribute to this insight: characterization, drama, setting, etc. However, one element rises above all others and provides an entirely new perspective: symbolism. Fitzgerald's use of symbols throughout the novel is profound, adding a whole new level of depth to an otherwise excellent story.
Set in a society obsessed with opulence and wealth, the novel's two greatest symbols have to do with these themes. Both are perpetual reminders in the characters' daily lives, though they are not immediately involved with either of them.
- First, one can consider the Valley of Ashes: this valley between the primary setting of the novel, West Egg, and New York City is nothing but desolate land populated by ashes from industrial production in the city. To the basic reader, this can seem as little more than just a wasted plot of land, but its symbolism becomes apparent with more than a cursory glance.
- This land is symbolic of the transition between the blight of the urban poor and the opulence of Gatsby and his crew.
- This waste is what separates the rich from the poor, as society itself is segregated into the two sectors.
- The fact that this valley is filled with nothing but waste products also reflects the opulence of the era: people are concerned first and foremost with material pleasures, not thinking in the slightest about the waste that is being created.
Similarly, the billboard advertising for Dr. T.J. Eckleburg is also symbolic of the era in which the novel is set. Looking down over the Valley of Ashes, this billboard is faded and worthless. However, each time the characters pass it, one cannot help but think of the symbolism inherent in its presence. The eyes can be seen as symbolic of the watchful eyes of God, peering down over humanity and judging our daily practices. In terms of morality, society has become a wasteland, much as the Valley of Ashes is. Though Fitzgerald never said outright that the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg were symbolic of the watchful eyes of God, their very presence as well as their location certainly lends credence to this interpretation.