The Significance of Colours in The Great Gatsby
Find references to the following colours in the novel. Write down the quotations and say what you think they represent in the context: White: (pg.7, 37, 102) Yellow/ Gold: (pg.36, 38, 21) Green: (pg.19, 166-167, 112) Grey: (pg.20) Red: (pg.16)
White: (pg.7, 37, 102) Honour, purity, innocence "They were both in white" (pg. 7), "The windows were ajar and gleaming white" (p. 7). – first impression of Daisy and Jordan: seemingly pure – ironic as both are not - Jordan turns out to be dishonest in her sport / career and Daisy in her relationships Nick wore “white flannels” to Gatsby’s party- wants to make a good impression – he is actually the only real honest one on the novel
"His heart beat faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own" (pg. 102). – Gatsby sees her as pure / angelic etc but this is ironic. This innocence is just a surface; she covers her dark side behind it. Her name symbolizes a flower: its penals are white, but its inside is yellow, not as pure as white. Daisy is fragile like a flower, but deep inside her, she is almost evil. She even kills an innocent person. Fitzgerald seems to be commenting directly on the immorality of the wealthy. Notice that all the “old-money” people, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, wear white clothes, live in white houses, but they are immoral inside, they have no scruples. Seems to indicate an ideal, which is never reached.
Yellow / Gold (pg.36, 38, 21)) Richness, happiness, prosperity, success, extremely valuable, depravity 1.) "..turkeys bewitched to a dark gold" (p. 36). – even the turkeys at Gatsby’s parties as described as being golden – outward impression if him as being prosperous and happy 2.) "With Jordan's slender golden arm resting in mine" – she is considered as the golden girl of golf (p. 38) – symbolic of success – but at the expense of her honour 3.) Even Gatsby’s car is yellow – sign of wealth – Gatsby uses it to show off
4.) “small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the wasteland” (pg. 21) - Yellow is also the colour of depravity. This disease even infects the land, such as George Wilson's home in the Valley of Ashes. His house is made of yellow brick and is essentially the only place that is strictly referred to as yellow. The house contains tainted individuals; both Myrtle and George1.) 5.) Daisy is described as “the golden girl” - represents happiness, for Gatsby; success in achieving his dream
Green (pg.19, 166-167, 112) Newness, hope, jealousy 1.) “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been at the end of a dock” (pg.19) Jay Gatsby is spellbound by Daisy's green light, and is immersed in a world of dreams and hopes of returning to their past relationship that he was so obsessed with. This has long been an impossibility, though Gatsby failed to realize it because he was blinded by the hope generated by the green light. The colour green betrayed Gatsby, insinuating that hope is not always reality. It could in this case also represent his jealousy – he wants Daisy for himself
2.) “I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch a sailors’ eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world.” (pg.166) – represented hope for them “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.” (pg.167). He is a “new money” person, so he lives in a green house, surrounded by green lawn. Nick seems drawn to this “extraordinary gift for hope”- this American commitment to the future. 3.) "In the sunlight his face was green" (George Wilson, pg.117) – jealousy caused by Tom
Grey (pg.20) Unimportant, dull, lifeless “ ash-grey men..grey cars..grey land” - everything about the valley of ashes is grey. The colour grey conveys the feeling of lacking spirit and dreariness. This area was where men worked tirelessly in the ashes, and people saw this area as dirty and low-life. Mr. Wilson, the husband of Tom's lover, Myrtle, is a handsome but lifeless man who is described as gray by the ashes in the air. The gray on him symbolizes the lack of life spirit that he has. The only way for Myrtle to escape the grey is Tom -
Red (pg.19) Anger, shame 1.) "Inside, the crimson room bloomed with light" (p. 16). Tom Buchannan’s house is red. – shame, rage – reflective of his character
A variety of colours (pg.37, 84-85) 1.) “through the sea-change of faces and voices and colour under the constantly changing light” (pg.37) 2.) "and covered the table in many coloured disarray ... in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue" (pg.85).
Final thoughts... Can we now make a general comment about how the author uses colour to represent some of the major themes in the novel?
Fitzgerald used many literary devices to embrace his beliefs about the people of this time period but colour symbolism seems to be the most popular technique in this book. The Great Gatsby is a novel containing three principal colours - white, yellow, and green - that are powerfully exercised to represent various aspects of personality and life.
The innocence of the characters, symbolized by the colour white, masks their corruption. The corruption is in turn illustrated by the colour yellow. (wealth etc.) Yet, through all of this madness, deception, and bleakness the colour green shines brightly above the others, signifying hope in the harsh and desolate world of The Great Gatsby.