Symbolism in The Great Gatsby
In The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald presents a novel with intricate symbolism. Fitzgerald integrates symbolism into the heart of the novel so strongly that it is necessary to read the book several times to gain any level of understanding. The overtones and connotations that Fitzgerald gives to the dialogues, settings, and actions is a major reason why The Great Gatsby is one of the classics of the 20th century.
Three themes dominate the text of The Great Gatsby.
They are time / loss, appearance / mutability, and perspective. Most of the novel’s thematic structure falls neatly into one of these categories. In order to satisfactorily understand the novel, we must examine the roles of these three themes.
The word time appears 450 times in the novel either by itself or in a compound word. Fitzgerald obviously wanted to emphasize the importance of time to the overall design of the book. Time is most important to Gatsby’s character.
Gatsby’s relationship with time is a major aspect to the plot. He wants to erase five years from not only his own life but also Daisy’s. Gatsby’s response to Nick, telling him that he can repeat the past, is symbolic of the tragic irony that is behind Gatsby’s fate. Gatsby exclaims on page 116, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” Gatsby cannot accept Daisy until she erases the last three years of her life by telling Tom that she never loved him to his face. Gatsby fully believes what he says and thinks (or desperately hopes) that that is true about Daisy. At one part of the story he actually tells Nick how, as soon as Tom is out of the picture, he and Daisy were going to go to Memphis so they could get married at her white house just like it were five years before hand.
In another scene, when Gatsby and Nick go to the Buchanans’ for lunch towards the end of the book, Gatsby sees Daisy’s and Tom’s child for the first time. Nick describes Gatsby’s expression as one of genuine surprise and suggests that Gatsby probably never before believed in the girl’s existence. Gatsby is so caught up in his dream that he becomes vulnerable to the world’s brutal reality.
Fitzgerald masterfully creates a time symbolism in the scene when Daisy and Gatsby meet for the first time in five years. As Nick enters the room where Daisy and Gatsby have just met, Gatsby is leaning nervously against the mantelpiece while resting his head upon the clock on the mantle. At an awkward pause in the conversation, the clock starts to tip as if to fall off the mantle.
Gatsby dramatically catches the clock before it falls and all three characters are speechless, stricken with a strange awe of the precious clock. Nick, narrates, “I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.” The clock was symbolizing time and Gatsby’s head resting on it was all the pressure that Gatsby was putting on time. Time could not support the demands that Gatsby was making. Gatsby gingerly catching the clock and his resultant apology symbolizes the sensitivity of his plan and how necessarily delicate his methods were.
Gatsby’s continuous trouble with time is again brilliantly illustrated in the scene when a couple stops by Gatsby’s house with Tom Buchanan on a Sunday afternoon in the midst of a ride.
The woman invites Gatsby to join them for dinner. While her invitation was sincere, she was a bit tipsy and her partner, Mr. Sloane, tried to persuade her out of it. Having accepted the invitation, Gatsby went for his coat. Mr. Sloane then dragged the other two with him and rode off saying to Nick, “Tell him we couldn’t wait, will you?” Just then Gatsby walks out the door with his coat and hat, ready to go.
This scene has strong overtones that connect it to how Gatsby lost Daisy to Tom.
Five years ago, Daisy and Jay Gatsby were in love. He loved to tell her all the things he was going to do in the future and she loved .