Color Symbolism in “The Great Gatsby”
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, one of the main characters of the novel, Gatsby, tries to win back the already married Daisy Buchanan’s love. After fighting in World War One, a determined Gatsby earns a fortune through illegal channels and purchases a mansion in West Egg, across from East Egg where Tom and Daisy Buchanan live. The novel takes place through the perspective of Nick Carraway, who recently moved to New York as a stockbroker after World War One. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald uses vivid symbolism by associating colors to certain characters. He uses the color white to describe Jordan Baker, Daisy Buchanan, and Jay Gatsby. For the duration of the novel, the color white represents purity, elegance, and innocence; however, as the novel progresses, the meaning of the color white morphs into inequality, unfairness, and disproportionate wealth. In the beginning of the novel, the color white symbolizes both saintliness and purity.
When Nick first arrives in New York, he is invited by the Buchanans to visit their elegant house and eat dinner. Once he sees Daisy and Jordan, he describes them dressed, in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had been blown back in after a short flight around the house, illustrating the pureness of the two women (Fitzgerald 8). Both Daisy and Jordan come from wealth and can afford any lavish clothes. White, a color difficult to keep clean, demonstrates both the elegance and effeminate qualities of the two women, free from any impurities. The purity and royalty of the two women is also shown when Nick is, almost surprised into murmuring an apology by having disturbed her by coming in(Fitzgerald 8). Later on in the novel, Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a meeting between Daisy and him. Gatsby, nervous about the meeting, decides to dress in all white with a gold tie. Nick recounts, the door open[ing] nervously, and Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in, revealing Gatsby’s innocence as he foolishly attempts to recreate the past. Although Daisy left Gatsby when he went to war, Gatsby tries to recreate old times as he attempts to rekindle their previous relationship. Inside Nick’s home, Gatsby accidentally knocks over a clock while sitting with Daisy and Nick. The clock represents the lost time Gatsby missed with Daisy and how he tries to make it up as he attempts to rewind his past. Gatsby’s childish innocence shown by his belief that he can repeat the past is demonstrated by the symbolism of Gatsby’s white shirt while Jordan and Daisy’s innocence and beauty is shown through their expensive and elegant dresses.
As the novel progresses, the meaning of the color white evolves into unfairness and injustice. In chapter 4 of the novel, Gatsby invites Nick over for a car ride in order to discuss his past and show his war insignias. Along the way to lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby gets pulled over for speeding. When the officer pulls over the car, Gatsby, [took] a white card from his wallet [and] waved it before the man’s eyes, revealing Gatsby’s influence over others due to his wealth and status (Fitzgerald 68). The white card represents corruption as Gatsby can use the card to get away with crimes ordinary people could not have, revealing the criminal side of Gatsby’s life in contrast to his undying love for Daisy. After meeting Meyer Wolfsheim, Nick goes to tea with Jordan. While talking to Nick, Jordan describes Daisy as, dressed in white, and [she] had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night, illustrating Daisy’s desire for attention as she displays her wealth through her white clothes and car. Daisy dressing up in white represents unfairness as she falls in love with the materialism of money rather than the personality of men. Once Daisy sees all of Gatsby’s expensive clothes, she weeps into them, demonstrating her excitement over money; however, once Daisy realizes the origin of Gatsby’s money, she quickly withdraws with him, leaving Gatsby’s crushed dreams behind. Daisy leaving Gatsby for money represents both unfairness and disproportionate wealth as well as Daisy’s cruel nature through the symbolism of the color white.
To conclude, the color white represented guiltlessness and saintliness; however, these two meanings are shown to be a facade as the true representation of corruption and unfairness is unveiled. Throughout the novel, almost all the characters keep secrets from others to conceal undesirable qualities. Gatsby has his criminality, Tom his infidelity, and Jordan her mendacious personality. The only character who swears to be honest is Nick Carraway. After talking with Jordan, Nick describes himself as, one of the few honest people that [he] has ever known, setting him apart from other characters in the novel. Nick also often wears white, such as when he wore white flannels when he first visited one of Gatsby’s parties. Although the meaning of white changes throughout the novel, white represents Nick’s honesty, which will always remain the same.