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Green in the Great Gatsby
Transcript of Green in the Great Gatsby
“The flowers were unnecessary, for at two o’clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby’s, with innumerable receptacles to contain it" (90).
by Kelly Hill & Georgie McTigue
“Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory we started to town" (69).
“Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock" (24).
Green in Traditional Context
Fitzgerald uses the word “greenhouse” to emphasize the sheer number of flowers arriving at Nick’s house that afternoon. In this sense, green is indicative of Gatsby’s hope and anticipation as he awaits Daisy’s arrival. While the color is used in its literal sense to illustrate plants, Fitzgerald diverges from this traditional connotation by using it as a symbol for hope and unfulfilled dreams.
Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue" (99).
As Gatsby is throwing around a myriad of strikingly-colored shirts, green is mentioned again as a symbol of life and thus the future. Daisy is amazed at all his material possessions, and also gains a small outlook at Gatsby’s dream of their future. Fitzgerald includes green in this description to remind the reader that Gatsby’s vibrant hope for his future is unseizing.
“‘You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock’" (99).
It is established that the green light signifies Gatsby’s dream of his life with Daisy. However, in this context, he actually shares his hope with Daisy for the first time by mentioning the light. This use of green again represents the future, and Gatsbys hopefulness that it will one day come true. Fitzgerald uses green to express that if they ever do reach Gatsby’s dream, it will be jubilant.
“Now it was again a green light on a dock" (100).
In this usage of green, Fitzgerald rejects its past symbolism, and points out to the reader that it, and the light, were never more than just a color. This realization comes after Gatsby sees Daisy for the first time in years and “his count of enchanted objects diminishe[s] by one" (98). While up until this point, green and the light on the dock have deep significance to both Gatsby and the reader, Fitzgerald almost brings us back to Earth and reminds us that it is just an object.
“It was James Gatz who had been loafing along the beach that afternoon in a torn green jersey and a pair of canvas pants, but it was already Jay Gatsby who borrowed a row-boat, pulled out to the TUOLOMEE and informed Cody that a wind might catch him and break him up in half an hour" (105).
As we glance into Gatsby’s past, the reader sees that the link between him and the symbolic color goes back many years. Fitzgerald offers us a glimpse of pre-success Gatsby, yet his wearing of a green jersey illustrates his infinite hope and unfulfillable dreams for the future- that he is destined for bigger things.Fitzgerald’s usage of green differs from the traditional meaning of the color in this sense.The fact that the jersey is torn shows the disadvantageous position Gatsby began his life with, and it is interesting to note how little green Gatsby wears now that he has made his fortune.
“On the green Sound, stagnant in the heat, one small sail crawled slowly toward the fresher sea" (125).
The water on the sound is described as green as it represents opportunity and hope in the future for Nick. There is a vast gap between East Egg and West Egg, but the water between them symbolizes to Nick that there is theability to move up in the world. Fitzgerald follows the typical usage of green by using it to express liveliness, and by expansion, hope.
“He felt the hot, green leather of the seat” (128).
Fitzgerald uses both green and a description of the temperature to describe the tension in this scene. The hotness of Gatsby’s seats shows the conflict between him and old-money Tom just before they drive into the city and toward their fates. The hot green seats also show that Gatsby’s dream is coming very close to fruition, that his anticipation is rising and that his life with Daisy is just past his fingertips. Green in this tension-filled scene differs from its meaning in normal context, where the color is considered one of the more calming tones on the spectrum.
In the sunlight his face was green" (131).
This is the only time that green in the novel means sickliness or envy. George Wilson is upset and now aware of Myrtle's affair, and thus his face appears green with jealousy and also sadness. Fitzgerald uses the color kind of as a juxtaposition, as green usually means hope and vitality, and thus excitement and the future, in the novel. In real life, green can also indicate envy, but in the novel it almost never does, so this usage contrasts with Fitzgerald’s usual meaning, which lets the reader know that hope and the future are not always constant.
“Michaelis wasn’t even sure of its color-- he told the first policeman that it was light green" (147).
The significance of Michaelis’s misinterpretation of the color of Gatsby’s car is especially meaningful when considering who it was carrying. Daisy and Gatsby were on their way back from the hotel, after Tom is assured that Gatsby’s dream is dead. The modifier “light” adds a sense of hopelessness to the green, hopeful, apparent color of the car, implying that Gatsby’s dream is fading fast. This symbolism further develops the significance of green as a color for Gatsby and his dreams, going beyond the typical associations of the color.
“Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry" (165).
Fitzgerald describes Jordan Baker’s voice as green to signify that when Nick thinks of her, he thinks of excitement and liveliness. Her transition from green to “harsh and dry” shows the deterioration of their relationship, and that when Nick thinks of her that day, he no longer associates her with his future. Green also traditionally associates with money, and Jordan comes from a wealthy class of which Nick aspires to be a part.
“I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This or That’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances and the matchings of invitations: ‘Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?’ and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands" (187).
Green, through the tickets, signifies the excitement and allure of these parties to new up-and-comers like Nick. That ticket symbolizes all the endless possibilities that come with living an extravagant upper-class life. The ticket is green to again relate back to life, and thus the future, promising Nick and the others hope and thrill.
“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world" (192).
Fitzgerald uses green to illustrate the verdant setting of America when first encountered by explorers hundreds of years before. The lush green nature of the new found land was to the sailors as what the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock was to Gatsby: hope. Fitzgerald transcends green’s vegetation connotation and uses it to describe the boundless potential something new and pure can offer.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us" (193).
The last usage of the color green in the novel proves to be significant. FItzgerald uses the color one last time to illustrate that even though things didn’t work out for Gatsby in the end, he never lost sight of his hope and vision of the future, always just out of reach across the bay.
F. Scott Fitzgerald associates the color green with the tragic story of Jay Gatsby and the concept of hope to parallel Gatsby’s death with the real-life destruction of the American Dream by greed, materialism, and privilege.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
"Color Wheel Pro - See Color Theory in Action." Color Wheel Pro: Color Meaning. QSX Software, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html>.
In this context, the color green (and specifically, the green light) represents Gatsby’s longing for Daisy and, in his eyes, their potential perfect life. As long as the green light glows, there is hope for his dream. Green generally means life and vitality, so Fitzgerald uses this color to symbolize the exuberant life Gatsby yearns for with Daisy.
Fitzgerald draws comparison between Gatsby’s ostentatious car and a “conservatory,” or greenhouse, to emphasize the showiness of Gatsby’s methods of expressing his wealth. Green in this usage stirs images of the plants and life usually found in greenhouses, but the forced nature of Gatsby’s display also shows how he literally is using the color to show off his money- which is usually green. Although throughout Gatsby green is usually representative of hope and dreams, in this case it takes on the traditional connotation of the color.