The Great Gatsby Themes and Symbols Flashcard Example #62834

Theme: THE ROARING TWENTIES
-F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term “Jazz Age” to describe the decade of decadence and prosperity that America enjoyed in the 1920s, which was also known as the RoaringTwenties.
-After World War I ended in 1918, the United States and much of the rest of the world experienced an enormous economic expansion.
Theme: THE ROARING TWENTIES
-The surging economy turned the 1920s into a time of easy money, hard drinking (despite the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution), and lavish parties.
-Through the 1920s were a time of great optimism, Fitzgerald portrays the much bleaker side of the revelry by focusing on its indulgence, hypocrisy, shallow recklessness, and its perilous—even fatal—consequences.
Theme: THE AMERICAN DREAM
-The American Dream—that hard work can lead one from rags to riches—has been a core facet of American identity since its inception.
-Settlers came west to America from Europe seeking wealth and freedom. The pioneers headed west for the same reason.
-The Great Gatsby shows the tide turning east, as hordes flock to New York City seeking stock market fortunes. The Great Gatsby portrays this shift as a symbol of the American Dream’s corruption. It’s no longer a vision of building a life; it’s just about getting rich.
Theme: THE AMERICAN DREAM
-Gatsby symbolizes both the corrupted Dream and the original uncorrupted Dream.
-He sees wealth as the solution to his problems, pursues money via shady schemes, and reinvents himself so much that he becomes hollow,
disconnected from his past.
Theme: THE AMERICAN DREAM
-Yet Gatsby’s corrupt dream of wealth is motivated
by an incorruptible love for Daisy. Gatsby’s failure does not prove the folly of the American Dream—rather it proves the folly of short-cutting that dream by allowing corruption and materialism to prevail over hard work, integrity, and real love.
– And the dream of love that remains at Gatsby’s core condemns nearly every other character in the novel, all of whom are empty beyond just their lust for money.
Theme: CLASS (OLD MONEY, NEW MONEY, NO MONEY)
-The Great Gatsby portrays three different social classes:
—– “old money” (Tom and Daisy Buchanan);
—— “new money” (Gatsby);
——–and a class that might be called “no money” (George and Myrtle Wilson).
Theme: CLASS (OLD MONEY, NEW MONEY, NO MONEY)
– “Old money” families have fortunes dating from the 19th century or before, have built up powerful and influential social connections, and tend to hide their wealth and superiority behind a veneer of civility.
-The “new money” class made their fortunes in the 1920s boom and therefore have no social connections and tend to overcompensate for this lack with lavish displays of wealth.
Theme: CLASS (OLD MONEY, NEW MONEY, NO MONEY)
******The Great Gatsby shows the newly developing class rivalry between “old” and “new” money in the struggle between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy. As usual, the “no money” class gets overlooked by the struggle at the top, leaving middle and lower class people like George Wilson forgotten or ignored.
Theme: PAST AND FUTURE
-Nick and Gatsby are continually troubled by time—the past haunts Gatsby and the future weighs down on Nick.
-When Nick tells Gatsby that you can’t
repeat the past, Gatsby says “Why of course you can!” Gatsby has dedicated his entire life to recapturing a golden, perfect past with Daisy.
-Gatsby believes that money can recreate the past. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as “overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves.”
Theme: PAST AND FUTURE
-But Gatsby mixes up “youth and mystery” with history; he thinks a single glorious month of love with Daisy can compete with the years and
experiences she has shared with Tom.
-Just as “new money” is money without
social connection, Gatsby’s connection to Daisy exists outside of history.
Theme: PAST AND FUTURE
-Nick’s fear of the future foreshadows the economic bust that plunged the country into depression and ended the Roaring Twenties in 1929.
-The day Gatsby and Tom argue at the Plaza Hotel, Nick suddenly realizes that it’s his thirtieth birthday. He thinks of the new decade before him as a “portentous menacing road,” and clearly sees in the struggle between old and new money the end of an era and the destruction of both types of wealth.
Symbol: THE GREEN LIGHT AND THE COLOR GREEN
-The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is the symbol of Gatsby’s hopes and dreams.
-It represents everything that haunts and beckons Gatsby: the physical and emotional distance between him and Daisy, the gap between the past and the present, the promises of the future, and the powerful lure of that other green stuff he craves—money.
Symbol: THE GREEN LIGHT AND THE COLOR GREEN
– In fact, the color green pops up everywhere in
The Great Gatsby.
—— Long Island sound is “green”;
——George Wilson’s haggard tired face is “green” in the sunlight;
——-Michaelis describes the car that kills Myrtle
Wilson as “light green” (though it’s yellow);
——-Gatsby’s perfect lawn is green;
——-and the New World that Nick imagines Dutch explorers first stumbling upon is a “fresh, green breast.”
Symbol: THE GREEN LIGHT AND THE COLOR GREEN
-The symbolism of green throughout the novel is as
variable and contradictory as the many definitions of “green” and the many uses of money—”new,” “natural,” “innocent,” “naive,” and “uncorrupted”; but also “rotten,” “gullible,” “nauseous,” and “sickly.”
Symbol: THE EYES OF DOCTOR T. J. ECKLEBURG
-The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg on the billboard overlooking the Valley of Ashes represent many things at once:
——- to Nick they seem to symbolize the
haunting waste of the past, which lingers on though it is irretrievably vanished, much like Dr. Eckleburg’s medical practice.
Symbol: THE EYES OF DOCTOR T. J. ECKLEBURG
——-The eyes can also be linked to Gatsby, whose own eyes, once described as “vacant,” often stare out, blankly keeping “vigil” (a word Fitzgerald applies to both Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes and
Gatsby’s) over Long Island sound and the green light.
——–To George Wilson, Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes are the eyes of God, which he says see everything.
Symbol: THE VALLEY OF ASHES
-An area halfway between New York City and West Egg, the Valley of Ashes is an industrial wasteland covered in ash and soot.
– If New York City represents all the “mystery and beauty in the world,”
– and West Egg represents the people who have gotten rich off the roaring economy of the Roaring Twenties,
****** the Valley of Ashes stands for the dismal ruin of the people caught in between.
Symbol: EAST AND WEST
-Nick describes the novel as a book about Westerners, a “story of the West.”
-Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Gatsby, and Nick all hail from places other than the East.
-The romanticized American idea of going West to seek and make one’s fortune on the frontier turned on its ear in the 1920’s stock boom;
——now those seeking their fortune headed back East to cash in.
Symbol: EAST AND WEST
-But while Gatsby suggests there was a kind of honor in the hard work of making a fortune and building a life on the frontier, the quest for money in the East is nothing more than that: a hollow quest for money.
-The split between the eastern and western regions of the United States is mirrored in Gatsby by the divide between East Egg and West Egg:
——–once again the West is the frontier of people making their fortunes, but these “Westerners” are as hollow and corrupt inside as the “Easterners.”
Symbol: GATSBY’S MANSION
-Gatsby’s mansion symbolizes two broader themes of the novel.
—–First, it represents the grandness and emptiness of the 1920s boom: Gatsby justifies
living in it all alone by filling the house weekly with “celebrated people.”
—–Second, the house is the physical symbol of Gatsby’s love for Daisy. Gatsby used his “new money” to create a place that he thought rivaled the houses of the “old money” that had taken her away.

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