Yellow Symbolism in The Great Gatsby
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the color yellow is a prevalent hue within the narrative’s depiction of high society. Although interchangeable with the color gold, there are two distinct connotations in the mention of each color. While gold equates to luxury and wealth in an objective sense, yellow serves to display the corruption, greed, and materialism that prevails among the riches.
The high flying society of the East embodies the very essence of greed, corruption, and inevitably, destruction. The growing need for materialism and money serves as a detriment to good character, moral, and values, and the color yellow is omnipresent in every aspect of the rich; Jay Gatsby’s glamorous parties are narrated with an overabundance of yellow, and Mr. Wilson’s yellow house depicts a sense of hopelessness in a different sense. The “yellow cocktail music,” as well as the two party-goers encountered wearing yellow dresses, accentuate the superficial feeling and attitudes in Gatsby’s parties: the people who attend these parties do so for the sake of status and superiority fulfillment, disregarding the host himself and instead indulging in rumors and gossip. These parties are far from genuine, and the presence of yellow defines this greed, where individuals make wealth and luxury their number one priority. On the other hand, the yellow house of Mr. Wilson indicates a sense of depravity and hopelessness, where his life is far from fulfilling. Thus, yellow not only appears among the rich, but also appears in places of desolation; perhaps the yellow of Wilson’s house originates from Myrtle Wilson’s greed and corruption. Various characters in the novel bring out the negative meaning associated with the color yellow, as it follows their actions that parallel with the notion of overindulgence and the detainment of character that brings it.
Myrtle Wilson epitomizes the very nature of the color. The greed and corruption that defines her is a consequence of her affair with Tom, a desperate attempt to mingle with the wealthy class and crawl to a high social standing. At the time of her death, a yellow light is described to be overhead, casting this specific hue on her lifeless body. This was not some arbitrary light; it served to reveal her true self which was nowhere near the faithful wife that Mr. Wilson deserved. Myrtle immersed herself in her materialism, designating that as her number one priority. Her death by Gatsby’s yellow car is a significant metaphor that demonstrates irony: she was killed by what she yearned for. The materialistic items that she coveted, as represented by Gatsby’s yellow luxurious car, killed her. Her death by an item of the wealthy is an analogy to the corruption that destroyed her as a character. As she became more exposed to wealth, her persona transformed from a mask of genuine car and loving wife to a haughty, superficial snob. While the yellow light exposes Myrtle as an outcome of corruption, the yellow car truly demonstrates the negativity by introducing the consequence – the backfire of her twisted mindset. Overall, the yellow coexists with Myrtle’s change in character and embodies who she has truly become as a result of a social class change.
Otherwise alluded to as the eyes of “God”, Doctor T.J. Eckleburg peers at the barren wasteland known as the Valley of Ashes through yellow spectacles. Although the spectacles themselves are not truly yellow, the scene that the billboard is exposed to casts this yellow reflection on the glasses. This reflection is a representation of the shallow, dull, bland, and gray. As T.J. Eckleburg observes the desolation in his view, what he sees is a valueless society, devoid of ethics as an outcome of poor judgement and skewed values. Yet, as a billboard, he is helpless to take action, perhaps showing that this presence of yellow that taints his lenses is an inevitable and unchangeable aspect of society. As Mr. Wilson addresses this billboard, “Oh goad, oh goad”, he pines hopelessly of what the destruction of the yellow has caused; in a sense, Myrtle is the color yellow. Yet, Eckleburg remains forever stoic and observing.
It is evident that a change in social class may change one’s attitude. The gold color – true yellow – itself does not have any associations with negativity. It merely represents wealth and luxury, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It is how one character faces wealth and how that individual interacts in this environment that represents the yellow. The yellow is the consequence within the gold, if one’s indulgences spiral out of control. For instance, Daisy does not realize that she is defined by a corrupt wealthy mindset, as indicated by her voice. Rather, she is inherently born and surrounded by an environment that takes priority in being rich. The yellow of her child’s hair is a token that she is able to flaunt, rather than a girl she is supposed to love. Similarly, the heart of an actual Daisy is yellow – although Daisy gives an outer impression of white innocence, her true character is defined by yellow greed. Fitzgerald uses both yellow and gold to symbolize wealth, although yellow symbolizes the bad qualities in the gold. An omnipresent color in the wealthy class, the greed, corruption, and consequences of materialism represented by yellow is not only physically present, but also is carried within the essence of characters such as Myrtle and Eckleburg, who help define the idea this hue brings out.
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