The Green Light in The Great Gatsby
The flashing light at the end of the dock across the water is first symbolically associated with Daisy. However, throughout the novel it gains new aspects and connotations, covering a full circle at the end of the novel. Throughout the novel the green light symbolizes various elements: Daisy's love, money, renewal, death, and American Dream.
The green light is introduced in chapter one for the first time:
He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way... a single green light,
minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.
The position of this green light reminds the reader of East Egg where Daisy Buchanan lives. Therefore, the first symbolic association is established between the green light and Daisy in the first chapter and the followings.
In chapter four the color green is associated with money and material comfort.
The green leather conservatory of Gatsby's cream-colored car attracts the reader's attention. The real purpose behind Gatsby's lavish parties and his choice of habitat across the bay, just opposite the Buchanan's, is revealed to be a lure for Daisy so that she would drop by to his place one day. Thus the green light symbolizes Gatsby's obsession with Daisy's love and wealth.
Fitzgerald illuminates another angle of the green light in chapter five. The green house shipped to Nick's house meant for beautifying his house for the sake of Daisy's rendezvous with Gatsby connotes growth and renewal. In this way Gatsby celebrates Daisy's girlhood love towards himself.
In this chapter Gatsby's reference to the symbolic green light both heightens and changes its direction. Suddenly the visible angles of the symbol lose color, enabling the reader to eye the invisible perspectives towards the end of the novel.
Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now
vanished for ever. Now it was again a green light on a deck. His count of enchanted
objects had diminished by one.
There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of
his dreams- not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.
Gatsby's conscious admission reveals an important fact to the reader that maybe Daisy has been only a conscious symbolic means for Gatsby's subconscious pursuit of a dream that will be revealed to be the American Dream towards the end of the novel.
The reference to Gatsby's true family origin and his torn green jersey recurs the theme of rebirth and transformation.
The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his platonic
Conception of himself...so he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year
old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.
The association of the color green and Gatsby's transformation and creation of a new identity helps the reader to parallel the green light with the American Dream.
Daisy's passing out green cards for kisses in chapter six signifies two points. The color of the cards refers to her renewed love. What's more, she trades her love for money. Thus, the themes of renewal and money are recurred here again.
The connotation of death of love in introduced in chapter seven by the description of George Wilson's green face due to his bitter suspicion of his wife's affair. In chapter seven there are references to blue and yellow, the composing elements of the green color, as well.
These references are preceded by the reference to Myrtle's blood mingling with the earth. These parallel references signify the fact that the green light, standing for the American Dream, is not a pure force but composed of other forces, such as cynicism and materialism, thus condemned to disintegration and failure.
Gatsby's father's reference to daily schedule Gatsby used in his childhood reintroduces the theme of the American Dream defined as hard work and diligence regardless of the past.
The recurring reference to the green color and the green light in the last chapter brings the symbolism into a full circle:
I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors` eyes- a
fresh, green breast of the new world. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic
future that year be year recedes before us... so we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Finally, the American Dream is heightened in the last chapter. It is important to note that the symbolism in the novel is not used for criticizing the American Dream itself but revealing the fact that the American Dream could not lead to true prosperity in the jazz Age due to other opposing and devastating forces such as cynicism and materialism in the wild 20s.