Revealing Theme Through Character, Plot, and Symbolism In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, so many characters are cruel, selfish, and immoral. Not all characters possess all of these traits, but the wealthy, materialistic ones definitely do. There are many important themes in this book, which the characters are based on. Many of the events that make up the plot result from the poor judgment on the part of certain characters. Symbolism is used to connect these characters and events to real life.
Fitzgerald uses character, plot, and symbolism as key literary elements to convey one of his most important themes: the corruption of the American Dream through materialism. This theme is most evident in the characters in The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway seems to be more of a spectator or bystander of the corruption of materialism. Material goods never corrupted him and he was relatively poor. He cannot believe how corrupt and superficial the people he associates with are, and he eventually disapproves of them. Tom and Daisy Buchanan are the two characters that are the most corrupted by materialism.
The Buchanans were both born into wealth, and grew up into immoral, self-centered people. Material goods have made Tom think that he can always have what he wants. For example, he has been having affairs with other women since his honeymoon. Daisy is a very shallow person and married Tom for his money, even though she did not want to, and was in love with Gatsby. Gatsby is a good example of someone who has fulfilled the American dream. He is part of the nouveau riche of West Egg, and had no money at all only five years before. He seeks material goods mainly to impress enough people to be noticed by Daisy once again.
His house and possessions do impress Daisy and she realizes what she could have had if she waited for him to come back from the war. “‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before. ’” (98) Daisy is the most obvious example of someone that has been corrupted by material goods. The car accident in which Daisy kills Myrtle Wilson is the climax of the plot, and an important part of the book’s theme. Car accidents are a recurrent theme in The Great Gatsby, all building up to this one. Daisy has nce again ruined other people’s lives for her own benefit. The fact that Daisy continues driving after running over Myrtle shows that she is extremely careless when it comes to other people. Materialism, including the knowledge of social codes, makes it so she is too afraid to get into trouble than to act like a moral human being. If she is arrested, she would lose her good reputation. By not returning to the scene of the accident, she puts Gatsby in danger. Gatsby is even blamed for committing the crime, because Daisy is too selfish to tell the truth and tells Tom that it was all Gatsby’s fault.
This is evident when Tom says, “He threw dust into your eyes just like he did on Daisy’s but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you’d run over a dog and never even stopped his car. ” (187) This accident conveys the corruption of the American Dream because it changes many characters’ lives. George Wilson built an auto repair shop in a place that he thought would bring him a lot of business. He obviously does not want to be poor anymore, and wants to move up in society. When Daisy runs over his wife, his life suddenly changes, and he goes into depression. His dream is ruined and he decides to kill Gatsby and then himself.
Some symbols in particular stand out because they are so important to the theme of The Great Gatsby. A giant billboard of the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg brood over the “valley of ashes,” the city dump. The valley of ashes represents the fact that the waste of the wealthy is dumped on the poor. The wealthy think that they are too superior or advanced to keep their waste near their homes, and probably feel that the poor are more deserving of it. This is corruption of the American Dream because the wealthy have much more goods to waste, and this makes the life of the working class less desirable.
The billboard symbolizes a blind God. Many people look to God for truth, religious feeling, security, and spiritual purity, but the paint on the eyes is dimming to represent a false sense of hope for many people. Many people in the story do not seem very religious and break many Christian rules, so the fact that the eyes were never repainted shows that people are abandoning religion, and are too preoccupied with their daily lives to notice. Material goods seem more important to these Americans than religion. The color yellow represents cowardice, wealth, and light.
In the case of Gatsby’s party, it obviously symbolizes wealth, but also light, which symbolizes joyfulness. The orchestra plays “yellow” music, which directly says that Gatsby is wealthy. The orchestra was “no thin five piece affair but a whole pit full of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums. ” (44) The fact that so much of Gatsby’s party represents wealth shows that he was willing to give up his American Dream just for Daisy. The green light at the end of her dock represents Gatsby’s greatest hope, to be with her again.
He lives in that house so he can be close to her, and he needs to be wealthy to be popular among the other wealthy people. The two girls in yellow dresses also symbolize wealth because only the wealthy, worthy people showed up at these parties. The color yellow inside an egg, represented by the wealth inside of East and West Egg, means that the inhabitants are rich and cowardly because of the corruption. Fitzgerald’s masterful manipulation of main characters, events, and symbolism all work together to communicate the theme of the American Dream and the idea that it is corrupted by materialism.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan are great examples of this theme, especially since they are so selfish and cruel. Gatsby is not as bad a person, and his dream is only corrupted by his love for Daisy. The final car accident symbolizes Daisy’s selfishness and the way that she is able to ruin other people’s lives without caring, especially when the person that she is in love with is murdered. The most important symbols show that the world was changing back then and becoming more corrupt as time went on. The Great Gatsby shows how character, plot, and symbolism are always the key elements in conveying a very important theme.