The Great Gatsby Symbols: 3 Major Patterns Explained

The Great Gatsby Symbols

3 Major Patterns Explained

What’s up with The Great Gatsby symbols? Why are they almost all so eerie, mysterious and illusory like Gatsby himself? We here at FactSumo dive into the enigmas of The Great Gatsby symbols, and why they deserve a second glance on your next read-through of the novel.

The Valley of Ashes

Queens? Not quite. This part of town takes on all things ashen and grey in Gatsby with some quasi-horror zeal. The Valley of Ashes is a noticeable symbol because of how bleak and foreboding it is. If East and West Egg represent the differences in old and nouveau riche, the Valley of Ashes would be the slums: dirty, industrial, and as dead and cold as the remnants of a fire.


The Owl-Eyed Man

Here’s a weird Fitzgerald character that acts, in his own right, as a sort of symbol for framing Gatsby. We first meet the owl-eyed man in Gatsby’s library during a party. He’s delighted by the fact the unopened books on Gatsby’s shelf are real: Gatsby went to great lengths to tailor his image, and the owl-eyed man remarks that Gatsby’s attention to detail is commendable. He even likens Gatsby to a theater producer. Gatsby wants to be seen as well-read and cultured, despite not having torn open the books (mere props) before.

We see the owl-eyed man at the very end too, at Gatsby’s funeral. He’s one of the only guests from the party to show up, possibly hinting that this character is more all-knowing, all-seeing, and genuine than he lets on. In fact, it’s why we’d call him a symbol. He’s a harbinger of significant events, and the only one to look closely at a situation, and at a man who is made of everything carefully constructed and perfected: Gatsby.

The Green Light

It wouldn’t be Gatsby without the green light that he’s vying for throughout the whole book. This is arguably one of the more prominent and famous symbols in the novel, not only for how memorable it is, but what the light stands for. Gatsby spends the entire time reaching for a life that is just out of his grasp. While this is personified by Daisy, the green light and the water between him and his dream comes to represent the differences in old and new money: the rigidity of class in America, the illusory nature of the “American Dream”, the futility of dreaming for something better. Yet the green light persists as a beacon (literally, in this case) for the lost and optimistic in America, fervent in the promise that anyone can make their dreams a reality.

We hope you enjoyed this shortlist of The Great Gatsby symbols. Want to learn more about the American Dream in the novel? Check out our post here!