Yellow in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:00 Money, Money, Money
  • 3:03 Loss of Innocence & Promise
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

This lesson will analyze the symbolic significance of the color yellow in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel 'The Great Gatsby.' We will connect the color yellow to the novel's themes of idealism, wealth, corruption, and decay by discussing specific appearances of yellow in the novel.

Money, Money, Money

Gold and yellow are two colors that stand in close relation, yet also in stark contrast throughout The Great Gatsby. Gold is associated with actual gold, or money, specifically old money. Members of the upper class that come from old money view themselves as more authentic and prestigious in comparison to members of the new money upper class whose money hasn't been inherited, but has been made in a variety of quick, and sometimes questionable, ways. The members of the new money class, like Gatsby, constantly aim to prove that they belong in the gold-standard club, so to speak.

The first time Nick visits the Buchanan house, he is struck by its appearance. It is 'glowing with reflected gold.' It's almost as if the old money status of both Tom and Daisy is outwardly visible simply by gazing at their home.

When Gatsby visits Daisy for the first time, he is desperate to impress her. As Nick describes, 'The front door opened nervously, and Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in.' Here, Gatsby's choice of tie shouldn't go unnoticed. There's symbolic meaning behind this little detail. Everything that Gatsby does is an effort to create the appearance of wealth and status.

Despite Gatsby's best efforts, though, Fitzgerald's symbolism continues to separate people who are marked as merely the imitation of wealth and status. Jordan Baker, the golden girl of the professional tennis world and a wealthy socialite, is often described as being physically golden. Nick describes himself with Jordan at a party, saying, 'I put my arm around Jordan's golden shoulder.' Two of Jordan's admirers, twin girls dressed in 'twin yellow dresses,' are only yellow in comparison to Jordan's gold. 'You don't know who we are,' says one of the girls in yellow, 'but we met you here about a month ago.' These girls can only stand on the outside of Jordan's social circle and hope to get in, but they never will.

Yellow becomes a symbol of the lower class and the lower class's desire to join the upper class. Gatsby buys an enormous yellow car. It is very distinctive and showy, but it really only makes his desperation more obvious. And the fact that he's desperate to look like he belongs means that he doesn't really belong, at least not in the eyes of the old money big fish.

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