STATEMENT: Great texts use imagery to make us examine ourselves.
Great texts use imagery to make us examine ourselves. F.Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a great example that supports this statement. The use of this literary technique is applied to the text to make an impact on the reader’s thoughts; exposing them to the tragic consequences of pursuing the American Dream.
In the novel, Fitzgerald shows that Gatsby is ‘great’ by making him a man who lives with big dreams. Gatsby’s hunger for success fuels his motivation to reach all of his wildest hopes and aspirations. However, wealth above all else became his utmost priority throughout his journey and it was because of this unhealthy obsession with the pursuit of wealth that consumed him ‘till the end. Because he fails to realise that he’s valuing the wrong aspects and morals in life, Gatsby does not successfully achieve his American Dream. Fitzgerald uses imagery such as the green light, the hollowness of the upper classes, the Valley of Ashes, and the Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg to remind the readers of the importance of human morality and the consequences of excessive wealth.
Published in the 1920s, ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald focuses on the themes of appearance vs. reality, materialism, and the corruption of the ‘American Dream’. The novel embodies the era of ‘The Roaring 20s’, where people abused their freedom and happiness through the pursuit of wealth. People’s wealth blinded them from their morals; money was the very thing they valued the most yet they simultaneously wasted it for materialistic items. The whole concept of the death of the ‘American Dream’ is mainly portrayed in the novel through the character of Jay Gatsby, who was once called James Gatz. Jay originally came from a very poor family, which explains his wild hopes and aspirations. To truly live out his fantasy, James created Gatsby; the facade he made to cover up the ‘dirt’ in his past, to make himself appear more superior and respectable towards others.
A major example of imagery used in the novel is the green light that shines from the end of the Buchanan’s dock. Nick narrates that Gatsby “stretched out his arms towards the dark water in a curious way”, in an attempt to reach the green light which symbolises Daisy Buchanan. He does this to metaphorically reach the woman whom he claims to ‘love’; although, his motive towards achieving her contradicts this love as he only wants her for his selfish needs. Daisy is the key to his American Dream for she has the power to raise his social status from ‘New Money’ into an ‘Old Money’ - to move up a rank in the hierarchy. However, Daisy is represented by light, which is physically impossible to attain. Fitzgerald deliberately does this to deliver the message that some dreams we set for ourselves cannot be physically achieved even if we pour our all out, just like how Gatsby can never attain Daisy as his wife. This message is still relevant today as people tend to try to fit in with society’s standards and expectations, destroying the value of self-worth which leads to the creation of unrealistic dreams that are valued more by people in society.
The hollowness of the upper classes is also a significant picture portrayed throughout the novel. In ‘The Great Gatsby’, wealthy characters are often associated with personalities such as being selfish, obnoxious, evil, and lacking empathy towards others less fortunate than them. Daisy is a perfect example of this character; she is a narcissistic woman brought up at her time and place which justifies her adapted personal qualities. “I hope she’ll be a fool - that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” This is what Daisy wishes upon the upbringing of her daughter; to become nothing more than a ‘beautiful little fool’. In other words, Daisy is admitting that she wants her daughter to accept wealth in marriage rather than to find a man who will offer her real love and emotional support if she is born into their current society just like how she married Tom for his money.
In addition to this, the extent of their hollowness can be further explained in the novel through the type of books Tom Buchanan reads in his spare time. A great example is ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’, a racist book which he claims to be ‘all scientifically proven. He says that its idea is that “if we don’t look out, the white race will be utterly submerged.” Tom tries to use a wider vocabulary when speaking about his knowledge to appear more confident towards his beliefs when in fact, he is only being racist. This shows that he is using his meaningless distraction to appear more ‘sophisticated’ and ‘well-educated’ when in reality he is a shallow person who carries no morals - Tom is an example of the theme ‘appearance vs. reality’. The hollowness of the upper classes is a significant symbol Fitzgerald uses in the novel to question the readers with their morality; who and what do you allow to affect your perception and beliefs in life? This question remains significant today, as the world we live in are too absorbed amongst their selfish needs or other superficial things that we forget to focus on other important things such as the way we treat others and ourselves.
Another important imagery in the novel which enables readers to examine themselves is the place called ‘The Valley of Ashes’. ‘The Valley of Ashes’ is situated in Queens between the two wealthy parts of New York City called West and East Egg. People who live here thrive from working in factories whose production is providing the wealth that residents of West Egg receive which also allows bootleggers and criminal East Eggers to be successful from creating fake bonds in cash. The dullness of this place created by ash from the factories is relevant towards its symbolism of hopelessness, despair, and the death of The American Dream. ‘The Valley of Ashes’ represents the moral and social corruption due to the blithe pursuit of wealth.
Nick describes this place as a “solemn dumping ground”, a place of waste and left-overs, “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges…where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke.” It’s been deliberately decided by the rich to isolate their waste and corruption from their businesses in this place so that they can keep their area clean which is an ultimately selfish act. The by-products and waste of society all go towards the Valley of Ashes. Through this imagery from the novel, Fitzgerald reminds us of our over-consumption as a society and how it negatively impacts the world we are living in.
The ‘Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’ is another example of a surrealistic image painted in the novel. It is an old billboard ad that illustrates a pair of large blue eyes wearing golden spectacles found alongside George Wilson’s garage, a man who lives in Queens. Although the billboard is an inanimate object, Fitzgerald uses this imagery to represent the eyes of God as he stares down upon the moral wrongdoings of the American society. An example is when Tom, Nick, and Jordan stopped over at Wilson’s garage on their way to Manhattan. Nick narrates, “…as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s faded eyes came into sight down the road, I remembered Gatsby’s caution about gasoline …”. Nick presumes that the issue is about the car being low on gas, although we learn later on that the eyes are foreshadowing another problem; George’s realisation of his wife Myrtle, and Tom Buchanan’s affair which leaves him feeling distraught.
Although the billboard eyes are unable to interact with the characters, they still serve as a potential higher authority which gives them caution and judgment from their moral wrongdoings. Before her death, George speaks to Myrtle and tells her “…you might fool me but you couldn’t fool God.” This was his way of warning her to beware as God has always seen and known the sins she’s committed. In a way, George’s character is similar to Gatsby - just like how Gatsby reaches out for the green light in an attempt to reach Daisy, George “stares into the twilight” after stating “God sees everything”, to try and connect with God. Both men desire something physically unattainable. Fitzgerald uses the imagery of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes to tell us God is always watching us with our every action. He reminds us to have moral decency and think before we do or say something. This is an important message today especially for those who get into trouble from acting impulsively.
Through his novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, Fitzgerald aimed to educate the readers on the importance of human morality and the consequences of excessive wealth. The novel was published last century, however, the same messages still apply in our modern society today. Some wealthy people are still hollow and reckless and there are still places like the Valley of Ashes because of over-consumerism. The idea of achieving the American dream and attempting to achieve a ‘perfect’ social status doesn’t apply to everyone in our society just like how it applied to Gatsby. However, the novel’s message is still a good reminder that no one can attain a perfect life, as perfection is subjective and people have different perceptions of the ideal life, therefore, the American dream is an illusion that can never be achieved. It isn’t the key to one’s happiness pursuing the American Dream only leads you to face more personal problems.
In conclusion, I support the statement that great texts use imagery to make us examine ourselves. ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F.Scott Fitzgerald reminds us of the importance of human morality. One doesn’t need to live up to society’s unrealistic expectations to become a happy person. It is important to value how we truly feel and what we truly need to be decent human beings to be truly successful in life. Fitzgerald uses Gatsby to remind us that we are allowed to dream big, however not all dreams are destined to come true as some might be impossible to attain, we just have to face our reality and simply move on when things don’t go our way - there will always be room for new and obtainable goals.