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Essay on Symbolism in 'The Great Gatsby'

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In “The Great Gatsby” movie (2013) the plot was created to be detailed correctly but the presentation of information is greatly shuffled. However, the source is clear. Luhrmann uses his particular visual style, which is very good and polished. In the process of crafting the Great Gatsby essay example, prior research into the subject enriches the analysis. The film turned out more beautiful than it, in theory, should be. Luhrmann’s task was to show a society that is beautiful but has long decayed from the inside, but the movie does not make such an impression. In the film, to convey all the fatality and depth of the situation, the film used a sort of mystical haze and a lot of special effects. For example, the green light is a symbol of the green dollar, which everyone’s hand reaches for naturally. So those who doubt and “look to the side” may expect the fate of “being under the wheels” (shiny as gold) of a car or die from a bullet of a particularly zealous “great” dreamer. The film consists entirely of fantastically beautiful frames, which are set at an extremely high level. More than one hundred million dollars has been invested in the facade of the film, and every cent is visible on the screen. The soundtrack is chosen with great taste, and the drive of sweeping American parties simply cannot but carry away. The first Jay Gatsby party we are shown in the film is almost a shock. The real problem with “The Great Gatsby” is that the film does not at all evoke the same feelings that the book evoked. It lacks the source of energy that fed the book. In the end, it comes to the fact that the movie voices the point of view directly opposite to the one that sounded in the book. There is not that bitterness in the film, not that break. It seems that Luhrmann was simply embarrassed to dump the cruel truth that Fitzgerald brought down on his readers.

Any reader of The Great Gatsby will adopt a vivid picture of the ugliness of the bourgeois world. Fitzgerald wanted to name his novel ‘Among Millionaires and Landfills.’ In this title, the main motives of the work are expressed – the opposition of huge material wealth and the spiritual devastation of those who own them. Fitzgerald is trying to prove that the “American dream” is tragic because its problems are unsolvable. He debunks a popular socio-ethical myth about the achievement of success for everyone and everyone, about the ease of the “way up” in American bourgeois society. Gatsby’s tragedy reflects the deep inner bifurcation of the ‘American dream.’ They can provide valuable insights and help in learning the topic more comprehensively. The origins of this bifurcation go back to the historical past of America, which absorbed both the spirit of freedom and independence, as well as the ideas of material well-being and individualism (Matterson). The book blows with cold and disappointment, terrible loneliness, shattered hopes, and dreams trampled into the mud. He tells things that none of us want to listen to. He says that dreams sometimes do not come true, no matter how bright and noble they may be. That love is blind and cruel. That you can give all the best, but nothing can be achieved. That all efforts cost nothing, and money rules the world. In general, there is too much truth in the novel, from which hands drop. And the Gatsby ending is logical and depressing – the author simply destroys the only positive character by burying his dreams and aspirations (Goldsmith).

Like the book, the entire film is accompanied by the words of narrator Nick Carraway, a direct observer and participant in the events displayed. With the only time difference – if in the book the narrator observes the luxury of nature, the cold of the city, the noise of parties, then in the film he recalls them – his voice-over voice comments and analyzes everything that is happening with words and sentences already familiar from the book. The symbols of deception of hopes and the substitution of values ​​on the screen are also opaque with the same thick and poisonous red thread. The green light on the opposite bank and the blue eyes of Dr. Eklberg on a huge billboard sometimes appear in the frame, then disappear again, leaving a feeling of their understatement, but of excessive significance. This is another reflection of the American dream – so beautiful, but distant, alluring, but empty inside. In one of the shots, Jay Gatsby reaches for a light that flickers far, on the other side of the bay. And in the final shots, remembering Gatsby, Nick again sees him watching the light of a green lantern. This inner indestructible hope became the core of Gatsby’s character, and due to her incredible strength, Nick got such respect for him. The ominous look from under Dr. Ekleburg’s glasses on the half-erased advertising poster is a very strong, but at the same time empty symbol. This view is compared with the eyes of a God who watches what is happening on earth. However, in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald makes it clear that this symbol makes sense only insofar as it is filled with meaning by the people themselves. “The use of green light at the end of a landing stage to signal a romantic reunion is intriguingly similar to the green light at the end of Daisy’s Buchanan’s dock, which becomes a key image in The Great Gatsby” (Samkanashvili 31). Thus, the doctor’s eyes are a symbol of the emptiness and meaninglessness of everything around him. In the same way, other places, objects, and people make sense only because someone fills them with meaning. The American dream is significant only for those who believe in it. New York is a city of hope and success for Nick only as long as he does not lose his faith in people. Daisy is the perfect girl for Gatsby just because he made her so in his dreams.

The ideological and moral pathos of the novel lies in the fact that in the interpretation of ‘dreams’ the author proceeded from the concept of historical regularity. Following this, the figure of the protagonist is set, who appears as if in two dimensions: Gatsby – a romantic, a dreamer who worships beauty and goodness, and at the same time – the bearer of the ideals of a consumer society in all its ostentatious grandeur and splendor. The historical insight and depth of Fitzgerald’s artistic vision as a writer consists in the fact that, unlike Gatsby, he understands the inevitability of the destruction of the “dream”, he understands the reasons for the collapse of illusions. Even the actors are chosen as if book heroes had gained flesh and moved from page to screen. In Carey Mulligan easily recognizes Daisy Buchanan – a woman with a ‘pretty’ and ‘sad’ face. In Joel Egerton – Tom Buchanan, ‘broad-shouldered, thirty-year-old, though, is a brunette, not a blonde, with a firmly defined mouth and rather arrogant manners. In Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay Gatsby himself is just a ragged thirty-something-old whip, distinguished by an almost ridiculous addiction to exquisite turns of speech. Also masterfully and unobtrusively, inconspicuously for the discerning reading reader or just the discerning spectator, Baz Luhrmann fills with the visual side other gaps in the unemotional, as if written in a hurry Fitzgerald novel. Bright and dazzling costumes, rich decoration of estates, luxury, and breadth of festivities in the frame unambiguously emphasize the carelessness and meaninglessness of the lives of people of that era with two bold lines, against which the dreamy essence of Gatsby seems even more paradoxical. Paradoxical in its purity, hope for mutual love, and faith in its fulfillment.

A quick change of general and close-up plans, in turn, creates the impression that we are observing all events from the outside, but at the same time, we are constantly in a close circle of the main characters. And in conjunction with the other smallest details of Luhrmann’s innovation, all this turns an ordinary love story hackneyed with soap operas from mean black words on white pages into a bright highlight of an era. The Great Gatsby movie was shot in 3D. I have a dual attitude to such films. On the one hand, cinema is a sight to behold and it’s not shameful to be bright, on the other hand, I perceive 3D as an attraction that distracts from the content of the film. Right in front of my nose, there is fake snow, fog is swirling, and a giant green hat and a piece of the ear are approaching my eyes. Actors begin to look like dolls because a voluminous large figure with smooth skin resembles a person even less than a two-dimensional image. But in this case, the toy picture on the screen is probably justified, so it contrasts with the real game of DiCaprio, who plays the title role, helping to emphasize the main idea of ​​this image in the director’s interpretation – a real living person among the carnival.

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A significant detail in the novel and the film is the place where the characters live. East Egg, where the Buchanan mansion is located, is a haven of the aristocracy, and wealthy noble families. These people are proud not only of their condition but also of their origin. In contrast, the inhabitants of West Egg are those who instantly became rich after the war, people like Gatsby and his brothers. If we compare the situation in the Buchanan house and Gatsby castle, it becomes obvious that the representatives of the tribal nobility have a taste inherent: the interior, clothes, decorations, a garden – everything that belongs to the Buchanans is elegant. On the contrary, Jay Gatsby sometimes does not know a sense of proportion – he throws parties that are incredible in his wastefulness, buys a mountain of expensive clothes, orders a car of flashy color, and for a meeting with Daisy he strews Nick’s whole house with fresh flowers.

The name of the Fitzgerald novel was understood in different ways. Most critics agreed that it contained irony. Director Luhrmann thinks differently. At the end of the film, storyteller Nick explains why he considers Gatsby great: because he knew how to realize his dreams in life and turn the ideal into the material. In his opinion, this is an extremely caustic quality that makes a person great. The actors diligently perform their roles, there is no lightness, no carelessness, no style, and no gloss. There is no money in Daisy’s voice. She’s cute, but nothing more. Throughout the film, many of the details, at first seemingly insignificant, take on additional meaning and help clarify the essence of The Great Gatsby.

In the best traditions of the classical genre, the emotional experiences of the heroes are shaded by the changing weather. The image of the ocean, separating Gatsby and Daisy, is a kind of echo of the Bunin ocean from ‘The Lord of San Francisco.’ This important detail dooms Gatsby to loneliness and shows the alienness of the heroes to each other. Even the small green light connecting them at the end of the film loses all meaning for Gatsby, fettering the hero into the shackles of reality. The weather in The Great Gatsby is not just a backdrop, but a significant detail that sets the tone for events. Recall that on the day of the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy, it rained heavily over Long Island. Rain symbolizes despair, loss of hope, and Gatsby’s lost faith that Daisy would come to the meeting. However, during their meeting, the rain stops and the sun comes out – a metaphor for renewal, the awakening of love.

Another important, emotionally charged moment in the film – the clash of Gatsby and Tom in the Buchanan house – takes place on an incredibly hot day. The director’s work here is amazing – how masterfully, with the help of colors, intonations, and sounds, the unbearable atmosphere of a hot, stuffy day is conveyed. And in this heat, the passions of the heroes are heating up, a quarrel occurs during which Gatsby loses self-control (Malfait).

Finally, in the finale of The Great Gatsby, the weather sets the tone again: Wilson kills Jay on the first day of autumn when yellow leaves euthanize the cold pool. Autumn is a time of wilting, for Gatsby it means death, for Daisy – the death of their love affair, for Nick – the loss of a loved one, the only one he loved. Phone calls haunt heroes from the very first to the last frames. The way each of them uses the phone characterizes the characters in a certain way. The phone in Buchanan’s house rings alarmingly and gloomily during Nick’s visit – Daisy knows that his lover, Myrtle, is calling Tom. The phone is used in a completely different way in Gatsby’s mansion: he is called to the phone only on business, but we know that these are criminal matters. Finally, the image of a phone call gains the greatest power in the finale of The Great Gatsby. Jay is waiting for a call from Daisy, he is so sure that she will call that he orders her to take the device to the street so as not to miss her call. However, instead of Daisy, Nick calls him – the only one who is worried about the fate of Gatsby. But Gatsby himself will never know this – indirectly, a phone call that lured him out of the pool causes him to die. The only person whose life purpose was not connected with material values ​​is Nick Carraway. He wanted to become a writer, but then other people’s, external values ​​led him astray. In pursuit of wealth, he parted with his dream and was carried away by the luxury and idle life of New York. However, here he also found what put him above the crowd of loafers surrounding him – a friendship with Gatsby, completely disinterested and based on sincere respect. After the death of Gatsby, Nick could not recover for a long time and again find the lost meaning of his existence. But in the finale, we see that Nick ends the novel, dedicated to his dead friend. Thus, the only person whose goals were higher, wider than material acquisitions, was able to realize himself – he became a writer and told the world about who had so much admired him – the Great Gatsby.

In describing the events and characters of the heroes, Fitzgerald had such a sense of novelty and modernity that it affects the reader even now. Everything was the same for them: clothes, thoughts, actions. They were the first generation of a completely new time – the century of jazz. Fitzgerald had such an impression of his era because the time changed dramatically after the First World War: they left the 19th century and returned to the 20th. So, this very feeling of time in the film did not work out. There is jazz, and even modern, so as not to give off mothballs, the costumes and hairstyles correspond to the 1920s, and the feeling that you need to live here and now to the fullest, burn your life, because tomorrow it will be late, characterizing this era between two big wars, no. The collapse of the “dream” and the illusions of Gatsby revealed the moral bankruptcy of not only the “dream” itself but of the whole American society as a whole: a civilization in which spiritual life is completely subordinated to the idea of ​​material well-being cannot be humane. In essence, this is a verdict on the historical fate of the whole country, the ugly present of which has so little to do with the utopian hopes of the past. Gatsby is doomed to death because, in contemporary America, the soulless materialism of tinsel beauty reigns supreme.

Works Cited

  1. Goldsmith, Meredith. ‘White Skin, White Mask: Passing, Posing, and Performing in The Great Gatsby.’ MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.3 (2003): 443-468.
  2. Saakashvili, Maia. “Uses of Symbols and Colors in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Journal of Education, 2017, pp. 31–39.
  3. Matterson, Stephen. “The Great Gatsby and History.” The Great Gatsby, 1990, pp. 68–72., doi:10.1007/978-1-349-20768-8_10.
  4. Malfait, Sarah. “Ghent University Faculty of Arts and Philosophy Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Partners or Rivals? Autobiografiction, the Madness Narrative, and Gender in Save Me the Waltz and Tender Is the Night.” Ghent University Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, 2013.

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