The theme of loneliness is addressed throughout The Great Gatsby from the very beginning. The book is able to portray this sense of isolationism through its word choices used to describe certain characters. Even inanimate objects or the weather evokes a sense of sadness. The characters have something about them whether it is the words that they use, their reactions to life, and even the way that they carry themselves that points to their loneliness.
Loneliness and sadness in general is found as a distinct theme in the book, especially through the use of color. The words “gray”, “ash”, and “cement” are all colors used related to gray, a color associated with depression and emptiness. The color gray exudes a melancholy tone within the text. Some of the things that are mentioned as being gray are “upholstery” (27), and an “old man” (27). The narrator of the story, Nick Carraway is being shown as if he is seeing the world in gray, which can portray his loneliness. The reader can see the world through his eyes, his lonely eyes. Nick says, “Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window after all” (14). From the beginning of the novel, the reader can see that Nick has a distorted view of the world. He doesn’t want to see the whole picture, only a part of it. He also also doesn’t seem to think details and outside factors are important and he would rather stay a spectator and that he would rather stay a spectator, as implied when he says “from a… window”. This loneliness is also said directly in the book when Nick himself says, “I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others” (56). Nick is so lonely that he even feels the loneliness in others.
Nick is a person who feels so utterly alone that anyone will do, even if he doesn’t actually want to be with that person. This is shown later on in the text when Nick compares himself to Gatsby and Tom stating that he is jealous of the fact that they each have someone and he is trying to trick himself into believing he does by getting closer to Jordan. Nick says, “I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs, and so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms” (80). He doesn’t have anyone who he actually loves or a connection to anyone so he tries to pretend by putting up a facade of a relationship with Jordan by constantly trying to be with her. He needs this closeness, this intimacy, or the illusion of it.
The character of Daisy Buchanan also undergoes loneliness. This is seen most clearly when she describes the day Pammy, her daughter, was born, “I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling… I turned my head and wept” (17). Though she is married, her husband, Tom, constantly cheated on her since the beginning of their relationship and doesn’t hide this from anybody. At this point in the book, Tom didn’t even show up to the hospital for Pammy’s birth. Daisy doesn’t love Tom, yet she yearns for something else to keep her from stopping to feel lonely. She is alone at home and within her family and friends, she has no one to confide in. When Nick says that he “followed Daisy around a chain of connecting verandas” (16) he is describing his and Daisy’s isolation. By using the word “chain” it implies that the characters of Daisy and Nick feel like they are stuck where they are in their lives. This metaphorical chain is holding them back from escaping their lonely reality.
Similarly, Gatsby, even though he is a rich and prosperous businessman, he also experiences loneliness. This is clearly shown when Nick first sees Gatsby “stretching his arms out toward the dark water… the only thing to be seen in his gaze was a single green light, minute and far away” (20-21). This green light is later shown to be symbolizing Daisy, the long lost love of Gatsby. He is portrayed in this quote as reaching for something that he is unable to hold onto. During Gatsby’s party, Nick notices how “girls were swooning… but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link” (50). Nick feels Gatsby’s loneliness, and knows how it feels to be alone, and is able to feel empathy for him. Nick sees the love and acceptance that he was seeking in the smile of Gatsby, a stranger to him at the time. Nick says that Gatsby’s smile,
“It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it … it faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey “(48).
At the end of Gatsby’s party, as everyone is leaving, Nick observes that, “a sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell” (55). The guests are leaving so the illusion of happiness is no longer seen. There is so much sadness coming off of Gatsby, that even Nick could feel all his sadness as it it visually manifested itself into the air. During a drive with Gatsby, Gatsby says to Nick, “I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me” (67). Gatsby doesn’t have many friends and doesn’t really try to make any, he just tries to forget the somber things that have happened in his life.
In this book the characters are all temporary to each other and no one shows any seriousness enough with each other to stay permanently together. The quote, “People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away” (37) seems to best describe the situation. It shows that each of the characters is lonely, that they find and lose people,only to realize they are right next to them. The characters lost faith in each other since they don’t know if they are staying there or not. The characters can be “[decomposing] apathetically … all afternoon” (29) in a room full of people with no one to realize it. They are each, even in the company of others, utterly and truly lonely.