University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Jim Garrett
"The Birthmark" and "The Yellow Wallpaper": Symbols of a Suppressive Social Structure
"The Birthmark" and "The Yellow Wallpaper": Symbols of a Suppressive Social Structure
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" are both stories of men of science trying to help rid their wives of their imperfections. "The Birthmark" follows Aylmer, a scientist disgusted with his beautiful wife for her one imperfection, a tiny hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek. In contrast to "The Birthmark," "The Yellow Wallpaper" follows the wife's perspective; with her husband telling her what is good for her despite her own feelings. She is forced to go against her own wishes and follow his orders. She must not partake in writing and she must endure the presence of the yellow wallpaper despite her hatred for it. "The Birthmark" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" use characterization, symbolism, imagery, and irony to criticize man's attempts to control women through science. In their attempts to control or to "improve" their wives, these stories make the husbands' arrogant efforts their central themes.
Throughout the stories, the husbands repeatedly reassure their wives of things being fine, in an act of defiance against nature as well as an act of denial in value of their wives' thoughts. The authors characterize the husbands to be controlling and condescending. Aylmer carries excessive pride and determination in eliminating his wife Georgiana's birthmark from her visage. Aylmer reassures Georgiana, "'Fear not, dearest!' exclaimed he. 'Do not shrink from me! Believe me, Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection, since it will be such a rapture to remove it'" (Hawthorne, 5). Aylmer speaks of his wife's small birthmark like it is a monster in the same realm as the devil himself, and he speaks of destroying this monster as though he is hunting a dangerous beast. He forgets that in all of his speeches about the beast, he is talking about his wife, reducing her value down to the birthmark, letting it overshadow every other beauty Georgiana possesses. Aylmer goes on to say "'I would have you consider how trifling, in comparison, is the skill requisite to remove this little hand'" (6). Aylmer not only pushes Georgiana's spirit and confidence down but also boosts his own ego simultaneously. The erasure of the birthmark will be his triumph. Aylmer's quest for purifying his wife is symbolic of the gender dynamics during the time Hawthorne wrote "The Birthmark." Specifically, Aylmer obsesses over the smallest flaw in his otherwise perfect wife; perfect in both beauty and character as well. However, Georgiana never complains of any of Aylmer's flaws. Alymer and Georgiana's dynamic is very clearly symbolic of the patriarchal time.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator finds herself constantly belittled by her loving husband, John, who, just like Aylmer, is a man of science; though John is a medical doctor, while Aylmer is an alchemist. John also believes in science, and places all of his faith in it (like Aylmer), despite the narrator's protests. The narrator writes, "John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith… John is a physician… perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick!" (Gilman, 302). Once again, the wife's own feelings and thoughts are discarded in favor of the husband's supposed wisdom and intelligence. As the story progresses, John seems to belittle the narrator more and more; starting with vetoing her requests to remove the yellow wallpaper. The narrator recalls, "He said that after the wallpaper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on" (304). What started as a simple rejection of requests becomes a strange delusion: "'What is it, little girl?' he said. 'Don't go walking about like that—you'll get cold'" (308). John is literally calling his wife a little girl, he is talking to her as if he is her parent. Gilman writes John's dialogue to be parental to represent the dynamic of men and women. At the time, women were not much more than housekeepers, not valued for their minds, and not allowed to pursue passions outside of the domestic sphere. The restrictions placed on women during this time is comparable to a parent placing restrictions on his or her child, with rules like bedtime, not getting out of bed at night, not crossing the street alone, etc. Gilman is arguing that women are treated as children despite being fully grown adults.
Despite the efforts of both Aylmer and John, Georgiana and the narrator's health appears to decline throughout the stories. The decline in the wives' health is symbolic of their waning spirit because of the limits placed on them by the patriarchal society. In regards to Georgiana's condition, Hawthorne writes, "'Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer,' observed his wife, 'I might wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortality itself in preference to any other mode. Life is but a sad possession to those who have attained precisely the degree of moral advancement at which I stand. Were I weaker and blinder it might be happiness. Were I stronger, it might be endured hopefully. But, being what I find myself, methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die'" (9). Aylmer has taken Georgiana, a happy, youthful adult with so much to look forward to, and has demeaned her to a suicidal-like state where the only thing she values of herself is her beauty, caring only about removing a tiny birthmark. Georgiana's change in values corresponds to the general devaluing of women due to their beauty.
In the case of "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman writes with imagery having the narrator describe the wallpaper as including a "recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down" (305). It is with these vivid images that the author can express how real the narrator's hallucinations are to her. The narrator now is seeing the beginnings of human figures within the wallpaper. She hasn't gone insane yet; however, it is undeniable that she is seeing things that she didn't see before. In both "The Birthmark" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" these scenes are symbolic of the two possible results of what would happen when women would disagree with their husbands. The first option, submission to the husband's opinion, like Georgiana, They lose any self-worth, with their purpose limited to the only role of being the wife to their husbands. The second option, like the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper," because of the opposition, they further entertain their own opinion, with the narrator imagining hideous figures in the wallpaper to justify her disgust of it.
In what can only be addressed as the darkest of ironies: despite all of Aylmer and John's efforts to "fix" their wives, the exact opposite result takes effect. In the case of Aylmer and Georgiana, Hawthorne writes, "'My poor Aylmer,' she repeated, with a more than human tenderness, 'you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!'" (11). Hawthorne includes the "with a more human tenderness" detail to indicate that Georgiana has finally come back to her senses and has found solace in the realization that she was fine the way she was prior to drinking the concoction. Georgiana's death along with the erasure of her birthmark are both related: the birthmark is the symbol for Georgiana's few undesirable qualities as well as her humanity. Despite her having so few flaws, Aylmer wanted perfection, but for Aylmer to erase anything about Georgiana which he didn't want from her would be to erase her character, her spirit, and her soul. In the case of the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper," The narrator's perception of the wallpaper devolves from a "revolting" and "smouldering unclean yellow" (304), to an appearance like "a woman stooping down and creeping about" (307), to going fully insane, believing that she herself escaped from that wallpaper exclaiming, "'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'" (313). It is important to note that no one named Jane is ever mentioned prior to this point in the story, leading many to theorize that Jane is actually the narrator's name. If this theory is entertained it is reasonable to believe that the room with the yellow wallpaper is actually a symbol for the suppression of womens' freedom of thought and intellectual activity. Jane is actually the narrator's facade that was created by the years of gender rules to which the narrator was forced to conform. The narrator tore down the wallpaper that had symbolically shackled her to play the part of the domestic wife.
These husband doctors are not really good doctors or husbands for their wives. They arrogantly bend their wives' wills and ultimately make things worse. This dynamic is symbolic of the misogynistic attitudes of the patriarchal society of the 19th century. Not only do these stories use characterization and symbolism to reveal the effects of male control over female will, but they also use imagery and irony to depict the womens' reactions. By showcasing the decline of the wives' health, the author conveys to readers to be better people in their treatment of others than the people who reinforced the standard 19th-century misogynistic gender dynamic.
Loving in Darkness
Loving in Darkness
In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Linda urges her sons to consider Willy's plight and to think about the immense pressure on his mind, while in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Mama urges her daughter, Beneatha, to love her brother Walter at his lowest point and to consider the experience he has had. In both Death of a Salesman and Raisin in the Sun, through Linda and Mama, authors Arthur Miller and Lorraine Hansberry urge audiences to reconsider what makes them happy: the pursuit of the American dream, or their loved ones who they already have. Miller and Hansberry implore audiences not to make the human mistake of hungering for more money, more assets, and more status in the pursuit of their American dream. Instead, audiences should appreciate what money can't buy—true love; for a big house with no loving family is emptier than a small house full of love, and a nice car will not get any use for long road trips to visit family who live afar if there is no family to visit. It is family and unity that must come first.
In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Biff and Happy don't seem to really care about their father Willy, abandoning him while he is in the bathroom at a restaurant where they are supposed to be treating him to a nice meal. Instead of sharing that meal, Biff and Happy decided to go out into the city with some ladies they didn't know for longer than twenty minutes. Linda recognizes this brutal truth. It is a painful sight for Linda to see, as she asks,
"...what goes through a man's mind, driving seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? Why shouldn't he talk to himself? Why? When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it's his pay? How long can that go on? How long? You see what I'm sitting here and waiting for? And you tell me he has no character? The man who never worked a day but for your benefit? When does he get the medal for that? Is this his reward—to turn around at the age of sixty-three and find his sons, who he loved better than his life, one a philandering bum… To Biff: and you! What happened to the love you had for him? You were such pals! How you used to talk to him on the phone every night! How lonely he was till he could come home to you!" (Miller, 57).
Linda says it best herself. Willy's American dream was for his sons to have the best lives possible; to give them the best upbringing possible. However, Biff and Happy didn't really make it as self-sufficient men. Instead, they are once again living with their father, who also is running into financial issues, constantly reminding him that his American dream never found its fulfillment because they never became anything. Arthur Miller uses this speech to make a statement about being there for a loved one when they are having a hard time. It was easy for Biff and Happy to have some fun and go out with those girls, but it would have been more meaningful to Willy, Linda, and themselves if they had stayed with Willy and treated him to dinner.
In Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Beneatha and her brother Walter are always in disagreement, whether it is about where their father's insurance money should go or their identity as African-Americans. When Walter loses their remaining insurance money in a scam, Beneatha disowns him, declaring that he is no brother of hers and that there is nothing left of Walter to love. Upon hearing this, Mama makes the point that,
"There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning—because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is" (Hansberry, 848).
Mama's emphasis on empathy is apparent as she clarifies what love is: to love someone when the hard times hit. Walter's American dream is, as the man of the Younger family household, to provide for his family so they won't be stuck in a small apartment, so they will be able to pay for Beneatha's education, so Ruth can comfortably raise Travis and their expected baby, and so Mama can spend her elderly years relaxed and fulfilled. However, Walter put all of his dreams into the hands of a con artist and lost their money. Walter has no escape from this reality: the reality that Beneatha can't go to medical school, that Ruth can't easily raise their two children, and that Walter cannot escape being the servant of another man. Instead, all four of them will have to work hard to achieve their dreams. Mama knows that Walter is well aware of the mistake he has made, but Mama also knows that there is nothing they can do to change the loss of that money. Mama is telling Beneatha all of this because the only thing worse than losing that money would be losing that money and Walter. Walter is still their family and he made a mistake, but to disown him would be to treat him the same way the rest of the world has treated him.
In both A Raisin in the Sun and Death of a Salesman, the male protagonists, Walter and Willy, respectively, are watching the consequences of their failures and waking up from their American dreams. Hansberry and Miller want readers to understand in these stories the effect of being there for someone when they realize the American dream is just a dream; that American society lives in the paradox of claiming that hard work pays off while also allowing families like the Lomans and the Youngers to struggle and crumble despite their best efforts. In A Raisin in the Sun, Mama tells Beneatha to recognize the path someone has traveled leading to the present moment—the past that defines them. Similarly, Linda begs Biff and Happy to consider the isolation Willy feels as he drives hundreds of miles only to not make any money for his family; despite his hard work, he does not reap any award like the American dream prophecies. Linda not only recognizes Willy's current situation but she also points out Biff and Happy's situations, Happy being a "philandering bum" and Biff having become nothing and having lost his love for his father. Willy himself believes that Biff didn't settle into a career just to spite him, exclaiming, "I want you to know, on the train, in the mountains, in the valleys, wherever you go, that you cut down your life for spite!" (129). Biff's and Happy's situations are important to recognize because Willy very likely feels guilt that, once again, the American dream of working hard—In Willy's case working hard to provide good resources for his sons to have good lives—does not actually always pay off. In fact, Death of a Salesman and Raisin in the Sun depict just how much the wheel of fortune plays into the lives of American families. In the case of Death of a Salesman, Biff and Happy never really had anything particularly wrong with them, perhaps aside from Biff's stealing a suit (131), but they aren't special either. Biff even declares, "Pop! I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you!" (132). What Biff verbalizes is what Willy can't accept; based on their experience, the American dream is a scam. In A Raisin in the Sun, Walter works hard too. Like Willy, Walter works hard and has dreams, but he feels limited by his family, saying, "Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs" (794). Like Biff being a dime a dozen, Walter feels that the world thinks he'd be better off eating his breakfast quietly than to dream. Even Mama concedes through the words of her late husband and Walter's father, "Seem like God didn't see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams—but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile" (800). The Loman and the Younger families live in a despair that despite their hardest work, they can not crawl, climb, or claw their way towards their dreams.
The tragic difference between A Raisin in the Sun and Death of a Salesman is that Walter and Willy reach different conclusions. Willy concludes that through his death and the insurance money that will come from it, he will be able to better support his family in death than in life. Walter on the other hand decides not to sell out his race—virtually selling his soul—to gain money to pay for Beneatha's college education and for his own business start-up. Instead, he embraces moving into a white neighborhood; choosing to face racial discrimination as well as rejecting the financial reward for not moving. Authors Lorraine Hansberry and Arthur Miller plead the same case with two sides of the same coin; the happy ending and the sad ending. Having dreams is fine, but having loved ones to struggle with through the hard times is better than any dream of success. Loving in darkness is easier for the soul than loneliness in the summer clouds.
The Soothing Savage
The Soothing Savage
Before the events of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, Ishmael is an ordinary Christian man brought up with the racist bigoted values common of most people of his time—who would say Christian men are better than all others and that anyone who isn't Christian must be a savage, a barbarian, or a cannibal—but Ishmael opens his mind to the possibility that there is some civility even in men of the most barbarous countenances like Queequeg. It is in his use of metaphor, simile, comparison, allusion, synecdoche, and diction that Herman Melville projects his revelations of the savage world's hidden sophistication, the Christian world's unspoken closed-mindedness, and the two worlds' relationship and what it should become through Ishmael's voice.
Ishmael initially assumes Queequeg to be a savage cannibal. From Ishmael's perspective (and from most modern people's perspectives), a man carrying decapitated heads to be sold is a very frightening image. However, Queequeg subverts Ishmael's expectations and first impressions when he shows himself to be a kinder, more compassionate cannibal. Melville develops Queequeg's character through synecdoche, simile, allusion, comparison, and diction to depict Queequeg as a compassionate man with a kind heart and a good philosophy of life. After his closer observation after their rocky first encounter, Ishmael develops a certain amount of empathy for Queequeg, as he recollects, "With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart; and in his large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold, there seemed tokens of a spirit that would dare a thousand devils" (Melville 51). On a first read or even preliminary examination of these lines, readers may think nothing deeper is presented in this excerpt than a brief description of Queequeg's visage. However, Melville cleverly uses synecdoche to strip Queequeg of any of his racial attributes and to have him judged solely by character using Queequeg's heart as the representation of him as a person. Ishmael then controversially deems Queequeg to be a man with a good heart despite his savage appearance. Melville tactically uses synecdoche to humanize Queequeg in order to try and open audience members' preconceived notions to give the 'savage' a chance to prove himself of quality character. Upon a closer examination, an astonished Ishmael discovers that Queequeg resembles George Washington if he were "cannibalistically developed" (Melville 51). In comparing his appearance to George Washington, Ishmael subtly indicates that Queequeg emits the same aura as the great revolutionary and founding father; Queequeg shares attributes with President Washington such as majesty and great dependability—with the President being the General who led the Revolution and Queequeg being a great harpooneer and brother's keeper. Both figures possess great physical abilities as well as mental strategic skills and sophistication. Queequeg's sophistication becomes clear following Ishmael's realization of Queequeg's resemblance to President Washington; Ishmael anecdotally concludes that "savages are strange beings; at times you do not know exactly how to take them. At first they are overawing; their calm self-collectedness of simplicity seems a Socratic wisdom" (Melville 51). Ishmael's diction at first seems to criticize Queequeg but concedes that he envies Queequeg's seemingly simple yet satisfying philosophy of life. Ishmael alluding to Socrates also demonstrates the awe he feels when observing how Queequeg lives his life, for Socrates is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Ishmael then uses a simile to demonstrate how impressive Queequeg is, saying "Here was a man some twenty thousand miles from home…thrown among people as strange to him as though he were in the planet Jupiter; and yet he seemed entirely at his ease; preserving the utmost serenity; content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. Surely, this was a touch of fine philosophy; though no doubt he had never heard there was such a thing as that. But, perhaps, to be true philosophers, we mortals should not be conscious of so living or so striving" (Melville 51). Ishmael's comparison of Queequeg being a misplaced Pacific Islander in the white man's world to that of being on another planet emphasizes just how different are the world of Ishmael and the world of Queequeg. Such a comparison further highlights just how impressed Ishmael is with Queequeg's calmness. Interestingly, Ishmael's description of Queequeg is somewhat condescending when he doubts that Queequeg has ever even heard of something such as philosophy, but he quickly shifts to express a reiterated sort of envy for Queequeg's seemingly simplistic philosophy. Ishmael's shift in perception of Queequeg's philosophy reflects a greater issue of the white Christian world at this time, with said Christians being too quick to dismiss the ideas and practices of people of color as just being silly buffoonery; Ishmael realizes this mistake in his thinking and comes to benefit from changing his outlook to be more open-minded of other peoples' ways of life and comes to find himself more comfort than he found with his previous way of life. Herman Melville wants readers to see Ishmael's experience as an example of why savages should be given a chance to be treated as equals.
With Queequeg's exhibition of his way of life, Ishmael finds himself inspired by the savage. Using metaphor and comparison, Melville intends to relay a message through Ishmael's interactions with Queequeg; savages are just as much people as white Christians, and they have attributes that should be respected and ideas that should be implemented into a diverse society. While observing Queequeg, Ishmael confesses, "I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very indifference speaking a nature in which there lurked no civilized hypocrisies and bland deceits…I'll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy" (Melville 52). Ishmael isn't physically melting into the ground. However, he feels a melting in his character from the epiphany that every bigoted thing he knows has turned out to be false. It is fair to say that Queequeg is a stereotype-defying character. A man who is supposed to be a savage cannibal is somehow 'soothing' Ishmael, showing him how to live and how to forgive the world. Ishmael's phrase 'soothing savage' is oxymoronic for how can a savage—a term which is defined as violent, brutal, and uncontrollable—also be soothing? Ishmael calling Queequeg a soothing savage indicates the very moment Ishmael begins to put into words his true understanding of Queequeg. Perhaps in relation to his earlier comparison of Socrates, Queequeg has fully exemplified to Ishmael how to live happily stoically, hence the letting go of resentment for the world. Queequeg's description by Ishmael further supports the theory he is a stoic, for Queequeg's indifference to the things he cannot control epitomizes stoicism. It is also important to note that Ishmael recognizes the flaws in his own culture when he mentions the hollow Christian courtesies. Ishmael determines Queequeg to be much more genuine and frank than Christians. Ishmael continues his metaphor of melting the ice of the soul when he says, "If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan's breast, this pleasant genial smoke we had, soon thawed it out, and left us cronies" (Melville 52). In this excerpt, Queequeg's actions indicate that while he is not in need of broadening his social circles, he is not against friendship. Ishmael even goes as far as to compare Queequeg's dedication to his friends to a married couple's dedication to one another. Melville writes, "How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other…Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair" (53). Initially, Ishmael's comparison might be interpreted as perhaps homosexual. However, Ishmael makes it clear that their platonic friendship is of the closeness of a married couple. In any case, Queequeg is a man who on first impressions appears savage and simple-minded, but is actually very sophisticated in his philosophies and his emotions. Queequeg further proves his good-heartedness when he saves the life of a sailor. Melville writes, "The poor fellow whom Queequeg had handled so roughly, was swept overboard…Queequeg, stripped to the waist, darted from the side with a long living arc of a leap. For three minutes or more he was seen swimming like a dog, throwing his long arms straight out before him, and by turns revealing his brawny shoulders through the freezing foam…Queequeg now took an instant's glance around him…dived down and disappeared. A few minutes more, and he rose again, one arm still striking out, and with the other dragging a lifeless form. The boat soon picked them up. The poor bumpkin was restored. All hands voted Queequeg a noble trump; the captain begged his pardon" (59). In the case of the overboard bumpkin sailor, everyone assumed Queequeg to be an oaf. However, once again, Queequeg proves everyone to be deluded by their preconceived notions of the Pacific Islander. Queequeg further proves himself to be a man with a good heart when he declares, "It's a joint-stock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians" (Melville 59). Queequeg actually has a selfless perspective of the world; from his perspective, he believes people should help one another. In other words, if one sees a person in need of help, Queequeg believes that said person has a responsibility to help that person, even if that person in need hates their savior for his or her skin color or ethnicity.
Herman Melville's Moby-Dick is a piece truly ahead of its time. Queequeg breaks many of the stereotypes of what a tribal person should be. While he is supposed to act as a savage cannibal, Queequeg actually exercises great empathy and compassion for all people. Melville uses allusion, comparison, simile, metaphor, diction, and synecdoche subtly and explicitly to send a message: non-Christians are humans too. While Melville's career would never recover from the controversial statements made in Moby-Dick including that of Queequeg's goodness and deserving respect, his legacy will live on forever for being courageous enough to make a statement against the Christian world's deluded self-image and racism. Melville's open-mindedness was a step in the process of seeing each other as equals that the world is still working on to this day.
What matters in an individual's life? F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby asks readers to ponder this question. Throughout the story, Nick observes the world around him, often describing colors. Fitzgerald depicts the wealth and materialism of the Twenties with red and gold or yellow. He often describes genuine truths of dreams and aspirations with colors of white and blue, yet associates Gatsby with a state of pink and chasing after green, blending of the two sides; red and white, blue and yellow. Gatsby's spectrum of values is used by Fitzgerald to warn readers of the corruptive potential of chasing fickle dreams.
During the Roaring Twenties, dubbed the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald, materialism thrived in America, but Fitzgerald found all that glittered was not gold, but an empty facade missing a deeper purpose than status. Nick observes that everything that is superficial, materialistic, and fake is red and gold. Early on, Nick recalls, "I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Mæcenas knew" (Fitzgerald, 4). The books holding the secrets to Carraway's fortune are basked in red and gold, giving Nick the secrets of mythological characters of unimaginable wealth. When Nick describes Tom and Daisy Buchanan's house, he observes, "Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay" (6). It is important to note Tom's insistence on Nick admiring his wealth, asking for reassurance of his status. Tom's home reflects his materialism, just like Nick's red-gold books housing secrets to his wealth. Fitzgerald writes, "One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song" (51). Nick only briefly mentions the fame of the chorus lady, however, it is a subtle but subliminal message to readers, making them already associate red with grandiose wealth and fame. Gatsby's tragic demise is described by Fitzgerald as "The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of a compass, a thin red circle in the water" (162). As Gatsby's life flows from his body through his blood, so does everything within it. Gatsby's clothes, Gatsby's golden yellow car, Gatsby's estate are no longer his. Gatsby's golden wealth flows away from him just as his red blood does the same. Gatsby's death begs readers to ask about the value of material possessions that can not be brought with one's soul after death. Readers must ask themselves Fitzgerald's question: What does one value within his or her life? Fitzgerald hopes readers will understand that red and golden material possessions are not what should be valued. Instead, readers should value the genuine emotions they experience in their lives.
While materialism is rampant during the Roaring Twenties, that is not to say there weren't genuine dreamers wishing for a fulfilling life. White and blue are often associated with these colors in The Great Gatsby. First and foundationally is Nick, a reliable narrator who at times allows his biases to slip out. Nick presents himself at Gatsby's party "Dressed up in white flannels…" (41). It is important to first establish that Nick in fact understands the genuine dream of someone like Gatsby and is not another party-goer immersed in hedonism and superficial facades. In Gatsby's case, his life-changing experience with Dan Cody started with his acquiring new clothing: "A few days later he took him to Duluth and bought him a blue coat, six pair of white duck trousers, and a yachting cap" (100). Gatsby learns what he wants to become and what his standards for women are under Dan Cody. Gatsby learns these things in his jacket of truth and white trousers of dreams. Gatsby again finds his true dreams in a white color during his 1917 autumn night stroll with Daisy. Fitzgerald writes,
"...One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone… His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God" (110).
Gatsby finds his true dreams under the illumination of white moonlight and face to face with Daisy's white face. Fitzgerald has established that Gatsby finds his dreams in the color white. Blue is found to be representative of an oppressed genuine dream. For example, Nick finds himself distracted for a moment at a party: "The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean—then the shrill voice of Mrs. McKee called me back into the room" (34). Nick's fascination with the blue sky being thrown aside by another superficial person can not be coincidental. Nick found a moment of genuine emotion in his fascination with the blue sky, and his fascination was thrown aside by being brought back into the moment at the party. About Gatsby, Fitzgerald writes, "In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars" (39). Gatsby's blue lawn is being used by complete strangers as a party ground when in reality those are the grounds where Gatsby envisions his future life and memories with Daisy and their future family. The most striking example of blue symbolizing extinguishing hope is Wilson: "He was a blond, spiritless man, anæmic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes" (25). Wilson doesn't have much of anything, he does not thrive in wealth and he does not have a faithful or productive wife. He does not have a happy life. However, within his eyes are that blue hope. He wants to live a good life. Initially, Fitzgerald's reasoning for the use of blue and white for purity may be unclear. However, blue and white are generally associated with goodness and purity in media and basic human emotional responses in American culture.
While Gatsby wears blue and white with Dan Cody, He wears pink in the present day. On top of that, Gatsby sees white moonlight when he first kissed Daisy but sees a green light at the end of Daisy's dock in the present day. Pink is the blend of red and white, and green is the blend of blue and yellow. Both blends signify both wealth and genuine dreams. Fitzgerald writes, "'An Oxford man!' He was incredulous. 'Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit'" (122). In this scene, Tom Buchanan is in disbelief that Gatsby could have gone to Oxford because he wears a pink suit. However, it is revealed that Gatsby really did go to Oxford for a brief time. Despite going to such a prestigious school, Gatsby remains humble, causing his suit to be pink as he is a blend of prestige and purity exercised through humility. With Daisy, Fitzgerald writes, "The rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted in the west, and there was a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea 'Look at that,' she whispered, and then after a moment: 'I'd like to just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around'" (94). Gatsby's relationship with pink is once again demonstrated when Daisy envisions pushing him around in those clouds, or in other words, living in Gatsby's dream of white supported by his red and gold wealth. Gatsby is wealthy enough that he and Daisy could live in luxury and paradise as if they are floating on a cloud of ease. A question to ponder is whether Gatsby wearing pink represents a facade of materialism, in which he only pretends to be immersed in his luxury, or if Gatsby has truly if only partially, succumbed to materialism.
Gatsby also sees a green light, reaching out to it as a dream of his. Fitzgerald writes, "I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it… Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year receded before us" (180). It is definitively established by Nick that the green light represented the unreachable dream that all people wish to obtain. The details of Gatsby's dream are why the light is green and not white or blue. Perhaps a large part of Gatsby's dream still is his romance with Daisy and he has a lot of wealth equating to that love, like two large buckets of equal amounts of red and white or blue and yellow paint mixing together. On the other hand, perhaps Gatsby's white dream has not increased as he accumulated wealth, but it has instead been muddled into a pink color and green light by his red and gold wealth. Although Gatsby loves Daisy in 1917, he has become deluded of what Daisy is to him presently. His memory of her is not her. Gatsby has fallen in love not with Daisy, but with the idea of falling in love.
F. Scott Fitzgerald did not write The Great Gatsby just to tell the tragic story of the rise and fall of one man, but to tell the story of the rise and fall of an entire society's values. Fitzgerald, through Nick, expresses his dismay for the hedonistic, materialistic, and superficial ocean of people that drown out the good people. To have a pure dream in this world, more specifically a dream that involves finding genuine love is not beneficial. To find a genuine person is to find a needle in a haystack. Gatsby thought he found his needle; he was wrong. Gatsby had his revelation of truth as his red blood flowed away. Fitzgerald wants The Great Gatsby to be a warning for idealists and romantics, and as an effort to make more people recognize their materialistic tendencies. After reading this essay, readers must ask themselves what matters to them.