Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Throughout the novel, places and settings epitomize the various aspects of the 1920s American society that Fitzgerald depicts. East Egg represents the old aristocracy, West Egg the newly rich, the valley of ashes the moral and social decay of America, and New York City the uninhibited, amoral quest for money and pleasure. Additionally, the East is connected to the moral decay and social cynicism of New York, while the West (including Midwestern and northern areas such as Minnesota) is connected to more traditional social values and ideals. Nick’s analysis in Chapter 9 of the story he has related reveals his sensitivity to this dichotomy: though it is set in the East, the story is really one of the West, as it tells how people originally from west of the Appalachians (as all of the main characters are) react to the pace and style of life on the East Coast.


As in much of Shakespeare’s work, the weather in The Great Gatsby unfailingly matches the emotional and narrative tone of the story. Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion begins amid a pouring rain, proving awkward and melancholy; their love reawakens just as the sun begins to come out. Gatsby’s climactic confrontation with Tom occurs on the hottest day of the summer, under the scorching sun (like the fatal encounter between Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet). Wilson kills Gatsby on the first day of autumn, as Gatsby floats in his pool despite a palpable chill in the air—a symbolic attempt to stop time and restore his relationship with Daisy to the way it was five years before, in 1917.


In The Great Gatsby, the recurring use of color plays a role in assigning subtle meaning and connotation to people and objects. Gold makes many appearances, often symbolizing true wealth and privilege. Characters like Daisy, Jordan, and Tom are often clothed in gold, surrounded by gold, or even described as golden themselves. Meanwhile, Gatsby is associated with the color yellow—or, fake gold. No matter how materially wealthy Gatsby is, his money is not generational, so he will never truly belong to the old money crowd of East Egg. Other colors make notable appearances as well, such as the sad, somber blue of Gatsby’s estate and the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. But, of course, the green light remains the most recognizable use of color in the novel. Green is often a symbol of greed and envy, so it seems fitting that it is associated with Gatsby’s yearning for an ultra-wealthy society that will never accept him. However, green is also the color of life and vitality. Gatsby’s belief in the green light is not as simple as plain greed. It is the entire purpose behind his existence—the hope that he will one day have the life and love he has worked tirelessly to achieve.