The color red has always been a symbol of sex, sin, passion, ambition, violence, carnage and in the case of “The Great Gatsby”, the downfall of the American dream. Red is used to show an extreme emotion rather than intellectual ideas. Fitzgerald may use this ancient philosophy to show the lack of intellectual action in the mindless pursuit of the American dream. Fitzgerald uses the color of red usually contrasted with the stark whites, yellows, and grays of the novel to demonstrate the tinge of corruption and violence in the realm of the rich.
Although the color red haunts the entire novel there are countless situations in witch the color red is a message to warn those away from chasing their American dream. One of witch is in chapter one when Nick is reminiscing and setting the stage for the upcoming drama of the novel. He mentions these books upon his shelf on banking and investments. He says they shine like “new money” in their colors of red and gold, promising to unfold secrets. We know that gold symbolizes wealth and books the pursuit of knowledge. So in pursuing the American dream which is in many cases is wealth and a better life, you are bound to encounter sin.
He uses it to tell us that any pursuit in the wealth direction will doubtless encounter corruption and sin. He may also use it to show how ambition and wealth go hand in hand, and that the American Dream is a selfish goal to be one of the rich. Gatsby in the novel refers to himself as a collector of jewels, “chiefly rubies” his doing so leads us to the conclusion that he is the holder of much ambition and sin. As he is the main character that has achieved this American dream we can see that he compromised much to do so. When Nick first enters the world of the Buchanan’s he is in awe of the bright red and wealth of the house.
The house is a white house with a red inside. This symbolizes how pure and clean the rich appear on the outside but how twisted and corrupt they are inside. Much like the American dream that is a good bright theory but to reach it you must turn to sin. More frequently the color red is found in the blood and violence that follows through the course of the novel. Many of these references are associated with the human animals that prey on Gatsby like the Hornbeams and the Blackbucks and Beavers and Ferrets and Wolfsheims. More importantly though you must see the violence and blood that follows the actions of the Buchannan.
When Tom breaks Myrtles nose there is a pile of bloody towels on the floor. This foreshadows the assumption about Tom and Daisy made by Nick towards the end of the book in witch he says they are careless people and will always leave others to clean up there messes. This is used to stir up a hatred of the rich and again pull you away from the illusion of an American dream. The sin is again found in the blood of Myrtle as it mingles with the ashes when Daisy runs her over and again when Wilson shoots Gatsby leaving a circle of red in the clear pool water.
As the ashes symbolize moral decay, the death of Myrtle is mingled with the decline of the American dream. She longs to live that ideal life. This is demonstrated by her behavior at the party in New York. She also compromises her morals by sleeping with a married man to achieve her American dream. Thus her death is due to the decline of moral decay. Gatsby’s death is a testimony to the fact that this moral decay not only affects those pursuing it but also those touched by it. Wilson is never a willing participate in the sinful occurrences of the novel.
In fact he is the only good character in the novel, yet he commits the greatest sin of intentional murder. He kills himself since he is the only person who would not be able to live with his sin. Gatsby’s death is paralleled by the death of the American dream and the autumn leaves mixed with blood. Nick at one point in the novel is afraid that when Gatsby learns the truth about Daisy’s nature he will see “what a grotesque thing a rose is. ” In a way Daisy was Gatsby’s American dream. By comparing her to a rose Fitzgerald is indirectly comparing the American dream to a rose. It is bright red, covered in sin and thorns.
It looks beautiful and soft but it is protected by thorns and is in fact a very ugly thing. Another creative use of the color red is in hair color. Myrtle’s sister is a ‘worldly’ girl also in pursuit of the American dream had red hair. This shows us that the sin of the American dream isn’t isolated to the main characters but in fact is very widespread. One of the girls in yellow dresses was playing the piano accompanied by a red haired famous woman singing. It is after the emergence of these two red haired women that some sort of violent accident occurs, weather it is Myrtles broken nose or owl eyes crashed car.
This sends the message that pursuing sin or the American dream can only end badly. Finally when Gatsby is at the Buchannan’s house he is pictured standing in the center of a crimson colored rug. Gatsby is found in the center of the sin and extreme emotion that accompany the “success” of the American dream and the corruption of the rich. Gatsby compromised everything to peruse his love for Daisy. Thus by standing in the center of this sin he has finally reached his dream. However everything goes downhill from there as we find that the once ‘pure’ Daisy has been corrupted by her own wealth and ambition.
Fitzgerald uses the color red to clearly define the downfall of the American dream. He shows that what was once a pure pursuit has become a sinful collection of ambition and compromised morals. He uses subtle hints to warn the reader away from wealth and the downfall it brings. Also by showing us that Daisy and Tom were never punished for their sins we know that this will probably continue and the sin hurts those around it more than the actual participants. Wilson’s needless death and Gatsby’s lack of a funeral pulls you between sympathy and a belief in karma. However one thing is certain. The American Dream will always be drenched in red.