Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hidden Behind Innocence: Symbolism in "The Great Gatsby"

Since its publication in 1925, symbolism has been considered as one of the most important themes in the renowned novel, The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel contains many of these representations which have been given a considerable amount of attention by scholars and experts. The most prominent symbols include the green light in Daisy's dock and the glaring eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. However the true natures of these symbols has been wildly debated. As a part of a group discussion, we have been looking at less prominent and more obscure things that could be viewed as symbols. 

The symbol we found within the pages of the novel is the puppy Tom Buchanan gives Myrtle near the conclusion of the second chapter. When Myrtle asks her lover for a puppy, she asks specifically for a police dog. This is rather ironic, seeing how the police stands for righteousness and justice, qualities that an extramarital affair lacks. The dog's breed, an Airedale terrier, further strengthens the connection to the themes mentioned beforehand. This is due to the fact that this particular breed has been used as a popular police dog since the beginning of the 20th century. As for the puppy itself, it might also be considered pure and innocent, further adding to the irony of the gift.

The relationship between Myrtle and her puppy mirrors that she has with Tom. When she first got the puppy, she already was planning to keep the dog in their NYC apartment, far away from her husband George. Similarly both of them hide their affairs from their respective spouses. Furthermore the way Tom treats her lover brings to mind a master-pet relationship. However this can be seen with both Daisy and Myrtle since he controls them constantly, often showing little regard towards the way he treats them. An example of this is seen at the end of the second chapter when Tom violently attacks Myrtle, breaking her nose, after she drunkenly taunts him with his wife. 

As the reader digests the symbolism behind the puppy, it becomes increasingly clear that the animal also serves as a characterization vehicle. When Myrtle asks the man selling the puppies the sex, Tom barks at her with the phrase "It's a bitch". This simple sentence defines Tom as a character, having a crasse, if not vulgar personality behind his actions and dialogue. While the term he uses to describe the sex is correct, the way he says it brings to mind the vulgar sense of the word.

Besides serving as a characterization vehicle, the puppy also helps the plot unravel and conclude with Gatsby's murder. Tom's lover is killed in a hit-and-run, committed by non other than Daisy. When George scours through Myrtle's belongings he finds a dog collar wrapped in tissue paper. The collar confirms his assumption that Myrtle was indeed cheating on him and leads him to believe the she was killed by her lover. This event leads us to the conclusion that sometimes even the little things in life define the course of destiny.


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