“There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other. With little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water.” (Fitzgerald, pg. 162)
Symbols grow from the images and descriptions within a text. There is a literal thing, such as “water” “drain” “wind” and “circle.” Each one of these things is described: the water is “fresh” and “scarcely corrugated” while the drain is “at the other” end of the pool. The wind is blowing “little gusts” and the circle is “red.” But all these literal images are also metaphors, when taken within the overall passage, because “the context provided by the text…helps us to figure out a symbol’s meaning.” (Tyson, pg. 136)
Water can be interpreted as a symbol for life, since it is something needed by all living creatures in order to survive. It can also be seen as a symbol for rebirth, like in baptisms. In this case, the water in the pool is the symbol of Gatsby’s life. It’s being moved by the smallest of whims (the little wind gusts) and has all sorts of debris floating in it, bumping together, and bouncing off of each other, changing direction. The smallness of each of the influence factors, the barely there waves, the tiny wind movements, and the barest touch of leaves, indicates that it only takes a tiny bit to drastically change a life.
The red circle at the end of the passage also indicates life, but in a different way. First, the circle itself is a symbol for finality, commitment, and continuation. Think of wedding rings, unfertilized mammal eggs, and McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. They all have one thing in common, they are round. Round or circle was/is also the symbol for the sun, the bringer of life because, frankly, without sunlight we can’t have food. Without food, we die. Which brings us back to the red part of the circle. Red means stop, blood, life and its ending. Red indicates danger, sickness, embarrassment, and is also the color of anger.
So we have these two symbols of life, water and the circle, being manipulated by the fickly wind. The circle is red, indicating that there is something wrong with it. The water is fluid, malleable, yet unable to be completely compressed without freezing (stopping all movement, and movement indicates life as well.)These symbols point squarely towards a theme: That life is precious, capricious, and finite. We must do the best we can with the time that we have because we have no idea how much of it has been allotted to us, and we have no idea what direction we might be blown.
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1953. Print. 14 July 2015.
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today 3rd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.