Heat as a Symbol in The Great Gatsby
Symbolism plays an important role in any novel of literary merit. In his novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald displays a superior use of symbols such as color, light, and heat. Fitzgerald’s superior use of heat as a symbol is the focus of this essay.
“When F. Scott Fitzgerald turns on the heat in Gatsby, he amplifies a single detail into an element of function and emphasis that transforms neutral landscapes into oppressive prisms” (Dyson 116). Through these prisms, which distort and color the lives of Fitzgerald's characters, we see why human's elations are, as Nick Carraway describes them, "shortwinded". Heat is the antithesis of Jay Gatsby. It is symptomatic of his undoing, his nemesis. As he suited up in his cool demeanor time and time again, perhaps we should have guessed that his coldly methodical plan to restore the past would end up, in the sizzling heat of a showdown, “as useless as one of the spent match-heads Daisy flings so carelessly after lighting a cigarette” (Dyson 121).
From midafternoon at the Buchanan palace to twilight at the Plaza Hotel, Fitzgerald's emphasis on the oppressive heat sticks out as clearly as Gatsby's pink suit against Daisy's crimson carpet. It is an emphasis that has a cumulative effect of placing characters into a setting they cannot escape and into a situation that reflects their internal discomfort. The plot heats up as the setting heats up, furthering suspense while placing untested characters in such boiling heat that their lives can find expression only in explosive release or resignation. Their tempers flare as the temperature rises and it is not until they lose their composure that anything begins to cool. In Fitzgerald's stylish hands, heat functions to shape plot and test character. His acute recognition of the role of atmosphere in both furthering conflict and testing character is illustrated by his unwavering use of detail from first to final draft.
From the beginning of these scenes to the end, we are made to feel the relentless heat as clearly as we see the green leather seats in Gatsby yellow car. Fitzgerald's revision adds more than degrees to the hot day. Heat serves to parallel the acceleration of conflict between Gatsby and Tom. Heat gives their conflict a further sense of inevitability. Fitzgerald does not miss his many opportunities to remind us that the heat of the moment is testing his characters, wearing away the outer veneer they wear so well, and revealing them as they struggle in a hot situation.
In the manuscript, Nick rides on a train during the "simmering hush of noon" toward his luncheon engagement. By the time final copy was written, a new line was added: "The next day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest day of the summer". In the original manuscript, the conductor on the train says the word "hot" six times. In the published version, he repeats the...