To What Extent Do The Catcher In The Rye And The Great Gatsby Use Symbolism To Develop The Reader’s Understanding Of The Characters?

2120 words - 9 pages

In The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, symbols are used consistently by the writers throughout the novel to cause Holden and Gatsby to behave and react in specific ways. By doing this, the authors allow the reader to see the full multi-dimensional character intended for us to read, and not the persona they portray. Salinger uses symbolism as a subtle way of communicating Holden’s emotions and vulnerabilities to the reader, and symbolism provides the way to do so without compromising the consistency of the character by forcing Holden to do that himself. Fitzgerald uses symbolism as a way to reveal Gatsby’s inner monologue, which we would not be able to see otherwise, and see what he thinks about under the exterior.
There is a yearning from both Gatsby and Holden to control time. Gatsby wants to travel back in time, but can’t. To symbolise this, there is a broken clock that he knocks over. “The clock took this moment to tilt dangerously…he caught it with trembling fingers.” The broken clock is symbolic of the fact that he is stuck in the period five years ago when he and Daisy were in love which signifies his inability to move on from that time. It also represents his nervousness about the present and about how Daisy's attitude toward him may have changed. His inability to go back in time is represented by him knocking over Nick's clock, and symbolises the clumsiness of his attempt to stop time and retrieve the past. In addition, the clock is a symbol of the time that Daisy and Gatsby have lost. Although it could be argued it is just another awkward incident triggered by Gatsby's nervousness, the fact the clock is stopped is important. The clock is stopped, trapped there forever; just how Gatsby's felt when the realisation hit that he could never be with Daisy. Gatsby is, in essence, trapped by his dreams of ideal love with Daisy, just as the clock is trapped in that exact moment when it stopped working. The word “time” is written in the book 450 times, very often with reference to the past, showing that time is important to the overall storyline. There are flashbacks throughout the novel, with constant references to Gatsby’s past. “Can't repeat the past? Why, of course you can!” Gatsby believes that while he can’t travel back in time, he is able to recreate the past. The unstructured events the reader sees are representative of his mind – scattered and disorganised due to his overwhelming obsession with the past. Whereas Gatsby yearns to travel back in time but can’t, Holden wishes time would freeze. In The Catcher in the Rye, the museum displays represent Holden’s desire to make everything stop and time to freeze so that he doesn't have to grow up. “The best thing though, in that museum, was that everything always stayed where it was.” He is terrified by the unpredictable challenges of the world, and hates change. Furthermore, he says “You ought to be able to stick [certain things] in one of those big glass cases and just leave them...

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