The Various Forms of Linen in the Novel Enhance the Significance of the Great Gatsby

Whiteness is defined as the property or quality of being white in color. However, since the beginning of civilization, whiteness has held a certain power and weight. Whether in correlation to race, class, or even the ideas of purity and innocence, there is a sense of power and privilege in the color white. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, is regarded as a hallmark of American literature. Fitzgerald is famous for his descriptive writing style, use of imagery, and complex characters.

The novel itself is renowned for its motifs of money, greed, and love. Out of the abundance of other themes in the book, the color white stands out. White conveys itself in various ways and is symbolized in different forms ranging from clothes to objects to people. Characters in the book live in accordance with the motif of whiteness and are the epitomes of the symbol of whiteness and privilege.

Their wealth and status shield them from reality and the consequences of their actions.

However, whiteness is prevalent in the ideas of innocence, class, and race. These varying forms of whiteness throughout the novel shape and enhance the meaning in The Great Gatsby. The motif of white is represented through the juxtaposing ideas within the evolution of Daisy’s innocence. When Daisy is reminiscing about her childhood, she states, “Our white girlhood was passed here. Our beautiful white”. White symbolizes innocence. Fitzgerald uses this motif to enhance meaning in the novel because white is recognized as pure color uncorrupted by the world.

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In her youth, Daisy was pure and innocent. The white symbolizes the youthful happiness only a child, who has not been polluted by the harsh reality of the world can possess. In addition, clothing is used to portray different aspects of whiteness. Once again, when describing Daisy at eighteen and in the prime of her youth, Nick states that, “She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster”.

White is used to conveying the innocence of her younger years. In this context, the whiteness of her clothes symbolizes purity and innocence. In contrast to these representations, white also signifies the loss of innocence in this novel. When the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy is rekindled and they are about to kiss, Gatsby’s “heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that once he kissed this girl…His mind would never romp again”. White characterizes innocence in a different way. This is a representation of a loss of innocence rather than the presence of it. Gatsby is aware that once he kisses Daisy, everything will be different. In this moment Gatsby sees himself as some sort of victim. However, in reality he is the one with something to gain and as a woman, Daisy has more to lose. This kiss with Gatsby is a symbol of her loss purity as a woman. Though this is what she desires, this happiness comes at a price.

The cost of this is her innocence and once they connect lips, she has given him her heart and her purity along with it. Whiteness is represented through the juxtaposing ideas of the evolution of Daisy’s innocence from pure to corrupted. Now in the eyes of society, she is now tainted and has been stripped her virtue as a wife. The motif of white is also represented through race in the novel as a means to show varying forms of privilege. When Nick is driving with Gatsby, he describes how, “a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry”. The white man chauffeuring the black people is a representation of African Americans acquiring wealth. Of course, during this era there is still racist sentiment and interaction between blacks and whites and the power dynamic between the two races is very apparent.

However, on rare occasions, people of color had their white counterparts working for them. Fitzgerald uses this scene to imply innovative thinking. Even so, this type of mentality frightened the people already in power. This is seen when Daisy claims, ”It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.’ ‘We’ve got to beat them down,’”. While in this moment Daisy is joking with Nick, whiteness is still something that it revered and praised. Therefore, when something threatens this status quo, those who benefit from its privilege react with apprehension. Tom advocates to prevent African Americans from being a force in society. Anything that threatens his whiteness and power needs to be repressed. To him, it is tradition. This fear of a breach in whiteness is also seen when Tom exclaims, ‘And next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white’. To Tom, whiteness symbolizes purity, perfection, and power. His unbridled white supremacy fuels his fear of interracial marriage.

His irrational beliefs stem from his idea that anything not like himself taints his precious mentality of whiteness. The motif of white is represented through race in the novel as a means to show varying forms of privilege. The motif of white is also represented through class, status, and wealth in the novel. When Nick describes Daisy and Miss Baker, he claims, ‘[Their inconsequential conversation] … was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of desire’. White is used to portray class, leisure, and haughtiness. These women live lives of wealth and do not have to work a day in their lives. Their clothes exude wealth and further bolster their status. Another instance in which white clothes play a similar role is when Nick visits Gatsby.

He goes to his neighbor’s house, “Dressed up in white flannels”. Nick is aware that white represents wealth and old money. In order to make a good impression, on his neighbor of higher class, he arrives clad in white, the color of wealth and status. In addition to this, when Nick and Gatsby are pulled over by a police officer, Nick describes Gatsby as “Taking a white card from his wallet, [and waving it] before the [policeman’s] eyes’. This white card symbolizes privilege and nobility and rewards Gatsby with the ability to ignore laws because of his social status. When Gatsby is stopped, he passively refers to the officer as “old sport” with impunity. This form of whiteness shields Gatsby from the reality of consequences.

Furthermore, when Nick describes the geography of the area, he states that, ‘Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans’. White conveys the difference between West Egg and East Egg. Fitzgerald uses the motif to contrast the “unfashionable” mansions of West Egg and the “fashionable” palaces of East Egg. Whiteness is associated with the luxuriant and lavish way of life that those of higher class live. These varying forms of whiteness throughout the novel shape and enhance the meaning in The Great Gatsby. In the book, whiteness symbolizes innocence, race, and class. In literature, the motif of white tends to represent innocence, purity, and virtue.

This is seen throughout Daisy’s life and her choices. During her youth, she is full of white childhood happiness. Her joy is pure and untainted. However, as she develops further into the real world, she becomes skewed and her pure white happiness is corrupted. In the novel, white also represented race and the fear of anything non-white. To the characters, white symbolizes purity, perfection, and power and anything that strays from this idea threatens their way of life. Their ignorance stems for the fear of the unknown. In addition to this, whiteness is the epitome of class and wealth. It dictates and represents status within their community. This book takes place in the 1920s. Meaning, it is expected that the ignorant and outdated ideologies and mentalities within the novel should be thoughts of the past. Is the controlling influence of whiteness still prevalent? Or has society evolved? How much power does whiteness hold in the average person’s life?

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The Various Forms of Linen in the Novel Enhance the Significance of the Great Gatsby. (2023, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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