Elmore, A. E. “Color and Cosmos in The Great Gatsby.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 78, no. 3,
1970, pp. 427–43, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27541823.
Throughout Elmore’s “Color and Cosmos in The Great Gatsby”, the author makes the distinction that setting and imagery serve as another character in the novel, while still being mirrors to the characters that inhabit them. By focusing on the imagery and colors to describe each setting, Elmore highlights patterns that are reflective of a more overt Catholic imagery without drawing the direct parallel, which I hope to do in this explanation.
The first setting he chooses to focus on is East Egg. East Egg is constantly tied to the color white. Both Jordan and Daisy are dressed in white, the Buchanan’s mansion is white, and they discuss the superiority of the white race while in East Egg. Although some could make the distinction that the color white is symbolically a reflection of their own conceptions of racial superiority, Elmore denotes that this color is more reflective of an airiness. Elmore connects each of the settings to a certain element and he believes that East Egg is an embodiment of the element air. Even the wording itself plays into this theme, Tom “drifts,” Daisy “breezes,” and both the girls are “buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon” (Fitzgerald 7,8). And although I do agree with the sentiment that this wording invokes a sense of airiness, I would extend Elmore’s argument by saying that the sense of airiness in East Egg is not tied to simply the element, but rather the image of heaven. In the novel Daisy and Jordans’ “dresses were rippling and fluttering” which invokes this sense of airiness, but in conjunction with the color white, also strikes a more ethereal tone (Fitzgerald 8). In my opinion, the pairing of white with airiness strikes upon an angelic imagery making East Egg, in turn, heaven.
Elmore then shifts his attention to the valley of ashes. The valley of ashes is constantly tied to the color gray. The novel repeats this theme in its description by saying that, “ashes [took] the form of houses” where “ash-gray men” live (Fitzgerald 23). This bleak landscape draws parallels to hell, at least in Elmore’s interpretation. He quotes authors such as Dante and Milton when he says that “hell is a place of obscurity and darkness” (Elmore 434). I disagree with Elmore’s interpretation here. I think he manipulated Dante’s hell too much to fit his thesis. Dante’s version of hell had many rings and the ones that were full of “obscurity and darkness” were not hell, but rather purgatory.
I would contradict Elmore’s point of saying the valley of ashes is hell and correct it to say the valley of ashes is more similar to purgatory in the traditional Christian sense. By Dante’s definition, purgatory housed those who were either unbaptized or did not accept the teachings of Christ. Symbolically, I think this definition is much more applicable to the valley of ashes. My interpretation is that the people living in the valley of ashes were unbaptized in relation to the American Dream. If Jay Gatsby is Jesus, then the American Dream is his religion. The people living in the valley of ashes were unbaptized in the sense that they were unsuccessful in the face of the American Dream and therefore they suffer in purgatory.
The last setting Elmore chose to interpret was downtown New York. Elmore describes New York as a “chameleon-like place, [that] takes its color from those who enter it” (Elmore 436). This sentiment is shown when Myrtle selects a “lavender-colored [cab] with gray upholstery,” or even when Jordan emphasizes “we’re all white here” during a heated exchange between Gatsby and Tom (Fitzgerald 27,130). Both cases highlight the desire for the characters to bring their own influence into the city, and the city reflects that desire. Elmore also discusses the extreme heat that is experienced in New York. Nick describes it as “stifling” and Daisy even suggests that they “hire five bathrooms and take cold baths” (Fitzgerald 126). Elmore suggests that “like the fire of purgatory, the heat of the city is purifying,” however, I disagree (Elmore 437). If Elmore is using Dante as a reference, then his version of purgatory is not engulfed in flames and his interpretation is false. The only circle of hell that involves fire would be the seventh circle, which is not purgatory. I believe that Fitzgerald’s description of downtown New York was more closely mirroring Dante’s Inferno. In Dante’s Inferno, the sin committed during a lifetime is reflected in their punishment, for example gluttons are forced to stand in a pit of excrement and bile for all eternity. If New York is reflective of those who enter it, in that sense it mirrors Dante’s hell. In my opinion, if New York is truly a “chameleon-like place,” then that aligns more with Dante’s hell. New York can be a reflection of those who enter it, just as Dante’s Inferno.
Although I agree with Elmore’s emphasis on colors and elements interpretation, I think his application of Christian themes was incorrect. For his discussion of East Egg, he lacked the direct claim that Daisy and Jordan are meant to mirror angels and in that sense East Egg can be categorized as heaven. He also misinterpreted Dante’s purgatorio and inferno. Although there are elements of hell that are dark, overall that description applies to purgatory in the sense that those who are damned there truly lack enlightenment and are forced to wander in darkness for eternity. Elmore brings up elements of the setting that encourage further discussion about Christian themes in the text, albeit in the incorrect format.