Metaphors In The Great Gatsby: A Window Into Fitzgerald’s Mind

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

Metaphors are descriptive words that aren’t true but are meant to give a deeper meaning or feeling to a sentence.

A common metaphor would be “Her face was a bright sun.” Of course, in reality, no one’s face or anything else on a person’s body, is as bright as the sun, but this comparison gives you an idea of just how bright her face was.

Nick Carraway as narrator of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When it comes to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald used many metaphors, like many writers do. In fact, there are so many metaphors in this novel that it would be hard to list them all.

In this article, we will list the best metaphors from each chapter to give you a deeper understanding of how the mind of the author worked.

Let’s get to work and unveil the best metaphors in this timeless novel.

The Best Metaphors in The Great Gatsby Chapter 1

In The Great Gatsby, metaphors serve as powerful literary devices, intricately woven into the narrative.

Nick Carraway's metaphor about the East and West Eggs in The Great Gatsby Chapter 1

In Chapter 1, Nick describes West Egg and East Egg with this metaphor:

Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound.

The idea of a wet barnyard is an interesting one and it tells us that Fitzgerald found “The Eggs” productive, but noisy and perhaps a bit on the dirty side.

In another metaphor from Chapter 1, Nick talks about his friend Tom Buchanan:

As for Tom, the fact that he “had some woman in New York” was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas, as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.

Nibbling at stale ideas- I think this figurative language is quite the mental picture, is it not? Do you imagine Tom Buchanan nibbling like a rat?

When Nick is speaking to his cousin Daisy Buchanan, she describes him as:

“A rose. An absolute rose.”

Last, Daisy uses this metaphor to describe how she feels about seeing Nick again:

“I’m paralyzed with happiness.”

The Best Metaphors from Chapter 2

Metaphors create a deeper meaning and give a more vivid picture in the reader’s mind. These metaphors from Chapter 2 certainly do that and more.

Nick Carraway and some of his Best Metaphors in The Great Gatsby Chapter 2

In this chapter, Tom Buchanan is taking Nick to New York City for a supposed lunch. They make a stop along the way where Nick sees firsthand the town called The Valley of Ashes:

But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleberg.

The mental image of spasms of dust is an interesting one in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.

As the pair walk into George Wilson’s garage, Nick notes:

“… the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner.”

Brings to mind a cat, crouching dangerously in a corner of the room, does it not?

Nick describes the day as they drive down Fifth Avenue:

We drove over to Fifth Avenue, warm and soft, almost pastoral on the summer Sunday afternoon.

The reader easily gets the idea that the heat of summer has not yet fallen on the Big Apple.

The taxi stops at the apartment where Tom and Myrtle have their trysts:

At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses.

I love this metaphor in The Great Gatsby because not only does it mention cake, but it also gives you the perfect visual image of what this set of apartments must look like.

The Best Metaphors The Great Gatsby Chapter 3

In Chapter 3 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, metaphors flourish, revealing the opulence and artifice of the Jazz Age.

Nick Carraway's Metaphor about Gatsby's parties in The Great Gatsby Chapter 3

Nick is invited to Gatsby’s house for a party and he describes some of the events:

A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight.

This sounds more like the Haunted Mansion, but the image set up here is clear.

Nick and Jordan, while searching for their host Jay Gatsby, find a guest in the library:

A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table…

While owls don’t actually wear spectacles, we’ve all been subject to drawings of such, have we not?

Nick takes a moment to describe the night sky:

The moon had risen higher, and floating in the sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.

This metaphor of sound floating and trembling is an interesting one that tells the reader that Nick is, indeed, very, very drunk.

Fitzgerald’s use of metaphors in this chapter are many, and he does so with a skill that few writers possess.

The Best Metaphors from Chapter 4

In this chapter, metaphors continue to enrich the narrative, delving deeper into the complexities of the characters and their elusive dreams.

Leonardo Di Caprio as Jay Gatsby with his car in The Great Gatsby

Nick is invited by Jay Gatsby to have lunch with him in New York City. Gatsby arrives in his beautiful, custom-made car, which Nick describes:

It (the car) was a rich cream color with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes, and toolboxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns.

This single sentence has several metaphors which all give us a complete impression of just how massive and expensive this car was.

When Gatsby tells Nick that he intended to make a big request of him, Nick is more annoyed than curious, saying:

I was sure the request would be something utterly fantastic, and for a moment, I was sorry I’d ever set foot upon his overpopulated lawn.

By “overpopulated”, does Fitzgerald mean that the lawn was thick with grass or that it was thick with people? I find the use of that metaphor to be an interesting one that could be seen either way.

At the restaurant, which was actually a speakeasy, Nick meets Gatsby’s business associate Meyer Wolfsheim.

Gatsby took an arm of each of us and moved forward into the restaurant, whereupon Mr. Wolfsheim swallowed a new sentence he was starting…

This metaphor of swallowing words is something we’ve all done from time to time, thus ensuring that the reader knows exactly what Fitzgerald had in mind.

The reader also gets a curious comparison of Nick’s perceptions of Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan when Nick narrates in Chapter 1 how “Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.”

That’s definitely a far cry from Gatsby who “took an arm of each of us…”

As Nick walks towards the restaurant where he was to meet Jordan Baker for tea, who tells him about one summer day:

“I had on a new plaid skirt also that blew a little bit in the wind, and whenever this happened, the red, white, and blue banners in front of all the houses stretched out stiff and said tut-tut-tut-tut, in a disapproving way.”

If you’ve ever heard flags make this sound, you’ll have the perfect mental image for what Fitzgerald is describing with his metaphor.

The Best Metaphors The Great Gatsby Chapter 5

Nick Carraway uses a Metaphor to describe Jay Gatsby when he sees Daisy The Great Gatsby

In this chapter, metaphors are about to take center stage!

Nick agreed to set up a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy by asking her to tea at his house.

As Daisy and Gatsby’s love is reignited, Nick notes the change in Gatsby’s appearance:

He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation, a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.

This glow that Gatsby ( see Quotes About Gatsby ) is radiating shows how deep his love for Daisy is.

At the beginning of their meeting, it rained heavily.

The rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted in the west, and there was a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea.

This metaphor describes the tumultuous relationship these two had in the past and in the near future.

These metaphors show Fitzgerald’s skill with words, as he aptly applies them to the themes of love, hope, and ambition.

The Best Metaphors from Chapter 6

Best Metaphors from Chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald continues with his use of captivating metaphors in Chapter 6, where things are about to get a little out of control.

Gatsby and Nick start to get to know one another better, and Gatsby reveals his real name to his friend:

James Gatz—that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career.

This metaphor shows the power of reinvention of self and the idea behind the American Dream.

Gatsby’s parties, once a symbol of his grandeur, have now been abandoned, and Gatsby longs only for Daisy’s attention.

People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.

This vague metaphor captures not only the emptiness of the social circles he moves in, but Gatsby’s emotional emptiness despite being wealthy.

Gatsby’s mansion is described with this metaphor:

The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard – it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy…

Factual imitation. This almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

The Best Metaphors The Great Gatsby Chapter 7

Best Metaphors from Chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby

The escalating tensions and emotions from Chapter 6 are about to come to a head in Chapter 7.

On the hottest day of the year (air conditioning had yet to be invented, folks, and men would still wear those woolen 3-piece suits!), Daisy invites Nick, Gatsby, and Jordan to dinner at her house.

The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house.

This metaphor of grass growing inside the house is Fitzgerald’s way of explaining how outside life is intruding on the lives of the people inside Daisy’s house.

Nick describes Gatsby’s dreams of obtaining Daisy:

He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.

In addition to gaining Daisy, this metaphor emphasizes Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of the American Dream and the illusion of its attainability.

After the reckless confrontation between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom, Nick notes with a bit of foreboding:

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.

This metaphor foreshadows the tragic events that will unfold, with Myrtle’s death looming in the distance.

Fitzgerald’s skillful use of metaphors in this chapter only deepens the novel’s themes of desire, illusion, and the destructive consequences of unchecked obsession.

The Best Metaphors from Chapter 8

The metaphors continue to enrich the narrative, delving into the poignant themes of hope, loss, and the passage of time.

Best Metaphors from Chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby

In Chapter 8, Gatsby tells Nick more about when he first met Daisy, how they fell in love, and his disappointment in discovering that he hadn’t returned in time to stop the wedding. Gatsby tells Nick about the weeks he spent searching Louisville for Daisy, hoping to see her.

“Then out into the spring fields, where a yellow trolley raced them for a minute with people in it who might once have seen the pale magic of her face along the casual street.”

Again Fitzgerald talks about the magic of Daisy’s “pale face.”

As Gatsby and Nick wait for the day, Nick notices a change in the weather:

The night had made a sharp difference in the weather and there was an autumn flavor in the air.

This metaphor shows how Gatsby’s fresh summer dream is now ending.

Nick says goodbye to Gatsby for the last time and notices:

His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before.

Using the word ancestral to describe Gatsby’s home was an interesting choice of words.

Nick is the one to discover Gatsby’s body in the pool, describing it with this metaphor:

A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden.

Gatsby would find himself surrounded by material wealth, but he died alone, with not even a phone call from Daisy.

The Best Metaphors in The Great Gatsby Chapter 9

In the final chapter of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless novel The Great Gatsby, metaphors take on a profound significance, underscoring the novel’s themes of disillusionment, the passage of time, and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

Nick Carraway's metaphor about the elusive American dream Chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby

Nick will reflect on the past and on Gatsby’s dream.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.

This metaphor encapsulates the illusory nature that Fitzgerald thought was the American Dream and the inevitable disillusionment that follows unattainable aspirations.

It’s interesting to note that Fitzgerald uses very few metaphors in his final chapter, especially concerning Gatsby’s death and funeral. I suppose he thought that Gatsby dying was sufficient.

Nick does describe the procession, however:

About five o’clock our procession of three cars reached the cemetery and stopped in a thick drizzle beside the gate- first a motor hearse, horribly black and wet, then Mr. Gatz…

Nick also describes how desolate West Egg appeared without Gatsby’s party lights:

And as the moon rose higher, the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that had flowered once for Dutch Sailors’ eyes,… 

You can quite literally feel the sadness and depression that Nick must have felt as he left West Egg and Gatsby’s house behind.

What Does the Metaphor at the End of The Great Gatsby Mean?

You’ll find metaphors in all the chapters of the novel up to the final line, which says:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

This line repeats the theme of the American dream – how people keep chasing it, yet it remains a futile and elusive dream. This refers to the people (boats) living in tumultuous times (against the current) and the futility of their struggles. No matter how hard they try to row forward (beat on), they are being endlessly thrown back to where they began (the past).  

Important Things to Consider on Fitzgerald’s Metaphors

Throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s skillful use of metaphors deepens the novel’s exploration of the human condition, the complexities of desire, and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

These metaphors linger in the readers’ minds, leaving them with a profound contemplation of the transience of dreams and the indelible influence of history on the present.

Of course, in the interest of brevity, I tried to choose only the best metaphors, but any reader can find extended metaphors and more on any of the many literary devices available today.

Metaphors In The Great Gatsby: A Window Into Fitzgerald's Mind
Metaphors In The Great Gatsby: A Window Into Fitzgerald's Mind
Discover the virtual world of metaphors that paint vivid images in every chapter of Fitzgerald's timeless masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.
Gatsby Flapper Girl