Color and Scent as Character Development

Fashion is primary to his visual descriptions, and Fitzgerald associates particular characters with certain colors. In The Beautiful and Damned, Dot is first introduced in a lilac dress. For two and a half pages, the color of her dress is referred to nine times but her name appears only twice. Caroline in “His Russet Witch” is “dressed in pink or blue usually, but of late she had sometimes put on a slender black gown that was evidently her especial pride.” Yellow is used to symbolize the youth and vitality of the era. When she is first introduced, Yanci Bowman is wearing yellow. Her admirer watches “the yellow gown drift and submerge among the dancers.” The yellow dress is in sharp contrast to the black mourning dress she dons a few pages later. In the short story “The Jelly Bean,” Fitzgerald tackles a tiered gown worn by the desirable Nancy Lamar: “She was dressed in yellow organdie, a costume of a hundred cool corners, with three tiers of ruffles and a big black bow in back until she shed black and yellow around her in a sort of phosphorescent luster.” The two girls in yellow at Gatsby’s party seem the embodiment of the carefree atmosphere. It was the kind of party where “a pair of stage twins, who turned out to be the girls in yellow, did a baby act in costume, and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger bowls” (45).

The sense of smell is integrated into his descriptions of clothing. In The Beautiful and Damned he writes, “She was in the shop now, it seemed, moving lithely among the velvets and the furs, her, own dress making, as she walked, a debonair rustle in that world of silken rustles and cool soprano laughter and scents of many slain but living flowers” (106). Similarly, smell is used in “The Popular Girl.” When Yanci first learns of her father’s bankruptcy, “she brushed it (her hair) until her arm ached, then she changed arms and went on brushing. The maid found her the next morning, asleep, sprawled across the toilet things on the dresser in the room and was heavy and sweet with the scent of spilled perfume.” In “The Jelly Bean” the atmosphere is conveyed by a description of scent. The dance “was a reverie made sensual by the night and by the hot smell of damp powder puffs, tucked in the fronts of low dresses and distilling a thousand rich scents to float out through the open door.”1


1. The best bang-for-your-buck in Fitzgerald books is Before Gatsby, an annotated collection of his early commercial work edited by leading scholar and artifact collector, Matthew Bruccoli. All of the stories mentioned above are in this collection.