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The Great Gatsby and Setting Symbolism
Transcript of The Great Gatsby and Setting Symbolism
Throughout the novel, "The Great Gatsby," author F. Scott Fitzgerald uses four major settings to provide the reader with a well-developed, clearly defined overall setting. These settings are used to represent various themes present in the novel.
Valley of Ashes
Setting Analysis of...
Fitzgerald describes the Valley of Ashes as a "...fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with transcendent effort of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air." The Valley of Ashes (home to the Wilson family) is a desolate wasteland located between West Egg and New York. Fitzgerald uses this setting to represent the social and moral decay within the novel. It is in this setting that Tom Buchanan's mistress, Myrtle Wilson, lives and and where she is killed by Daisy Buchanan. A quote used to demonstrate this theme in relation to setting occurs
when Daisy Buchanan strikes Myrtle Wilson with Jay Gatsby's car on her way home from New York, "Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust,'' ("the dust" connects the death of Myrtle to the dusty, dull, ash filled setting of the Valley of Ashes).
Fitzgerald describes West Egg as "one of the strangest places in North America," a "slender riotous island," and "the less fashionable of the two [eggs]," (revealing that it is a more carefree, less judgemental environment (in comparison to East Egg)). The West Egg is a portion of land (also similar to the shape of an egg), that is home to people of new money (such as Jay Gatsby) that have earned their wealth (rather than inherited it). It is located "due East of New York." Fitzgerald uses this setting to represent the apparent themes of hopes and dreams within the novel (specifically the new found hopes and dreams of the West Eggers with new money). It is in this setting that the main character and symbol of hope, Jay Gatsby, lives. An example of this is the fantastical, dream-like appearance of Jay Gatsby's mansion on West Egg.
Fitzgerald initially describes the "white palaces of fashionable East Egg," (indicating a more high class, sophisticated, judgemental society) that "glittered along the water." The East Egg is a portion of land (similar to the shape of an egg), that is home to people of old money (such as the Buchanans) that have come from wealthy families with high social statuses, and have inherited much of their wealth. It is located across a courteous bay from West Egg (refer to map). Fitzgerald uses this setting to represent the themes of judgement and social status within the novel. Citizens of East Egg tend to be quite appearance based (one's property must be groomed, individuals must dress fashionably and act in proper, mannerly fashion, etc.). It is in this setting that racism enters the story as Tom Buchanan's racist views are revealed (Tom Buchanan expresses his belief that "Civilization's going to pieces," due to "'The Rise of the Colored Empires'"). Another example of the theme of judgement (in relation to setting) occurs when Nick Carraway observes Tom and Daisy Buchanan through their kitchen window in East Egg and expresses his belief that the two had been conspiring.
Fitzgerald does not directly describe New York in the novel however, through his writing, the reader can clearly see that he perceives New York as an exciting, diverse place, which he uses to represent the prosperity and success present in New York during this time period, as well as the criminal activity and corruption associated with it. New York is the setting of both the business within "The Great Gatsby," (it is where Nick Carraway works selling bonds and where Gatsby goes to do criminal business with Meyer Wolfsheim) and the entertaining getaway location for the characters within the novel. Describing the excited state of business and entertainment on Wall Street (the business sector of New York), Nick Carraway states, "Stocks reached record peaks, and Wall Street boomed a steady golden roar. The parties were bigger, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser, and the ban on alcohol had backfired. Making the liquor cheaper. Wall Street was luring the young and ambitious, and I was one of them." This quotation demonstrates the general attitude of people in this time period, as well as how appealing the setting of New York was (in the author's opinion).