Settings Of The Great Gatsby Essay, Research Paper
The setting in The Great Gatsby is very important because in Fitzgerald’s world setting reveals character. Fitzgerald divides the world of the novel into four major settings: 1. East Egg; 2. West Egg; 3. the valley of ashes; and 4. New York City. Within these major settings are two or more subsettings. East Egg is limited to Daisy’s house, but West Egg incorporates both Gatsby’s house and Nick’s. The valley of ashes includes the Wilson’s garage, Michaelis’ restaurant, and the famous sign with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. New York City includes the offices where people work, the apartment Tom Buchanan has rented for Myrtle Wilson, and the Plaza Hotel, where the final showdown between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan takes place.
Each of these settings both reflects and determines the values of the people who live or work there. East Egg, where Tom and Daisy live, is the home of the Ivy League set who have had wealth for a long time and are comfortable with it. Since they are secure with their money, they have no need to show it off. Nick lives in new-rich West Egg because he is too poor to afford a home in East Egg; Gatsby lives there because his money is “new” and he lacks the social credentials to be accepted in East Egg. His houses, like the rest of his possessions (his pink suit, for example), are tasteless and vulgar and would be completely out of place in the more refined and understated world of East Egg. No wonder that the East and that Nick ruin Gatsby in the end decides to leave.
The valley of ashes in contrast to both eggs is where the poor people live–those who are the victims of the rich. It is characterized literally by dust, for it is here that the city’s ashes are dumped (in what is now Flushing, Queens), and the inhabitants are, as it were, symbolically dumped on by the rest of the world. The valley of ashes, with its brooding eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, also stands as a symbol of the spiritual dryness, the emptiness of the world of the novel.
New York City is a symbol of what America has become in the 1920s: a place where anything goes, where money is made and bootleggers flourish, and where the World Series can be fixed by a man like Meyer Wolfsheim. New York is a place of parties and affairs, and bizarre and colorful characters that appear from time to time in West Egg at Gatsby’s parties.
The idea of setting as moral geography is reinforced by the overriding symbolism of the American East and the American Midwest. This larger contrast between East and Midwest frames the novel as a whole. Nick comes east to enter the bond business, and finds himself instead in the dizzying world of The Jazz Age in the summer of 1922. He is fascinated and disgusted with this world, and he eventually returns home to the Midwest, to the values and traditions of his youth.