F. Scott Fitzgerald
’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby
tells the story of Jay Gatz
and his life into the world of the social elite
as he works to gain Daisy
’s love. Fitzgerald
focuses on the change money
, or lack there of, can create in people. Throughout the novel the exterior setting represents part of this metaphor
ical message, each location representing a different social class and caste
. Whether it be the East Egg
’s complacent luxury
, the West Egg
’s rash extravagance, or the Ash Valley
’s decaying monotony, each area has its own particular characteristics.
The East Egg, jutting off of New York, symbolizes unbelievable wealth, which seems to sink its possessors into apathy. Its inhabitants are generally of “old money”, and seem unsure of what they should do with there life. One of the East Eggers asks, “What do people plan?” (16). For many of those who live there, they plan nothing, but prefer “lying on that sofa as long as they can remember.” (15) They also have an air of superficiality about them, such as Jordan, who is “incurably dishonest”, and Daisy, whose “voice is full of money” (127).
The West Egg represents a more active, creative lifestyle. Nick, an inhabitant of the West Egg, sees himself as a “guide, a pathfinder” (8). In contrast to East Egg, it is also a land of “honest people” (64), although not necessarily honest in the sense of not lying. The honesty they possess is often more to themselves and to their hopes and dreams. After all, West Egg is also a land of dreamers, such as Gatsby himself. In a sense, Gatsby is mostly dream himself, for he “sprang from his platonic conception of himself” (108).
Finally, the Valley of Ashes represents a place devoid of money, vitality, and dreams. Wilson, it’s primary occupant, is described as “a blonde, spiritless man, anaemic...” (29) who is in the throws of despair. The land around it is gray and lifeless, as if it too had been sucked dry and left as refuse. Wilson has lost his will to fight, but rather fades into the background of his garage. His wife, Myrtle, still maintains her vitality, and is seen trying to escape the repressive atmosphere through money and glamour.
Geography is very important in The Great Gatsby, both for its plot purposes and metaphor. Each location represents interwoven but separate themes about the affects of money. The novel shows how it radically shapes the lives of those who have (the two “Eggs”) or fail to have (Ash Valley) wealth. But the novel also shows, through the examples of Gatsby and Myrtle, that money is not the only determining course of life, nor should it be.