Within any novel, the setting holds a great deal of importance in defining what the novel is. Upon learning of the setting, the reader can immediately begin to build up a picture of what the novel is likely to contain and feature. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald has skillfully chosen a rich setting in both time and place which allows him to deliver the message he wishes to send as effectively as possible.
In using the time and place setting of the book, plus the large amount of symbolism and imagery he conveys in using setting, Fitzgerald has greatly increased my appreciation and admiration of the text. “I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all-Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life. ” In the novel, all of the main characters are originally from the Western side of America, past the Appalachians and amongst the midwestern plains and the northern states.
The West Egg area of New York is where all these newly rich Westerners have flocked with their wealth. The West Egg has been created and chosen to represent the new America; the America of celebrities, alchohol, parties and huge new degrees of freedom for women. The hedonism featured within the actions of those who live in the West Egg is clearly a representation of the parallel decadence, materialism and corruption which was taking place in America at that time.
The above quote states that, in going to live in the West Egg, the main characters all exposed themselves to the corruption of the East which is awed and addicted to the new ways of a consumer existance and worth is measured in posessions – a contrast to the Midwest which represents traditional moral values, the main characters eagerly leaving to come to New York. Standing opposite the new wealth of the West Egg is that of the East Egg, a representation of the old rich and the relative aristocracy of America.
The established business families live there and look down with contempt upon these ‘common upstarts’ who do not posess the long standing wealthy history of these families but are instead newly wealthy and therefore lack the necessary attributes which are required for acceptance into their fold. In using these contrasts with which to illustrate the difference between the newly rich and the established rich, Fitzgerald has increased my appreciation of the text by making such an understandable symbol. “Desolate.. rotesque” and unfalteringly “ash-grey”, The Valley of Ashes is a spectacle of poverty poignantly juxtaposed against the oppulence of the rich East and West Eggs. Introduced in Chapter II amid a list of negatives, The Valley Of Ashes is the “foul river” Styx of Mythology, ominously carrying the “leaden” inhabitants along the certain journey into the underworld. A definate symbol of the other side of the American Dream, there is no greater demonstration of the ills of the consumer society and the results of the rich as the dirge that the Valley has become.
While the rich are consumed in their unending search for wealth, pleasure and happiness, the people of the Valley desparately try to forge a living amongst the ashes. A personal story of the plight of many of the Valley’s inhabitants is given in the characters of George and Myrtle Wilson. On one hand George struggles with existance as a mechanic, picking up scraps of business whenever they come by in order to preserve his wife and himself as the vitality is slowly ebbing away from him. Myrtle has taken a slightly different route and instead does indeed posess a zest and vitality that her character opposite – Daisy – does not.
Unlike Daisy, she has a distinctly sexual air about her; she “carries her flesh sensually”, the “nerves of her body .. continually smouldering” and proceeds to wet her lips before ordering her husband to fetch some chairs for her guests. However, she too is taken up with the quest for wealth and constantly aspires to be one of the rich whom she so admires. She strives to be as Daisy, changing three or four times in one night to give an air of sophistication and wealth which has eluded her – even in marriage, when she was disappointed to find out her husband was indeed not as gentlemanly as he claimed to be.
It is quite sad to think that none of these women have attained the true American Dream: Daisy is rich and yet is not happy, lacking a spark and instead living a relatively extinguished existance while Myrtle posesses these features, yet is struggling with money and aspiring to be amongst the others of West Egg. Ironically, it is that which Myrtle wishes to be that eventually kills her. This could be perceived as a symbol of what would befall Myrtle if she did eventually acquire wealth – she would be destroyed as equally as she was when the car struck her.
It is through this symbolism of setting as well as the characters which are closely linked to it that Fitzgerald greatly enhances my appreciation of the entire novel and encourages me to engage in deeper thought over the themes featured. “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 faceless, bespecled eyes of T. J. Eckleberg and the fading, wasting billboard is a mirror placed up to the state of the American Dream.
The original spirituality of the Dream in hailing a new, classless and equal society has been transformed into an empty show of consumerism and materialism – a dream which still continues to decline, symbolised by the billboard’s continuing deterioration as time passes. The eyes themselves, due to the board’s placement in The Valley Of Ashes, can perhaps be seen as looking over the true, rightful recipents of the fading Dream; the colours blue and yellow perhaps representing some kind of ailing hope for the future. Through the very inclusion of this billboard, Fitzgerald has provoked a large amount of speculation as to what it means.
This then encouraged me to look into this aspect of the novel, increasing my overall appreciation of the novel. As is clear, the scale and importance of setting within this novel is one of the more important attributes to its success. Through looking at setting and the symbolism held within it, one is more informed and a greater clarity is given to the wider implications and messages that Fitzgerald was trying to illustrate at the time. When put with other aspects of the novel, the setting becomes even more essential in determining theme and, I believe, has been a vital device in enhancing my appreciation of the entire novel.