How Does Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" Use Setting to Emphasize the Differences Between the Social Classes
The American Dream is not all it's cracked up to be in "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of Jay Gatsby in his pursuit of his love, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby makes his fortune to try to win Daisy over, but he learns that the quests for both was hollow. The central conflict pits the classes against one another, and Fitzgerald uses the settings of the novel to highlight the differences between them.
The majority of the action takes place between East Egg and West Egg, which are figurative representations of the Hamptons in Long Island. East Egg represents old money, or the storied aristocrats who are classy and sophisticated. Their tastes are luxurious but restrained. Daisy lives in East Egg with her husband, Tom. By putting her in another setting altogether from Gatsby, Fizgerald shows how even with his wealth, Gatsby cannot be equal to her. The green light at the end of her bay is used to represent the values of the society in which she lives, which are money and greed.
West Egg is where Gatsby lives. It represents new money, which is flashy, garish, tacky and loud. Gatsby did not grow up with money like Daisy; he acquired it. Therefore, he does not quite know how to handle his money or how to operate in his elevated social sphere. Gatsby often looks out longingly over the bay toward Daisy's house. The water that separates them physically is symbolic of the social distance between them.
Valley of Ashes
The Valley of Ashes is where the poor and working class live. The location down from East and West Egg shows the people are symbolically lower in worth. The whole valley is gray and covered in dirt, grime and ashes, and the people are treated like the garbage of the upper class. Tom goes there to be with Myrtle, who he uses for his pleasure. Entering the Valley of Ashes, he must drive by the eyes of Eckleburg on the billboard, which represent judgement and his feelings of guilt. The eyes of Eckleburg are judging all of the upper class who pass through for having rejected the lower classes and treated them so poorly.
New York is the setting of two important scenes: Tom's visit to Myrtle at the apartment he provides for her, and the final showdown between Tom and Gatsby in the suite at the Plaza Hotel. Both scenes bring together disparate classes. At Myrtle's apartment, the working class and the elite come together, and at the Plaza Hotel, old and new money are brought together. Both scenes are quite tense, showing that the classes cannot overcome their differences.
- BBC: The Great Gatsby: Setting: East Egg v. West Egg
- The Great Gatsby; F. Scott Fitzgerald
Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.