Can anyone explain the significance of the setting of New York City in The Great Gatsby?(I have to know what New York City represents and how it is related to the characters)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, were very large cities in the 1920s with wealthy people, speakeasys, jazz clubs, etc., it did not hold the prestige that the city of New York held with its Rockefellers, Astors, and Vanderbilts.  For, New York was considered the home of the socially elite and the center of culture," and a global city as the center of international trade. In the 1920s, Long Island (East Egg) was the paradigm of the American suburb where many of the elite social class resided whereas the West Egg is residence for the nouveau riche such as Jay Gatsby, those who do not possess the socially elite names and status.

Thus, New York City provides Fitzgerald with the perfect symbol for the wealth and status that Gatsby envies.  The city itself is an environment in which Tom Buchanan can conduct his illicit affair because there in the amoral city, he can maintain an anonymity not possible in upper-class West Egg where the low-class Myrtle Wilson could not be seen. With the Valley of Ashes, "the desolate area" between the clean West Egg and New York City, the symbol of the corruption of the era exists.  Interestingly, the omniscent eyes of Dr. Eckleburg are there along with George Wilson, who is the only character to mention God in this "solemn dumping ground."  West Egg, where Gatsby lives, is the artificial environment created to imitate East Egg that has its barrier of class distinction symbolized by the green light on Daisy's pier at which Gatsby so often watches longingly.


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The Great Gatsby

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