Compare Nick's description of "the valley of ashes" in The Great Gatsby to his description of the Buchanan's house.

Expert Answers info

bbtrees eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write4,126 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Although Nick Carraway emphasizes many different features in describing the forsaken land he calls a “valley of ashes” near the Wilsons' garage and the Buchanans’ lavish home, one underlying similarity is important for the novel’s development. Both locations are artificial and devoid of genuine human emotion. Both descriptions make extensive use of sensory images, especially color.

The valley of ashes is described as gray and barren, including things like “lead” that are naturally gray. Nick ironically calls the heaps of debris “gardens” and emphasizes the futile toil of men who do not grow anything. With the concept and the phrasing, Fitzgerald is evoking T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” Tom and Daisy’s home, in contrast, is described in bright, living color as “red and white” and “rosy” and as “gold” and sunlit. The house, which is “even more elaborate” than Nick thought it would be, has an equally elaborate formal garden. Although many plants are growing in this “burning garden,” it is as artificial in its way as the metaphorical ash garden. Nick emphasizes artifice by calling the ceiling a “frosted wedding cake.”

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,149 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The Valley of Ashes, the dumping ground of the industrial production of New York City, is a wasteland where everything is an ominous and disintegrating grey--hills of ash, "grotesque gardens," train cars, the foul river, ashen men with leaden spades, who raise a bleak cloud of ashes.

In contrast to this ash-heap of land and murky water and nebular air and sky is the home of Daisy and Tom Buchanan is described as "a cheerful read and white Georgian Colonial mansion." The green lawn spans a fourth of a mile; French doors that "reflected gold" are wide open to allow the warm windy afternoon breeze to come inside the "bright rosy-colored space" and ripple the curtains as though they were flags, casting shadows upon the wine-colored rug. Unlike the stagnant atmosphere of the Valley of Ashes, everything in the large room that Nick enters seems to flow as sunlight "ripples," blowiing shadows upon things "as wind does on the sea." Nick comments that the only stationary object is the enormous couch on which two young women are "buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon."  Even their dresses flutter as though they have just landed after a "short flight around the house." Fascinated by the illusion of movement, Tom listens to the "whip and snap of the curtains" as though they were the sails on a yacht.

Clearly, the Buchanan house connotes movement, cleanliness, and freshness in contrast to the stagnation, decay, and greyness of The Valley of Ashes that symbolizes the decadence and waste of the Jazz Age, a period that dissembles as a celebratory time, a time of freedom and prosperity, all the time hiding its underlying corruption.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Unlock This Answer Now