Explain what ideals and attitudes each of the three main settings reflects and how each setting helps establish your understanding of character.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

East Egg is home to people like Tom and Daisy who occupy the highest social class in American society. Their money has been passed down through generations of Tom's family. This inherited wealth with all its privileges has fostered attitudes of arrogance, snobbishness, and a strong sense of entitlement. These attitudes are seen in both Tom and Daisy, in the way they live and in the way they treat other people. Tom looks at Gatsby with contempt, and Daisy uses him and betrays him. Nick calls Tom and Daisy careless people; they have been corrupted by their money and their social class. East Egg is not a place where ideals are held or pursued, except for the belief that those in the upper class must protect their wealth and social position.

West Egg is populated by rich people who have only recently come into money. They are producers, show business types, lucky investors in the market, and bootleggers. They exhibit one ideal--to make as much money as possible, as fast as possible. Their attitude toward wealth is to enjoy it and to flaunt it. They lack the social standing enjoyed by the East Eggers, and they are in no way reserved or conventional. Gatsby represents this new wealth, although his building a fortune was accomplished for only one purpose, to get Daisy back into his life. No matter how wealthy he becomes, however, he will never find acceptance in East Egg.

The Valley of Ashes, home to George and Myrtle Wilson, reflects grinding poverty and hard work. George toils each day to make an honest living, but Myrtle burns with resentment, hating their way of life and longing to break out of it. George accepts his life, and no doubt believes he can "get ahead" by working. Myrtle's ideal, and most likely the ideal of many in her economic situation, is to leave poverty behind and live the dream of being wealthy. Their attitudes represent very different responses to where and how they live.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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