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Chapter 2 begins with a description of the Valley of the Ashes. The language here is reminiscent of Eliot's The Wasteland:
. . .ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.
This is a place that is occupied by "ash-grey men" with "leaden spades." Above the "bleak dust" is the billboard with the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. It is the ultimate god of consumerism, the idol of not only those who have but also those who have not.
Against this backdrop, Tom introduces Myrtle, his mistress, to Nick. Here at Wison's garage we see two characters who are attempting to rise above their miserable surroundings: George, who is almost already defeated, and Myrtle, who still aspires to bigger and better things. She alone seems to possess a certain vitality--perhaps because her dreams are still alive.
The second part of this chapter is the dinner party at Myrtle's apartment in the city. It is juxtaposed to the description of the Gatsby's party in the following chapter. We see contrasts between the two, but also surprising similarities. In both parties, we see artificiality, callousness, superficiality, drunkenness, and chaos. Myrtle's party is a more intimate scene, full of disparaging talk about her husband George and her meeting with Tom. Her pretentiousness is blatant in her remarks about her dress and the help. It corresponds nicely to Gatsby's own pretentious language and dress, described in the following chapter. We see that Myrtle is only being used by Tom, and the possibility of her rising from her current status is bleak.
The chapter is told from Nick's perspective, and Nick narrates Tom's infidelity seemingly without judgment Yet, through his description, we see the party as a tawdry affair, full of trivial conversation and with no true connections among the guests. And, Nick, seems to be
enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
This seems to be Nick's tone throughout the chapter. As each guest is described, each seems somewhat ludicrous: Catherine with her eyebrows; McKee and his wife inspecting guests for possible photo shots. The party at Myrtle's is narrated as Nick proceeds to get drunker and drunker. Events become cloudy and confused, finally descending into a fight between Tom and Myrtle, in which Myrtle's nose is broken, and Nick wakes up beside Mr. McKee. The chapter ends with Nick alone at the train station.
The two sections of this chapter relate well--the first shows the motivation of those living in the Valley of the Ashes to change their status; the second shows the improbability of that occurring. Alcohol temporarily eases the pain of the fact that time is passing and everyone is at a stalemate.
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