How does the setting of East Egg serve as both a symbol and help communicate the theme of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby? 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is "culture clash." This is seen in the difference between West Egg and East Egg, two pieces of land off of Long Island South that resemble flat eggs. However, one—West Egg—is...

...the less fashionable of the two, though this is a mostly superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them.

The narrator, Nick Carraway, lives on West Egg in a little place that he rents for next to nothing. He house is...

...squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season.

On one side of Carraway is Gatsby's "mansion." Forty acres of lawn and a marble swimming pool, Carraway's place is an "eye sore" by comparison, costing him eighty dollars a month.

The culture clash is seen quite literally in the difference of houses and population:

Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water...

This is, of course, where the Buchanan's live. Tom Buchanan is made of money, and his wife Daisy is the reason that Gatsby owns the home at the location he has chosen—for across a short space of water, Gatsby can see Daisy's home.

The culture clash is not seen as much between Gatsby and the Buchanans in terms of their homes, as it is with Nick Carraway who is not a member of the upper-echelon of society. However, the clash is symbolic. Gatsby has invented himself from the son of poor and lazy farming stock—he has tried hard to forget he was once James Gatz. However, in his heart, that boy never goes away.

As much as Gatsby plays at being like the Buchanans, he does not have money made from a socially accepted kind of business, e.g., oil. Gatsby has questionable ties to racketeering. And while he puts on a good front, entertaining hundreds of people, he is a lonely man—in truth—living the American Dream, but not a true success story. He is not grounded in reality, believing somehow that he can be enough for Daisy. She says she is torn between her husband and Gatsby, but she is really more about herself than anyone.

So while the two islands are separated by a sense of the propertied upper-class, Gatsby's island is symbolic of his grass-roots background. He tries to be like the others: but it seems he is not taken seriously. He is used, and when he is killed, none of his "friends" come to his funeral. The West Egg island is like paradise: something the "common man" can never hope to attain.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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