Explain what ideals and attitudes each of the three main settings  reflect and how the settings enhance characters.Setting is often an important means for the novelist or playwright to communicate...

Explain what ideals and attitudes each of the three main settings  reflect and how the settings enhance characters.

Setting is often an important means for the novelist or playwright to communicate characters' ideals and attitudes. In a well-organized essay, explain what ideals and attitudes each of the three main settings of The Great Gatsby reflects and how each setting helps establish your understanding of character.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald's great novel is that of the Jazz Age.  This provides the tableau for the development of character and plot and theme.  Within this tableau there is a cultural and lifestyle revolution, a revolution that is created with the class conflicts, the cultural rift between East and West, and the contrast between innocence and experience in the main character's life.

An examination of each setting:  East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes leads to the development of characters.  For instance, while Gatsby is on his lawn of West Egg, he looks longingly at the green light (money, wealth) at the end of Daisy's pier.  His parties in the West Egg are attended by people who do not know him and only take advantage of his new wealth, lending a falsity to his environment.  Yet while there is this falsity, Owl Eyes discovers that Gatsby's leather bound books in his library are genuine.  Traditionally, too, West is symbolic of the horizon, the end.  Gatsby's sacrificial death occurs as he lies on his mattress in a crossed position in his pool in the West Egg.

The East Egg is symbolic of the establish wealth and position and its decadence.  While Daisy appears innocent in her white garments, like her name, there is a golden, moneyed center to her.  In fact, Nick's description of her includes, "her voice was like money."  She feigns foolishness and is extremely materialistic.  After her murder of Myrtle Wilson, she returns to the shelter of the East Egg where her money and Tom's influence protect her from her crime. 

The Valley of Ashes, which suggests death and corruption and waste is, indeed, the setting for death.  The poster of Dr. Eckleberg sees nothing as this is the hiding ground for the industrial and moral waste of New York City.  Interestingly, Nick and the others pass through this valley of death as they engage in their dissolute activities. Poor Mr. Wilson is blinded by his life in this wasteland, believing that Gatsby has killed his wife.

With so much imagery and symbolism in his narrative, the settings of Fitzgerald's novels reflect the conditions for the actions and development of the characters.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question about The Great Gatsby is much too broad to answer with much detail.  A person could write pages and pages answering it.  I'll get you started with a few ideas concerning some major elements of setting in the novel.

The Valley of Ashes includes the eyes of the eye doctor, with the nonexistent nose, etc.  This is a central irony and a central element of setting.  The people who live in the valley are figuratively blind, as are almost everyone in the novel.  Wilson is blind to his wife's affair and blind to the identity of his wife's lover, and his wife is blind to her future, or lack of it, with Tom, and she's self-important--she thinks she's on the same level or even superior to Daisy (in Tom's eyes).  He corrects her thinking, of course, when he breaks her nose. 

You can go down the list of main characters and establish their figurative blindness.  Thus, the advertisement for the eye doctor is reflective of the blindness of the characters.

Concerning the Eggs, Gatsby's home is reflective of his hopes for getting Daisy back, as well as the opulence of the time period.  Tom's home is also opulent, and reflects old money.  Both homes are beautiful.  The people that inhabit them are beautiful, for the most part.  But underneath the beauty is recklessness and self-centeredness and amorality and a lack of seriousness, as well as blindness. 

One important element of setting, of course, is the light at the end of Daisy's dock.  Gatsby transforms an element of setting on one Egg, into his own symbol on the opposite Egg--the symbol of how close he is to Daisy, and to meeting her again and getting her back.   The light reveals his all-encompassing quest to recapture the past.  Unfortunately, the past as he sees it never really existed.  The light shows how close he is, but at the same time demonstrates how far he is--there is a bay between Gatsby and the light.  And he will never win Daisy back. 

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most discussed parts of the book is the wasteland, so you can find a lot of material there that might help you talk about the setting and what it means, particularly as the boundary between the city and West Egg.  If you look closely at Wilson and the symbolism of the ash heaps and TJ Eckleburg's eyes, you can find a lot of material.

You might also look at West Egg and take a close look at some of the native inhabitants like Mr. Klipspringer, the people that inhabit the place as opposed to those who've come to it as immigrants like Gatsby.  What does the partygoers attitudes say about their environment and how they relate to the other characters.

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The Great Gatsby

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