New Thoughts on East Egg / West Egg / Valley of AshesI was absolutely fascinated with a recent answer to a question about synecdoche in The Great Gatsby.  Specifically, "Geographically: East Egg...

New Thoughts on East Egg / West Egg / Valley of Ashes

I was absolutely fascinated with a recent answer to a question about synecdoche in The Great Gatsby.  Specifically, "Geographically: East Egg is representative of the East Coast.  West Egg is representative of the West Coast.  The Valley of Ashes is representative of the Middle West."  So interesting!  I can't tell you how many years I've taught this novel, and I've literally never heard of this interpretation!  *sigh*  Proof that I'm always learning, eh?  Anyway, I would love to hear more about this!  Can anyone add some more to this interpretation?  Is there further reading on the subject?  It's really exciting to open up a new avenue in a novel where I thought I had explored every nook and cranny.  Your thoughts?

Expert Answers
wheeler715 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've always viewed the Valley of Ashes as representative of the industrial wasteland that the rise of cities inevitably produces.  The only connection between West Egg and the West is that it is inhabited by Gatsby and Nick, both of whom come from the West, or the Mid-West (same value structure).  East Egg, however, is definitely associated with the corruption and moral decay associated with the value structure of the East.  I have my students brainstorm the values inherent to the West and the East, but when it comes to labeling West and East Egg, we describe it simply in terms of new money (West Egg) and old money (East Egg).  This is supported by Fitzgerald's description of Gatsby's house (built with new money and built in the fashion of the French, something new money types would do) and the Buchanan house (reflective of old money because it is built in the traditional Georgian style--more traditionally American).

The people in the Valley of Ashes (the Wilsons) are caught in between the bright lights and glitz of NYC and the wealth and snobbery of the the Eggs.  It isn't an accident that when George wises up to Myrtle's infidelity that he wants to take her "out west."  As Nick states, the novel is a "story of the West" and the symbolic value of the geography is critical to any understanding of the novel. 

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

LOL.  My fascination doesn't reflect my opinion of the interpretation.  I was simply amazed that I had never heard anyone in my career mention that particular symbolism.  Especially perplexing was the Ashes/Midwest idea.  This especially goes against my usual thoughts of Midwest=good and Ashes=bad.  The author of the piece wrote me and suggested "Great Gatsby Multiple Perspectives" which focuses on a Feminist, then Marxist, then Archetypal approach and is found in the "lesson plans" section in eNotes.  Sure enough, in the Marxist perspective, Nick is seen as the closest character to the middle class.  I can't say it leads me to the conclusion of that particular symbolism, but it was still very interesting!  I prefer the traditional interpretation of the symbols as I have always taught in my classroom, . . . BUT I am always excited to learn different opinions!  : )

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Midwest is discussed in no uncertain terms as being equivalent to the West, as far as terminology goes. So, I'm sorry, but I don't think this interpretation of the novel's geography as synechdoche really works. It is an elegant idea and maybe, at least, we can make the equation for the Eggs.

Nick tried to be an East Egg-er and failed, like Daisy and Tom, and they all went back to the West in the end, as Nick relays at the end of the novel.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I missed that answer...  do you buy it?  Specifically, why do you think that the Valley of the Ashes is representative of the Midwest?  It has always seemed to me that Fitzgerald is portraying the Midwest as the more wholesome area of the country (with Nick coming from there and all).

If you were going to support this reading, what evidence would you give?

copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, am intrigued by this idea that the Valley of Ashes might represent the middle West, but I have a hard time buying into it. I always asked my students to imagine what must have "burned" to create the valley of ashes which always lead to interesting discussion, but I don't see anyway to connect this to Nick's perception of the middle West.

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The Great Gatsby

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