What Does The Valley Of Ashes Symbolize

What does the Valley of Ashes symbolize?

The Valley of Ashes functions as a foil to the luxury of East and West Egg, and as a result, the ash can be understood as the conditions of everyday life.

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The Valley of Ashes is where ordinary working people like George and Myrtle Wilson live. The Wilsons and the other denizens of the Valley are representative of the vast majority of Americans at that time. For all the opulence, glamor, and phenomenal wealth on display in The Great Gatsby, ...

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The Valley of Ashes is where ordinary working people like George and Myrtle Wilson live. The Wilsons and the other denizens of the Valley are representative of the vast majority of Americans at that time. For all the opulence, glamor, and phenomenal wealth on display in The Great Gatsby, we should always bear in mind that only a tiny minority were able to enjoy such a privileged lifestyle. The Valley of Ashes provides a stark contrast to the charmed life of the East and West Eggers, acting as a reminder that the American Dream will always, of its very nature, remain unattainable to most people. Ordinary working folk may try to escape their lowly environments—as Myrtle does by conducting an affair with Tom Buchanan—but most of them are destined never to do so, and Myrtle herself is a symbol of this.

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The ashes in the Valley of Ashes come from the factories that burn coal, and the ash covers everything: people, plants, buildings, anything. A select few individuals truly benefit from the growing industry; these are the people we might, today, call the 1%. These are the people with all the money and all the power: people like the Buchanans. Then, there's everybody else: the workers. They probably make enough to live on, but never enough to achieve the elusive American Dream. These individuals are rarely, if ever, considered by people like Tom Buchanan. Just as there was little concern regarding the effects of industry on the environment, there was (and is) often little concern for the rights and lives of the working class. The Valley of Ashes, then, contains the physical detritus of this American society—the ashes themselves—as well as the metaphorical detritus: the people who serve the 1%, like George Wilson, who have no chance of ever coming close to the American Dream at all.

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Before considering the figurative meaning of the ash heaps, one must define what they are:  the by-product of the industrial age, specifically the coal ash left from coal-burning factories.  The valley of ashes in 'Gatsby' lies between the affluent refuge of the Eggs (Long Island's Hamptons) and the busy excitement of Manhattan, signifying the human misery--think of the Wilsons--and environmental cost of the machinery that creates fantastic wealth for a few--people like Tom and Daisy--but leaves most choking on ashes.  The valley, therefore, is meant as a sobering foil to the dreamy opulence of the Eggs, but also as an omen for Myrtle and Gatsby--two doomed characters who pay the price for reaching for the dream

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