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Chapter One of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby has ended. During that first eventful section, Nick Carraway has settled into his small, unassuming home in the West Egg section of Long Island, across the bay from the tonier, "old money" section of East Egg, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan reside. Nick has just returned from the Buchanan's large palatial estate and, before entering his home, spies the mysterious figure of Jay Gatsby staring fixated at a spot across the bay -- the small green light at the end of the Buchanan's pier. Chapter Two begins with a vastly different image, that of the "valley of ashes" in the region separating West Egg from New York City. Fitzgerald describes this area as dismal, bleak, beyond hope. The city dumps its ashes here, and ash-covered workers ply their time shoveling the mountains of ash for further dispensation. Looming above this scene is an old billboard, an advertisement for an optometrist named "Dr. T.J. Eckleburg." Describing the faded features of this old billboard, Fitzgerald's narrator, Nick, focuses naturally on the giant eyes that look down over the valley of ashes, noting that this unassuming oculist's eyes "dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground."
What Fitzgerald/Nick is suggesting is that this real-life "valley of ashes" represents the moral decay at the heart of the upper-class society to which the Buchanans belong, to which Gatsby aspires, and about which Nick can only observe and comment. Dr. Eckleburg gazes down disapprovingly upon the remnants of a society that is burning itself out, as will occur only four short years after Fitzgerald's novel is published.
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