In The Great Gatsby, why is the Valley of Ashes the result of the nouveau riche?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The people of West Egg did not create the Valley of the Ashes; some just stop there for gas. This desolate area was an unhappy marriage of geography and industry. Its location largely determined its existence and condition. It was "bounded on one side by a small foul river" which ran under a drawbridge to let the river barges pass. The railroad ran from New York City through this area, making it a convenient dumping ground for box cars full of the ashes removed from the furnaces of the city. Fitzgerald described the scene when a train would arrive to dump its load:

Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.

Because so many loads have been dumped, the area has become "a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens . . . ."

The rest of this industrial area consists of one small brick building, "sitting on the edge of the wasteland." It contains only three shops: a vacancy, a restaurant, and George Wilson's garage.

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The Great Gatsby

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