Places Discussed

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Last Updated on June 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 755

Gatsby’s Mansion

Gatsby’s mansion. Garish, multilevel home located on “West Egg.” The narrator Nick Carraway describes it as colossal, as ostentatious as it is roomy. Situated on forty acres, the mansion is the site of numerous glitzy and riotous parties thrown by Gatsby, hoping to pique Daisy Buchanan’s interest. The mansion, however, is much more than a lure for Gatsby’s long lost love; it is a symbol of the man himself and his dream of materialism as a vehicle to success both literally and romantically. Gatsby’s home parallels his persona—grand, mysterious, and richly adorned. It is the emblem of a successful businessman and the symbol of what he hopes to recover in Daisy and her love. The mansion is also a representation of a shortsighted American Dream: that material success, in and of itself, will bring one status and happiness. Unfortunately, the dream is based on hollow underpinnings, on the vacuous Daisy and the misguided concept that large amounts of money can be made and used without responsibility. Conversely, the mansion serves also as a symbol of Gatsby’s vision, aspiration, idealism, and belief in the American Dream of the self-made man. Thus, it is simultaneously a symbolic representation of the “great” Gatsby and of the flawed one. Ultimately, Nick Carraway describes the mansion as “that huge incoherent failure of a house.” The mansion exists as both a vision and failure of such a vision.

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East Egg

East Egg and West Egg. Fictionalized opposing peninsulas of Long Island Sound described as resembling a giant pair of eggs. They are contrasted in terms of fashionableness, color, and type of wealth. The East Egg mansions glitter along the water; they are more chic and are representative of older, Eastern, inherited wealth. The West Egg residences are more derivative and imitative, representative of the nouveau riche, affluent newcomers not yet accepted into the highest echelons of wealth. It is Gatsby’s habitation in West Egg that denotes his aspiration to a social status that seems unattainable. The Buchanans, who reside on East Egg, represent the arrogance of an exclusive clique who attend Gatsby’s parties and share in the fruits of his wealth but who essentially despise him. Tom Buchanan, who has inherited his fortune, does not value it in terms of the traditional American ethics of hard work, integrity, fairness, and success coupled with responsibility. The two Eggs also represent the larger framework of an East symbolic of European antiquity, old money, and corruption, and a West symbolic of independence, new money, and the pioneering spirit. Certainly Nick Carraway values Western ideals over Eastern, and at the conclusion of the novel he returns, in a westerly direction, to the traditional and conservative Midwest whence he came.

Valley of Ashes

Valley of Ashes. Generally considered to be Flushing in New York City’s borough of Queens, this place exists as a gray, dead, powdery area—even the homes seem to be composed of ashes—passed by motorcars on their way to New York. Here Myrtle and George Wilson live and operate a garage and gasoline station. The valley is a metaphoric representation of the wasteland the American Dream becomes when ethics and morals are disassociated from it. The valley is also the locus of those, such as George and Myrtle, who are victimized by the arrogant wealthy who base their lives on pleasure, avoidance of boredom, and dishonesty. If East and West Egg are two renditions of attainment of the American Dream, the Valley of Ashes is its demise. Literally it is the site where Daisy kills Myrtle, without compunction, and George decides to murder Gatsby. Finally, overlooking the valley are the giant blue eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, who stares down on the ashes from a billboard. A central symbol of guilt, judgment, and God, it invests the valley with a moral intensity that allies the novel with existential themes and statements about the moral bankruptcy of the modern world, a vast gray, ashen wasteland.

New York City

New York City. Certain integral scenes take place in this city and often entail irresponsibility, adultery, violence, and drunkenness. New York is where Tom Buchanan takes his mistress, where Nick witnesses Tom brutalizing her, where Gatsby reveals his illicit love affair with Daisy, and where a lot of alcohol is consumed. Symbolically, the city represents careless consumption and irresponsible immorality. New York in the 1920’s was a glittering den of writers, socialites, wealthy entrepreneurs, and other moneyed persons who were known for their extravagance and excesses.

Setting

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Set in the summer of 1922, most of the story takes place in the fictitious New York towns of East and West Egg, Long Island, and in New York City. Nick Carraway, who has rented a cottage in West Egg next door to the rented estate where the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby lives, renews his acquaintance with his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom, who live in East Egg. When Gatsby wishes to meet the charming Daisy, whose voice rings like the sound of money, he selects Nick as his confidant. The glitter and intrigue of the 1920s permeate the story, and the details of the setting are important to the development of the theme.

Analysis

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Point of View

The Great Gatsby is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, one of the main characters. The technique is similar to that used by British novelist Joseph Conrad one of Fitzgerald's literary influences, and shows how Nick feels about the characters. Superbly chosen by the author, Nick is a romantic, moralist, and judge who gives the reader retrospective flashbacks that fill us in on the life of Gatsby and then flash forward to foreshadow his tragedy. Nick must be the kind of person whom others trust. Nick undergoes a transformation himself because of his observations about experiences surrounding the mysterious figure of Jay Gatsby. Through this first-person (“I”) narrative technique, we also gain insight into the author's perspective. Nick is voicing much of Fitzgerald's own sentiments about life. One is quite simply that “you can never judge a book by its cover” and often times a person's worth is difficult to find at first. Out of the various impressions we have of these characters, we can agree with Nick's final estimation that Gatsby is worth the whole “rotten bunch of them put together.”

Setting

As in all of Fitzgerald's stories, the setting is a crucial part of The Great Gatsby. West and East are two opposing poles of values: one is pure and idealistic, and the other is corrupt and materialistic. The Western states, including the Midwest, represent decency and the basic ethical principles of honesty, while the East is full of deceit. The difference between East and West Egg is a similar contrast in cultures. The way the characters line up morally correlates with their geographical choice of lifestyle. The Buchanans began life in the West but gravitated to the East and stayed there. Gatsby did as well, though only to follow Daisy and to watch her house across the bay. His utter simplicity and naivete indicates an idealism that has not been lost. Nick remains the moral center of the book and returns home to the Midwest. To him, the land is “not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that.” He finds that he is unadaptable to life in the East. The memory of the East haunts him once he returns home. Another setting of importance is the wasteland of ash heaps, between New York City and Long Island, where the mechanization of modern life destroys all the past values. Nick's view of the modern world is that God is dead, and man makes a valley of ashes; he corrupts ecology, corrupts the American Dream and desecrates it. The only Godlike image in this deathlike existence are the eyes of Dr. J. L. Eckleburg on a billboard advertising glasses.

Satire

Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the form of a satire, a criticism of society's foibles through humor. The elements of satire in the book include the depiction of the nouveau riche (“newly rich”), the sense of vulgarity of the people, the parties intended to draw Daisy over, the grotesque quality of the name “Great” Gatsby in the title. Satire originated in the Roman times, and similarly criticized the rich thugs with no values, tapped into cultural pessimism, and gave readers a glimpse into chaos. The Great Gatsby is the tale of the irresponsible rich. Originally, the title of the book was “Trimalchio,” based on an ancient satire of a man called Trimalchio who dresses up to be rich.

Light/Dark Imagery

In The Great Gatsby, the author uses light imagery to point out idealism and illusion. The green light that shines off Daisy's dock is one example. Gatsby sees it as his dream, away from his humble beginnings, towards a successful future with the girl of his desire. Daisy and Jordan are in an aura of whiteness like angels—which they are not, of course, yet everything in Gatsby's vision that is associated with Daisy is bright. Her chatter with Jordan is described as “cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes” by Nick. The lamp light in the house is “bright on [Tom's] boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair.” Gatsby comments to Daisy and Nick how the light catches the front of his house and makes it look splendid, and Nick notes how Daisy's brass buttons on her dress “gleamed in the sunlight.” Between the frequent mention of moonlight, twilight, and the women's white gowns, Fitzgerald alludes to the dreamlike qualities of Gatsby's world, and indirectly, to Nick's romantic vision. On the other hand, Meyer Wolfsheim, the gambler, is seen in a restaurant hidden in a dark cellar when Gatsby first introduces him to Nick. “Blinking away the brightness of the street, my eyes picked him out obscurely in the anteroom,” says Nick.

Literary Qualities

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Fitzgerald has been justly praised for the narrative structure of The Great Gatsby. As critic Matthew Bruccoli points out, his "narrative control solved the problem of making the mysterious— almost preposterous—Jay Gatsby convincing by letting the truth about him emerge gradually during the course of the novel." Fitzgerald greatly admired novelist Joseph Conrad's employment of a partially involved narrator, and everything that occurs in the novel is presented through Nick's perceptions, thus combining, as Bruccoli puts it, "the effect of a first-person immediacy with authorial perspective."

Nick's tempered approach to life and his undeniable honesty lend an authenticity to his observations. In Nick's narration, Fitzgerald skillfully merges the language of the lyric poet with subjects not traditionally associated with a lyrical sensibility. Gatsby's car is not just an ostentatious display of wealth, it is a mobile realm; his drawer of unusual shirts is more than a display of buying power, it suggests the generosity of abundance; the Buchanans' mansion is not just an example of conspicuous consumption, it is a symbol of a limitless power, almost a natural force; Gatsby's gestures are not just calculated effects, they are manifestations of genuine aristocracy; Daisy's voice is not just "full of money," it is an expression of the magic that stirs the senses.

One of Fitzgerald's greatest strengths is his ability to animate the vision of the American dream even as he reveals the forces that have tainted, if not destroyed, that idyll. Nick's list of "guests" at one of Gatsby's parties hints at the ugliness of the "high" society that beckons to and often swallows those who see in its glitter the realization of their dreams and desires. Predatory names such as Leeche, Civet, Ferret, and Blackbuck evoke these people's voracious bestial habits; the suspect quality of "fishy" people like Whitebait, Hammerhead, Fishguard, and Beluga is suggested by their surnames, as is the murky, swamp-like aspect of Catlip, Duckweed, and Beaver. These people's lives are based on an extravagant, tasteless display of cash, unmerited status, or power gained through criminal activity. They are people for whom the American dream has lost its meaning, or for whom it never held meaning. They live in a hollow world that reflects the surface dazzle of advanced technology but lacks any connection to the natural world or to a sense of morality. Perhaps most significantly, these people have no culture; nothing to revive their souls and nothing to replace their desperate groping for diversion and stimulation. This is the world where the dream has died.

Techniques / Literary Precedents

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Fitzgerald has been justly praised for his creation of structure in The Great Gatsby. As Matthew Bruccoli points out, his "narrative control solved the problem of making the mysterious — almost preposterous — Jay Gatsby convincing by letting the truth about him emerge gradually during the course of the novel." Fitzgerald greatly admired Joseph Conrad's employment of a partially involved narrator; and everything that occurs in the novel is presented through Nick's perceptions, thus combining, as Bruccoli puts it, "the effect of a first-person immediacy with authorial perspective." Nick's tempered approach to life and his undeniable honesty lend an authenticity to his observations. But as appealing as Nick is, as confident as the reader feels in the precision and verity of his account, the narrative structure of The Great Gatsby is only the framework for the novel. Its finish is provided by the creation of a poetic sensibility capable of rendering both the evanescent ethos of romance and the piercing disorder of psychic aggression. Both of these conditions are components of the mythic spirit of the American nation which Fitzgerald seeks to express. In an unusual demonstration of virtuosity, Fitzgerald has been able to use the language of the lyric poet in dealing with subject and circumstance not traditionally associated with a lyrical sensibility. Gatsby's car is not just an ostentatious display of wealth; it is a mobile realm. His drawer of unusual shirts is more than a display of buying power; it suggests the generosity of abundance. The Buchanans' mansion is not just an example of conspicuous consumption; it is a symbol of a limitless power almost like a natural force. Gatsby's gestures are not just calculated effects; they are manifestations of genuine aristocracy. Daisy's voice is not just "full of money"; it is an expression of the magic that stirs the senses.

Fitzgerald's images create the sensory vitality of The Great Gatsby's world while maintaining the tranquility crucial to understanding its significance. The necessary complement to the voice of the poet in rapture is the mind of the poet in contemplation. Nick's reflections establish a measure of value which calibrates the worth of action so as to enable an appreciation of Gatsby beyond his uses of wealth. The true poet must be a philosopher, and Fitzgerald, like his master John Keats, recognizes the consequences of transitory beauty on the human psyche. Fitzgerald has written an epic of American experience in lyric language, a unique fusion perhaps only he could achieve.

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