15th June 2018

The Great Gatsby Essay

“The American dream is that dream of a land where life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Throughout the story of the Great Gatsby, the idea of the American dream is shown though 4 different settings, each with their own distinctive interpretation of how this dream is and should be lived. In my opinion the three most important settings that truly show the diversity of the American dream is the Valley of Ashes, a place where people dream of getting to the top, but this dream constantly fails them and they are forced to keep working, but cannot realize the full extent to which this dream is failing them. West egg, these people ‘bootleg’ their way to the top but are never fully accepted into the elite social group of East egg. Like Gatsby who has fought his way into a rich world whereby he owned multiple drugstores around America. Even though he has worked his way to the top, he is still seen as a “cheat”; and East egg, a place where people are born into the dream and have not worked hard to get there. Money is usually handed down from successful relatives. These people have not pursued the dream, nor have they been failed by it. Like Tom and Daisy, they were both born into to it, and have not made there money through any professional job or position, but are just famous for their money, and not their personality. We perceive these people as being in their own secret society. 

These three different settings show how this dream has either been failed, perused or cheated. 


Throughout the story, the idea of the failure of the American dream is shown through the Valley of Ashes, a place where people chase the unrealistic dream. The Valley of Ashes is one of the four settings used in the story, where people work hard because they believe that they can reach the top through the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckelburg (a successful musician, poet, and producer), but the dream constantly fails them.

The first time we perceive the idea of the failed dream is when Nick and Tom drive through the Valley when heading for Manhattan . Nick describes the place as “A fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” He uses the technique of a simile, whereby he illustrates the idea that ashes grow like wheat, even though the ashes are dead and symbolize death. This shows the extent to which the people there are working in order to pursue the American Dream. He also describes the place where wheat grows as “Grotesque Gardens”. Grotesque means repulsively ugly or distorted. Even though wheat is living and symbolizes success and life, Nick still describes it as an ugly place. I think that this is because he is so utterly amazed by that fact that there are so many people wanting to pursue this dream, that he finds it awful that the dream keeps failing them.

Another example of when Nick shows the already fading dream is through this quote “Of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”.  Nick describes the men working there as moving dimly through the air. He uses the word dimly to show that there is no light, or a faded light, which shows to us the failed or faded dream. He also described the men as crumbling. This gives the idea of the men slowly turning into the ashes that make up the Valley, showing death or failure of the American Dream. The powdery air is also used to give the image that the people working there cannot see the result of there hard work and that they rely solely on the dream to drive them.

One of the settings that ultimately expressed the difference between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan is East egg. In the people’s eyes that live here, they believe that they have successfully achieved the dream, and have a high social status. These people have in actual fact been born into the dream, and have done nothing to earn their ranking. This is because all of these people have had money handed down to them by successful and high income earning relatives. The first time we apprehend the idea of the false dream of East egg is when Nick first goes there, to see his second cousin once removed, Daisy, and her husband who he went to college with, Tom. He describes the house they live in as “The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun−dials and brick walls and burning gardens”. We firstly realize the wealth that East Eggers have, because Nick describes every part of the property with such detail. The reason that F. Scott Fitzgerald has packed such and array of describing words in once sentence, is to show the reader the wealth that people here have, and it is to make them believe that East egg still holds that social status; in comparison to West egg, who still have wealth, but do not belong to the elite social group of East egg. Another scene where Nick describes the diversity between the two locations, is when he is invited to Gatsby’s party for the first time, and describes East egg as “…condescending to West egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gaiety”. The way he describes the relationship betwent at two settings makes the reader think that these two places are in a somewhat of a war with each other, and are constantly spying on one another. By using the word condescending ( meaning having a superior attitude ) , Fitzgerald further expresses the idea of the wealth and the succeeded dream that East egg has compared to the two other settings. He also describes East egg as being carefully on guard against it’s spectroscopic gaiety. Spectroscopic gaiety means being kind in nature, and being happy (gay). I think that this shows that East egg is jealous of the Wests happiness and parties, and obviously thinks that there is something not right. They still believe that the people who live there have cheated their way in to a high status, and are not worthy of anything.

The third and most talked about setting throughout the book is West egg, the less fashionable, less respected of the two eggs. This side is the place where people live who have worked hard in order to get to where they are, and have fulfilled the American dream. Although all this they are still seen as the lower, non-elite group. I think the reason that people from West egg make these assumptions is not because of the wealth that West egress have, but because of their past. East egg people were always born into the dream, but West egg people had to work hard, meaning that at some point in their life they were at a low status. “… though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them”. When describing West egg, Fitzgerald uses less descriptive words, to make it seem more dull. Nick has no real personal opinion on West egg, but realizes that East egg is definitely the more fashionable one. He also realizes the tension that is going on between the two eggs. He describes this tension as not a little sinister. Sinister means the foreshadowing or impression that something bad will happen. Through this we are able to see the aggravation of these two sides, and know that something bad will happen in the near future.

In conclusion I think that we can see the contrast but also differences of these three main settings, and how they all share different aspects of the American dream. We are able to see the failed dream through the Valley of ashes and the succeeded dream for both West and East egg, who have both fulfilled this dream in different ways. Through this tension we at Waldo able to foreshadow that something harmful will happen.

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