The Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:04 Roaring Twenties
  • 0:55 East & West Egg
  • 2:14 Valley of Ashes
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

'The Great Gatsby' is an American novel that sheds light on the prominent social issues of the 1920s. This lesson will discuss the significance of the Valley of Ashes and the role it plays in the novel's climax.

Roaring Twenties

What do you know about the flapper era in America? Short dresses, wild parties, and jazz come to the minds of most people. America in the 1920s was a place of great change. The notion of the American dream was changing from one of freedom to wealth, as industry and economy thrived and many people became millionaires overnight. This great increase in wealth added to the changing social vibe in the country.

During the 1920s, America was in the process of a social shift. Conservative values and dress were giving way to liberal thinking and revealing styles. Many people found the changes scandalous and corrupt. A great divide emerged between socioeconomic classes. This clash of status is exemplified in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a novel about money, lust, tragedy, and love gone terribly wrong.

East & West Egg

In The Great Gatsby, the novel's setting serves as a reflection of the class wars that were common in 1920s America. One of the main characters, Jay Gatsby, is a self-made man of great wealth. Gatsby lives in in a gaudy mansion in West Egg, the poorer and less desirable side of town. West Egg is skirted by the Valley of Ashes, a filthy and sinful area that separates Long Island from the glamour, glitz, and indulgence of New York City.

Tom Buchanan is a member of the upper class. He lives in an East Egg estate, the wealthy area of the resort village, with his wife Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby's former flame. The geographical divide between West Egg and East Egg represents the social stratification between the haves and the have-nots.

Despite the fact that Gatsby has acquired great wealth, he will never measure up to Buchanan in the eyes of society because Buchanan's family has been wealthy for a long time, while Gatsby made his money himself. Gatsby's lack of social status causes Daisy to reject his advances. In short, Daisy chooses the safety of longtime wealth and reputation that Buchanan offers over a life of true love with the devoted Gatsby.

Now that we understand the importance of the setting and the general plot of the book, let's take a closer look at the Valley of Ashes.

Valley of Ashes

The Valley of Ashes surrounds West Egg. To reach New York City, residents of Long Island must travel through the filth and degradation associated with this location. It's literally composed of the remnants of incinerated garbage from New York City. The Valley of Ashes represents the moral decay that was taking place in society at the time as people pursued wealth and glamour - at any cost.

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