The setting in The Great Gatsby is very important because in Fitzgerald's
world setting reveals character. Fitzgerald divides the world of the novel into
four major settings: 1. East Egg; 2. West Egg; 3. the valley of ashes; and 4.
New York City. Within these major settings are two or more subsettings. East Egg
is limited to Daisy's house, but West Egg incorporates both Gatsby's house and
Nick's. The valley of ashes includes the Wilson's garage, Michaelis' restaurant,
a nd the famous sign with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. New York City
includes the offices where people work, the apartment Tom Buchanan has rented
for Myrtle Wilson, and the Plaza Hotel, where the final showdown between Gatsby
and Tom Buchanan takes pla ce.
Each of these settings both reflects and determines the values of the people
who live or work there. East Egg, where Tom and Daisy live, is the home of the
Ivy League set who have had wealth for a long time and are comfortable with it.
Since they are s ecure with their money, they have no need to show it off. Nick
lives in new-rich West Egg because he is too poor to afford a home in East Egg;
Gatsby lives there because his money is "new" and he lacks the social
credentials to be accepted in East Egg. Hi s house, like the rest of his
possessions (his pink suit, for example), is tasteless and vulgar and would be
completely out of place in the more refined and understated world of East Egg.
No wonder that Gatsby is ruined in the end by the East, and that Nic k decides
The valley of ashes in contrast to both eggs is where the poor people
live--those who are the victims of the rich. It is characterized literally by
dust, for it is here that the city's ashes are dumped (in what is now Flushing,
Queens), and the inhabitants are, as it were, symbolically dumped on by the rest
of the world. The valley of ashes, with its brooding eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg,
also stands as a symbol of the spiritual dryness, the emptiness of the world of
New York City is a symbol of what America has become in the 1920s: a place
where anything goes, where money is made and bootleggers flourish, and where the
World Series can be fixed by a man like Meyer Wolfsheim. New York is a place of
parties and affairs, and biz arre and colorful characters who appear from time
to time in West Egg at Gatsby's parties.
The idea of setting as moral geography is reinforced by the overriding
symbolism of the American East and the American Midwest. This larger contrast
between East and Midwest frames the novel as a whole. Nick comes East to enter
the bond business, and finds himself instead in the dizzying world of The Jazz
Age in the summer of 1922. He is fascinated and disgusted with this world, and
he eventually returns home to the Midwest, to the values and traditions of his