The Great Gatsby

The desciption of the "valley of ashes" opens chapter 2. On a literal level,what is the valley of ashes?What might it represent on a symbolic level?

Valley of ashes in the great gatsby

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The road from West Egg to New York City exemplifies decay. It is a "valley of ashes," a place of uninterrupted desolation. The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are an indelibly grotesque image: these are eyes unattached to any face or body, gazing out over a hellish wasteland. Fitzgerald's description of the drawbridge and passing barges makes an allusion to the River Styx, a mythological river which one crosses to enter the realm of the dead. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg seem to be a monstrous parody of the eyes of God: they watch, but they do not see; they are heartless, and entirely unknowing. Like the scene in which Gatsby reaches for the green light, high symbolism is given priority over the demands of realism: the reader is presented with an implausible, but highly effective image of two detached eyes looking out over dust and ashes.

The novel's only non-wealthy characters live in the valley of ashes; it is the grim underside to the hedonism of the Eggs, and of New York City. George Wilson, Myrtle's dejected husband, seems almost made of ashes: "ashen dust" coats his clothes and his hair. Fitzgerald represents poverty as lying beneath wealth and providing the wealthy with a dumping ground. It is what the wealthy wish to avoid seeing at all costs.