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The Great Gatsby Setting 1,462 views

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

When I was in high school, my dad got a huge promotion. And along with that promotion, came a membership to country club in my home town. Now everybody in my family was really excited about this. I wasn't so excited though. When I went to the country club, I just didn't get how to play by the rules. I didn't know that it was inappropriate to yellow across the golf course to say hi to my dad. And I wasn't sure why I got in trouble for launching the tennis balls overs the fences of the tennis courts. I felt like I'd been invited to a game but nobody was willing to tell me what the real rules were.

I imagine Jay Gatsby must have felt the same way when he moved to the east. Let's take sometime to look at the different settings in the Great Gatsby, and see how F. Fitzgerald used those settings to communicate ideas about the characters to us.

So the East Egg in Great Gatsby must have been a lot like the country club that my parents joined, that I wasn't quite privy to the rules. In the Great Gatsby, we see the East Egg over here. And this is where Tom and Daisy house is. It's described as being "across the courtesy bay," from the West Egg and the houses on it are described as the "White palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water." So we get this kind of sense of magnificence that these houses have.

Tom and Daisy Buchanan's house on the East Egg is specifically described as a "Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran towards the front door for a quarter of a mile." So we get this idea of kind of this large palace that glittered and glowed, very representative of the old money that lived on the East Egg. Also it's noted that "the front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now reflected with gold," So again, we get this imagery of richness, of shinning, of sparkling of gold. All these things really ring of money, which is what the East Egg had on it.

In direct contrast with the East Egg island in Great Gatsby, is West Egg island. It's located directly across the courtesy bay, almost directly across from Tom and Daisy Buchanan's. You'll find Jay Gatsby's. However West Egg island is noted as "the less fashionable of the two." Though the houses are just as big, and just as elaborate, it doesn't quite have the same umph that East Egg has. In fact Jay Gatsby's house if you know, was described as "a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy."

And if you think back at the quotation we discussed of the Buchanan's mansion, know that though the Buchanan's is this legitimate Georgian Colonial, Jay Gatsby is described as an imitation. So that really showed you a little bit about the attitudes in terms of money, when we're looking at the East Egg versus the West Egg. The West Egg is really reserved for a people of new money. People who haven't been established as families. So though we see people of the same social standing, in terms of the money they've earned, they don't quite have the same social standing in terms of the company that they keep.

Also on the West Egg island, you'll find Nick Carraway's house. It's located just around the corner from Gatsby's. In fact it's described as being set between Gatsby's mansion and another mansion. Though Nick Carraway says, "My own house was an eye-sore, but it was a small eye-sore and it had been overlooked." The reason this is important to know, is that an eye-sore would never have been overlooked on East Egg island. So this again is more proof of the fact that West Egg, though it's trying to be of the same standing as East Egg island, just doesn't quite make it.

Another important location in Great Gatsby is an area called the Valley of Ashes. And this is actually an area that's located between the Eggs and the actual city here. You'll see it's where the transportation routes intersect and it's really meant to represent where the working class of America lives. In fact it's described kind of grimly as it being "a valley of ashes-a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and ... of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."

So we get this very grim, this very dark, this very kind of monotonous feeling when we hear the description of the Valley of Ashes. And the reason it's important to note this location is, not only do a lot of important events in the book take place here, but we've got a couple important objects that we need to know.

The first is the billboard with TJ Eckleberg's classes on it. Now this is literally a billboard that rises here in the Valley of Ashes. And it's a billboard for an opthalmologist named Doctor. TJ Eckleberg. And what you see is a big set of wire rimmed glasses with a pair of eyes peering out over the valley. It says, "above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg." So we get this image of somebody watching over this area of Ashes.

Another important thing in the Valley of Ashes is Wilson's Garage. We've met Myrtle and George Wilson. These two characters meant to represent the working class of America. What's interesting to know is, when their garage is described, it says, "The interior was unprosperous and bare." And at first this seems like a really basic and natural description, but note that the terms unprosperous and bare, that are being used to describe this garage, are terms of wealth here. It doesn't say that it has yellow walls, or concrete floors, instead it's described by what it doesn't have. It does not have money and it clearly does not have things. And this is just another thing that F. Scott Fitzgerald uses to show how people make value of things in the 1920s. It's to note that it was empty it had a lack of material wealth.

The final location that we need to talk about in the novel Great Gatsby is New York City. And the one of the important place that we see a lot of action taking place in the beginning of the book is Tom and Myrtle's apartment, which is located just across the bridge. Tom and Myrtle's apartment is described as being kind of a small apartment "with a set of tapestried furniture too large for it so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles."

The important thing to note about this particular quotation, is that this is a rather small apartment. And keep in mind Myrtle is Tom's mistress. So he's provided her with an apartment and Myrtle wants desperately to be a part of Tom's upper class, East Egg, old money lifestyle. But it seems, Myrtle, just like the furniture that's being described here, doesn't quite fit. So we can see this, the furniture, with the ladies Versailles on the tamper street couches, being represented of Myrtle herself. Though she's trying hard, she doesn't quite fit into Tom's old money lifestyle.

So again we see the five most important locations throughout the New York area for the Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald specifically picked New York as a setting here, so that he could provide an area where all of these characters of vary in social classes, could cross paths and thus really demonstrate what wealth is doing to the American dream.

In this episode we talk specifically about setting. And remember, in the Great Gatsby, where a character lives speaks volumes about who that character actually is. Think about East Egg island, how Fitzgerald describes it and what that reveals about Tom and Daisy Buchanan's, and the values that they hold. We see Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway over on West Egg island, how their less sophisticated style of life really influences who they are. And then we see Myrtle and George Wilson in the Valley of Ashes representing working class America. All this is set against the setting of New York city where anything is possible and characters of every different social class can come together.

So as you go through the novel, really keep setting in mind because for the Great Gatsby, setting reveals a lot deeper meaning about the characters and who they truly are.