The Great Gatsby Setting

Topics: Moral

Throughout literature, authors have incorporated setting to not only provide a time frame but to also communicate information about the characters so that readers can further understand them based on their background. In truth, setting is prominent because it adds to a reader’s visual experience and helps them understand the purpose of the work as a whole. In addition, setting can also convey information about society during that time frame, enrich the atmosphere, and link itself to a novel’s theme.

Regarding the latter, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, setting speaks volumes about the main characters’ actions and contributes to the novel’s general theme. In The Great Gatsby, the locations of Manhattan, East Egg, and the Valley of Ashes serve to portray the characters’ disregard of morals and how, despite that, only those born into higher social ranks can get away with avoiding consequences by detailing how they impacted other characters.

Manhattan, a neighborhood well-known for its liveliness and the anonymity it supplies, provides a bedrock for the rampant behaviors and matters that occur there.

It is where the main characters go to flaunt their lack of morality. The events that scandalously occur in this neighborhood include Tom Buchanan and his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, openly spending time with each other. Tom and Myrtle publicly cheat on their spouses specifically in Manhattan because it is far away from their homes. The diverse range of people and the enormous population makes it harder to easily detect their relationship, as compared to the homogeneous society contained within the West and East Eggs.

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To give an example, people who live in West Egg are most well known for their extravagant lifestyles and self-earned wealth and success, whereas the East Egg residents come from families that have attained wealth spanning generations, meaning that they do not have to lift so much as a finger to earn their wealth. For example, as Gatsby drove Nick to the city for lunch with a friend of Gatsby’s, Nick took notice of, “a dead man”, a group of friends with, “tragic eyes and short upper lips of southeastern Europe”, and, “… modish negroes…their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry” (68-69). The various ethnicities and facial expressions are representative of the heterogeneous society living in Manhattan, making anyone who appears to be unusual not stick out because of the diversity contained in the city. There is no norm established in Manhattan, no way to spot the odd one out. Concerning Myrtle and Tom’s relationship in Manhattan, there came a violent point when Tom broke Myrtle’s nose because she angered him by repeatedly mentioning his wife’s name (37). Tom’s action indicated that although he may devote more time to Myrtle by going on day trips to Manhattan with her, he acknowledges that she will always be second to Daisy. Daisy’s social ranking is more appealing and honorable compared to Myrtle’s, even if she pretends to belong in a higher social class. Although both are in the wrong for this catastrophe, Tom will not face any consequences for his wrongdoing because Myrtle would find it more preferable than being stuck to her husband; as Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, said, “Neither of them can stand the person they’re married to” (33). This fact serves to showcase that because of their strained relationships with their respective spouses, Myrtle is willing to cheat on her husband, George, in exchange for what she considers to be a more fulfilling relationship with Tom. She is not satisfied with her relationship with George because he is not sophisticated for her as she would like (34). Upon meeting Tom, Myrtle believed that he was more refined based on his choice of clothing on the day they encountered each other and manly based on his rather assertive behavior towards her, as he took the first initiative to forcefully address her by pressing his shirt against her arm and getting into a taxi with her (36). The riskiness of catching Tom and Myrtle together helps characterize Manhattan as a symbol of nonchalance because when they are in the city, they act recklessly without giving any thought to the possible consequences that they could endure; to give an idea, they do not come up with a plausible excuse for how and why Myrtle’s nose was broken and how she got an expensive dog leash. for wh Albeit the physical encounter harmed Myrtle, she will never give him up because with him by her side, she has access to things that she could never attain if she was faithful to George: a private apartment for her and Tom, gossip magazines, elaborate clothing pieces, and a dog. The first meeting she shared with Tom left a profound impact on her because it showed how a well-to-do man was willing to court an ordinary and unspectacular working-class woman. In Myrtle’s perspective, she views this dishonest relationship as a means to help her achieve a higher social rank compared to tolerating her marriage with an unrefined man because she associates material goods and a socially well-bred suitor as equivalent to being classy. On page 30, it appears that Myrtle changed into a fancy dress and with this change of clothes, she adopted a change in her attitude, as Nick quoted: “The intense vitality… was converted into impressive hauteur.” In short, it is in Manhattan that Myrtle can adopt a more high-class persona because of the impact of Tom Buchanan and the lifestyle that he gives her because his wealth is more appealing than facing the consequences of hurting her and subsequently, losing access to the material goods.

Equally as important as the significance of Manhattan’s location is East Egg, where the Buchanans’ indifference of right and wrong is covered up. Their practice of committing wrongdoings is covered up by a false sense of respectability, but once the root of those wrongdoings is uncovered, that sense of nobility shatters and is replaced by the apparent immoral core of that family. For instance, the family’s sense of respectability and privilege is apparent at the dinner party they host with guests Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway. Immediately after meeting Nick, the first thing Tom mentions to him is, “I’ve got a nice place here” (7), making well known that he has wealth and superiority, the latter being an example of Tom’s disregard of morality. Rather than behaving humbly and graciouslyg, he flaunts a characteristic that is associated with his high-ranked status. Dinner is hosted outside with candles flickering against the sunset and the evening is civilized and refined. However, even this cannot disparage the argument that ensues behind closed doors in muted yet intense voices after Tom gets up to answer his mistress’s call and Daisy follows after him. Regardless, the hosts return to their small party and resume spending time with their guests. This attempt to peacefully rejoin the party without any mention of the dispute serves to portray that in East Egg, the Buchanans will always put on a front in order to appear perfect when they are actually far from it. Throughout the dinner party, although Daisy argues with Tom over Myrtle, she does not spread this information to her dinner guests in order to maintain her beautiful and charming personality (16-17). Rather than actually leaving her husband over his infidelity, Tom’s influence on Daisy convinces her to stay in this marriage because before she married him, he still carried “… a wholesome bulkiness about his person and his position, and Daisy was flattered” (151). In short, she chose to marry him because of the financial security that his status in society would bring and repeatedly chooses him over Gatsby, namely when she gravitates toward Tom upon hearing that Gatsby’s wealth was not coming from a virtuous means of work nor from an illustrious family, but rather from the unrighteous sale of alcohol. As a result, Daisy’s faithfulness to her husband is purely out of her desire for his wealth and old money status, allowing Tom to not face the after effects of cheating on his wife.

What goes around in the Valley of Ashes is similar to what happens in Manhattan. In the former, Tom and Daisy, fueled by their wants and carelessness, attain what they want without caring for others. This location is noted for where Tom arranges to meet up with his kept woman. In chapter 2, Tom misuses Myrtle by telling her what to do in order to see him later, forcing her to comply with whatever Tom tells her to do, as planning their excursions to Manhattan requires a high degree of flexibility from her. Instead of meeting her at a more discreet place, Tom chooses to fabricate a story about selling his car to George while delaying the date when he would send his car to George as an excuse to visit George’s garage in order to plan out when he would see Myrtle; therefore, he views lying as a way to attain what he desires. After selling his car to George, he would not have any other excuses for swinging by his garage in order to pick up Myrtle. This manipulation of the Wilsons in the Valley of Ashes embodies the insensitivity Tom has towards them because his deception will not harm himself, but the couple instead. Tom’s lies about selling his car shield him from being suspected as Myrtle’s lover, whereas Myrtle has nothing to back her up once George deduces how she attained an expensive dog leash when they are not wealthy. Secondly and most notoriously, the Valley of Ashes is where Daisy carelessly drove over Myrtle’s body, resulting in her death (143). She showed no remorse over this action and did not bother to get out of the car to check up on Myrtle’s state, but rather, she chose to drive away speeding into the night. This climax in the book reveals one important truth that can be said for the Buchanans’, and therefore for all of the East Eggers: they are short of moral principles to the extent where they have no emotions or concerns over who they are directly impacting. Although wrongful and inattentive in nature, this careless escape from the crime scene played out well in Daisy’s favor because she and her husband quickly acted upon themselves to flee away from the turmoil they created. Thus, the rich people can afford to run away from their problems because of the influence that they exert over those directly affected by them.

In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the different settings are crucial to further understanding the novel’s purpose as they shape the characters’ personalities, the plot, and the aftermath of the events. The settings in The Great Gatsby convey not only symbolic meanings, but also have their own nature. The characters’ social classes all contribute to the outcomes of the issues that involve them. Despite the main characters’ vices, only those that are lucky enough to live are those from the highest social ranks, because their money protects them from facing consequences. When viewing this novel from the perspective that higher social rankings will always prevail, it serves as a reminder that even in our society, because money and clout can remove repercussions, the moral decay of social classes will always dominate the selfish interests of humans.

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The Great Gatsby Setting. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved from

The Great Gatsby Setting
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