The Great Gatsby in 1925, a time period commonly known as the ‘roaring twenties’. Anticipating the Great Depression this era was fulfilled by prosperity and material wealth, but despite the common idea of easily creating for one self a successful life many people faced economic misery. Thus, taking into account the novel’s focus on the contrast between the upper classes and lower ones it is evident that Fitzgerald implicitly reflects on the hypocrisy behind the ‘American Dream’; rendering one aware into why a social group was represented in a particular way.
Secondarily through the symbolic setting of the Valley of Ashes and a detailed characterization of George and Myrtle Wilson the author is able to convey how America’s lower classes battled their way to attempt success.
Between the sparkling Manhattan lights and sublime mansions found in East/West Egg, there is a horrid, vast stretch of land filled by dust and ashes from close factories. “This is a valley of ashes – where ashes grow like wheat into ridges” .
Since it’s first mention, the Valley of Ashes results as a setting keen to convey the misery a large portion of America was doomed to lived in. One is able to connect that the city’s splendour is the product of the hard work within it ; rendering the reader empathic towards the men and women “who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”. Fitzgerald renders the grotesque, gloomy setting idoneous to the melanchonic mental states of whom lived there, suggesting how the splendour of nature has been torn and transformed in a rumorous, dirty environment, causing the people within it to be frenetic and in need of a way to fulfill the American Dream.
Through the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg one is able to advocate how the valley has no ‘mercy’. Evidently, some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. Those who do not strive are left behind in hopelessness; even though George Wilson considers these eyes as a metaphorical god-like presence, the valley has no higher moral authority. What the Valley of Ashes conveys is a march towards death and dissolution ; it’s inhabitants are costantly alienated by the modernization of New York City, essentially serving as a forgotten shadow through which production takes place. Ultimately, Fitzgerald implicitly manages to discuss the abyss between the rich and poor, attacking on a higher note how these eyes are a condemnatory symbol towards the devastating failures of capitalism.
Anticipating Myrtle’s death, Fitzgerald hints George Wilson’s decay through his idea of prosperity/salvation within the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. As he discovered Myrtle’s secret life Wilson made it clear to her wife that she could “fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window—[…] and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing.” (Fitzgerald, 105) . As his speech towards Mrytle appears to his eyes englightening, the author dramatizes George’s pusuit towards salvation in the ‘eyes’ of nothing but an empty advertisement. New York’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ came with a price ; and the moral decay that such period brought was overwhelmingly grasped by the author. George is fighting a hopeless war , one in which his powerlessness will cling to violent methods in order to seek revenge. Thus, the reader is compelled to wonder whether there is a driving morality between human beings, or as the ‘Lost Generation authors depicted, if the world is simply a perfid environment abandoned by the existence of God.
As the author establishes the setting, George Wilson’s characterization is what recollects one of the universal perspectives towards fronting poverty; which can be extrapolated as the one of maintaining a moderate job that will gradually bring more income. “Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn’t working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road.” (Fitzgerald, 7, 312). George Wilson is the primordial example of a hard worker that despite his aneamic physique decides to remain hopeful ; thus, by tracing his moderate activeness and ambitiousness Fitzgerald is able to identify Wilson’s naiveness. Through his noble devotion towards properly maintaining his wife, Wilson remaines unattentive towards Myrtle’s affair with Tom Buchanan ; making one consider how the upper class could have a higher advantage of doing whatever it felt to do. George Wilson could never acces Tom’s social circles, permitting Fitzgerald to claim ho hwe will never be aware of his wife’s secret New York City lifestyle.
It is shortly after George Wilson’s characterization that the reader ponders on how different Myrtle’s approach to misery is in comparison to her husband’s. Myrtle is never depicted as a woman battling to overcome her poverty ; and in contrast to her husband’s acceptance of their social status, Myrtle wants to appear as a cultured woman despite her modest roots. “ I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn’t hardly know I wasn’t getting into a subway train” . As Myrtle rambles about her affair with Tom the reader can’t help but feel pityful towards her. Myrtle’s perception of her own life is highly subjective ; by presuming that her affair will bring her glory and success she is sadly faced to accept her superficial desire on Tom’s behalf.
As her persona is emphasized, Fitzgerald is able to convey how Myrtle’s life depicts one of the many failures of the American Dream. Once she alters her identity to gain access in the wealthy circle Myrtle mistakes America’s 1920’s as an appropriate era to sell herself in order to gain more. In contrast to her husband she does not cling to honesty (nor in work or relationships) and true improvement. ‘Beat me!’ he heard her cry. ‘Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!’. Myrtle’s entire misunderstanding on how Tom perceives her strongly fits Fitzgerald cynical portrayal of the false certainty that comes with the American Dream.
Thus, the reader is daunted into envisioning that the roaring twenties did not permit the lower class to truly intertwine with the socialeites. Ultimately, The Great Gatsby clings to setting and characterization to convey the failures of America’s society. Despite the countless efforts one may attempt, the lower social groups won’t manage to compete with the ‘old money’ descendants. The workers within the Valley of Ashes, peculiarily portrayed by Myrtle and George Wilson will not perceive the ‘internal rules’ guiding their society , pehaps coming to terms with the idea that their chance of being equal will never be met.