Halfway between West Egg and New York City sprawls a desolate plain, a grayvalley where New York’s ashes are dumped. The men who live here work atshoveling up the ashes. Overhead, two huge, blue, spectacle-rimmed 1.
eyes-the last vestige of an advertising gimmick by a long-vanished eye doctor-stare down from an enormous sign. These unblinking eyes, the eyes of DoctorT. J. Eckleburg, watch over everything that happens in the valley of ashes.The commuter train that runs between West Egg and New York passes throughthe valley, making several stops along the way. One day, as MACROBUTTONHtmlResAnchor Nick and MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor Tom are riding the traininto the city, Tom forces Nick to follow him out of the train at one ofthese stops. Tom leads Nick to MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor George Wilson’sgarage, which sits on the edge of the valley of ashes. Tom’s loverMACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor Myrtle is Wilson’s wife.
Wilson is a lifeless yethandsome man, colored gray by the ashes in the air. In contrast, Myrtle hasa kind of desperate vitality; she strikes Nick as sensuous despite herstocky figure. Tom taunts Wilson and then orders Myrtle to follow him tothe train. Tom takes Nick and Myrtle to New York City, to the MorningsideHeights apartment he keeps for his affair. Here they have an impromptuparty with Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, and a couple named McKee. Catherinehas bright red hair, wears a great deal of makeup, and tells Nick that shehas heard that MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor Jay Gatsby is the nephew orcousin of Kaiser Wilhelm, the ruler of Germany during World War I. TheMcKees, who live downstairs, are a horrid couple: Mr.
McKee is pale andfeminine, and Mrs. McKee is shrill. The group proceeds to drinkexcessively. Nick claims that he got drunk for only the second time in hislife at this party.The ostentatious behavior and conversation of the others at the partyrepulse Nick, and he tries to leave. At the same time, he finds himselffascinated by the lurid spectacle of the group.
Myrtle grows louder andmore obnoxious the more she drinks, and shortly after Tom gives her a newpuppy as a gift, she begins to talk about MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor Daisy.Tom sternly warns her never to mention his wife. Myrtle angrily says thatshe will talk about whatever she chooses and begins chanting Daisy’s name.
Tom responds by breaking her nose, bringing the party to an abrupt halt.Nick leaves, drunkenly, with Mr. McKee, and ends up taking the 4 a.m. trainback to Long Island.AnalysisUnlike the other settings in the book, the valley of ashes is a picture ofabsolute desolation and poverty.
It lacks a glamorous surface and liesfallow and gray halfway between West Egg and New York. The valley of ashessymbolizes the moral decay hidden by the beautiful facades of the Eggs, andsuggests that beneath the ornamentation of West Egg and the mannered charmof East Egg lies the same ugliness as in the valley. The valley is createdby industrial dumping and is therefore a by-product of capitalism.
It isthe home to the only poor characters in the novel.The undefined significance of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s monstrous,bespectacled eyes gazing down from their billboard makes them troubling tothe reader: in this chapter, Fitzgerald preserves their mystery, givingthem no fixed symbolic value. Enigmatically, the eyes simply “brood on overthe solemn dumping ground.” Perhaps the most persuasive reading of the eyesat this point in the novel is that they represent the eyes of God, staringdown at the moral decay of the 1920s. The faded paint of the eyes can beseen as symbolizing the extent to which humanity has lost its connection toGod.
This reading, however, is merely suggested by the arrangement of thenovel’s symbols; Nick does not directly explain the symbol in this way,leaving the reader to interpret it.The fourth and final setting of the novel, New York City, is in every waythe opposite of the valley of ashes-it is loud, garish, abundant, andglittering. To Nick, New York is simultaneously fascinating and repulsive,thrillingly fast-paced and dazzling to look at but lacking a moral center.While Tom is forced to keep his affair with Myrtle relatively discreet inthe valley of the ashes, in New York he can appear with her in public, evenamong his acquaintances, without causing a scandal. Even Nick, despitebeing Daisy’s cousin, seems not to mind that Tom parades his infidelity inpublic.The sequence of events leading up to and occurring at the party define andcontrast the various characters in The Great Gatsby. Nick’s reserved natureand indecisiveness show in the fact that though he feels morally repelledby the vulgarity and tastelessness of the party, he is too fascinated by itto leave.
This contradiction suggests the ambivalence that he feels towardthe Buchanans, Gatsby, and the East Coast in general. The party alsounderscores Tom’s hypocrisy and lack of restraint: he feels no guilt forbetraying Daisy with Myrtle, but he feels compelled to keep Myrtle in herplace. Tom emerges in this section as a boorish bully who uses his socialstatus and physical strength to dominate those around him-he subtly tauntsWilson while having an affair with his wife, experiences no guilt for hisimmoral behavior, and does not hesitate to lash out violently in order topreserve his authority over Myrtle. Wilson stands in stark contrast, ahandsome and morally upright man who lacks money, privilege, and vitality.Fitzgerald also uses the party scene to continue building an aura ofmystery and excitement around Gatsby, who has yet to make a full appearancein the novel.
Here, Gatsby emerges as a mysterious subject of gossip. He isextremely well known, but no one seems to have any verifiable informationabout him. The ridiculous rumor Catherine spreads shows the extent of thepublic’s curiosity about him, rendering him more intriguing to both theother characters in the novel and the reader.