Fitzgerald’s depiction of the Valley of Ashes in Chapter Two
The Valley of Ashes, a landfill site solely for ashes, is painted by Fitzgerald to greaten our appreciation of American Society and the themes it generates such as social decline, moral ambiguity, the loss of hope and faith and the dominance of shallow materialism. Nick Carraway labels the Valley as “desolate”, thus steering our attention into one which will perceive the Valley negatively. Fitzgerald then paints the Valley of Ashes as a crude distortion of nature. The references to nature stem from a “farm” where “ashes grow like wheat”, among “hills” and “gardens” of ash. The ashes give life to the wheat and are the foundation of all ’life’ in this area. Consequently they are seen as a symbol of fertility. A problem with this foundation is that ashes from industrial cinders are hardly a fertile symbol yet they support an entire ‘community’. This is waste and a pollutant, which miraculously gives way to wheat. The “wheat” (the basis of a Western diet) having sprouted from the ash must also be corrupted. Therefore the “crumbling” men would also be corrupted, who live off the land, along with their dreams and ambitions. This is a very bleak outlook on life and promises little success to the average American. Like all themes throughout Great Gatsby, this is a microcosm of America (as the title not chosen of the book would suggest: Under the Red, White and Blue) so Fitzgerald questions the validity of the American Dream too. Fitzgerald has chosen ash to be the basis because ash is the waste of the rich and industrious. Fitzgerald questions the morality of the rich by suggesting that their extravagant materialistic hunger distorted the ideals of those less well-off; leading by ‘bad’ example. Marx (a recent thinker when the book as written) called agriculture basis for an economy, which questions if the growing of wheat from ash is corruption of American society from the top down or bottom up. This passage...
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