What is the significance and importance of the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby?
The Valley of Ashes is a remote, barren wasteland located between the two Eggs and New York. The Valley is where George. B. Wilson works and lives with his wife, Myrtle. It is also where Myrtle is brutally killed in a hit and run accident towards the end of the novel. The Valley’s bleak and barren nature provides a contrast to the loudness and brightness of New York, which represents wild and selfish behaviour, and the pursuit of pleasure, illustrated by the fact that Tom and Myrtle’s affair occurs there. The drunken debauchery of Tom and Myrtle’s party demonstrates New York’s lack of moral depth, and the idea that people feel that they can act how they want without the fear of consequences, when, in fact, the selfishness and greed of New Yorkers is ultimately dealt with by the workers in the Valley of Ashes.
The Valley is a place of poverty and destitution, used as a dumping ground for all the waste produced by the city - the ugly by-product of consumerism that is often forgotten and overlooked by the wealthy Egg communities. In basic terms, ashes are a result of fire, and ultimately stand for destruction and death. Within the Valley, there exists a giant billboard; a forgotten advertisement for Doctor T.J. Eckleburg’s Opticians. The billboard has painted on it two “blue and gigantic” eyes whose “retinas are one yard high”. These eyes keep a “vigil” over the Valley of Ashes like an omniscient observer of society. They may represent God gazing down upon and judging American society as an ethical wasteland, however the novel never explicitly makes this point. Rather, throughout the novel, Fitzgerald proposes that symbols only have meaning because characters instil them with importance. The connection between the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg and God exists just in George Wilson's anguished mind. This lack of concrete evidence contributes to the somewhat disturbing nature of...
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