Free Study Guide-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes |
It is only Gatsby who is not corrupted by his money. Although he has a large, ostentatious mansion, drives flashy cars, gives extravagant parties filled with excess and waste, and has far too many gaudy clothes, he has not amassed his wealth or its accoutrements for himself. Everything he has done in life has been done to fulfill his dream - to prove to Daisy that he is worthy of her. He believes that his possessions will convince his golden girl to forget the past five years of her life and marry him. When he takes Daisy into his house and shows her his belongings, he values each item according to the worth that she places on it. When she shatters his dream by accepting Tom over him, Gatsby has no need for any of his possessions. No longer searching for his holy grail, the house, the clothes, and the cars mean nothing. Nick, who has thought Gatsby to be vulgar throughout the novel, finally realizes that his neighbor has more worth than all of the East Eggers put together.
All of the wealthy characters, including Gatsby, use people and things and then discard them as trash, destined for the Valley of Ashes. Tom uses Myrtle, and she dies amongst the ashheap chasing after him. He also uses George Wilson, and he is so much a part of the wasteland that his eyes have become ashen. Gatsby uses the butlers and the cooks to provide for his parties. They are left to clean up the ravages of Saturday night on Sunday morning. Fitzgerald is clearly saying that the American Dream has gone awry. People are so into chasing the almighty dollar that they have forgotten real human values. Like Tom and Daisy, their lives wind up in the Valley of Ashes, devoid of meaning or purpose. The all-knowing eyes of T.J. Eckelberg, a symbol of God, looks sadly down on the wasteland that has been created by the extravagant and careless lifestyles of the wealthy.
Fitzgerald clearly intends for Gatsby’s dream to be symbolic of the American Dream for wealth and youth. Gatsby genuinely believes that if a person makes enough money and amasses a great enough fortune, he can buy anything. He thinks his wealth can erase the last five years of his and Daisy’s life and reunite them at the point at which he left her before he went away to the war. In a similar fashion, all Americans have a tendency to believe that if they have enough money, they can manipulate time, staying perpetually young, and buy their happiness through materialistic spending. Throughout the novel, there are many parties, a hallmark of the rich. But each festivity ends in waste (the trash left behind by the guests) or violence (Myrtle’s broken nose and subsequent accidental death.) Between the wealth of New York City and the fashionable Egg Islands lies the Valley of Ashes, the symbol of the waste and corruption that characterizes the wealthy.
When Gatsby’s dream is crushed by Daisy’s refusal to forget the past or deny that she has ever loved Tom, Fitzgerald is stating that the American Dream of wealth and beauty is just as fragile. History has proven that view correct. The sense of wonder of the first settlers in America quickly turned into an excessive greed for more wealth. The ostentatious, wild lifestyle of the wealthy during the 1920s was followed by the reality of the stock market crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Where there is great wealth, sadness and waste always seems to follow. The end product is always a valley of ashes.
Watching over the Valley of Ashes, that lies between the wealthy of the Egg Islands and the wealthy of New York City, are the all-knowing eyes of T.J. Eckelberg, a symbol of the omniscience of God; but his image is fading, as if he is totally tired of sadly looking down at the wasteland below. He seems ashamed of mankind’s extravagance that cause the ashheaps. His is a powerful image that is repeatedly referenced to hold the novel together and to emphasize Fitzgerald's key theme: wealth corrupts.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on The Great Gatsby".
. 11 May 2008