The settings and backdrops in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, are essential elements to the formation of the characters, symbolic imagery and the overall plot development. Fitzgerald uses East and West Egg communities to portray two separate worlds and two classes of people that are technically the same their status, but fundamentally different in their ideals. The physical geography of the settings is representative of the distance between classes of the East and West Eggers. Every setting connotes a different tone and enhances the imagery of story line. From the wealthy class of the “eggs”, the desolate “valley of ashes”, to the chaos of Manhattan. The imagery provided by Fitzgerald becomes an important tool in establishing the characters and their story.
The separation between the east and the west shows the division between the people who are from each side. Generally, the West Coast represents a more laissez-faire attitude and is seen as the “new” land or world. Many people have dreamt of “going west” in search of a new life or vast treasures in the “wild” lands. Fitzgerald associates these qualities of the West with the characters Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby, who live on the West Egg. On the other side of the spectrum lie Tom Buchanan, Daisy, and Jordan Baker. These characters are associated with a stereotypical East Coast mindset which is more strict, traditional and ancestrally based, as opposed to the “new” and “wild” West. They resent anything that is unfamiliar to them such as the West Eggers with “new money” and no traditions. The distance and mindset of the East and West are symbolically integrated into the East Egg and West Egg which are representative of the social class of which the characters come from.
The physical settings establish the identities of the characters through their wealth and houses. The West Eggers represent the social class of the nouveau riche, people who have made fortunes recently in their generation instead of having inherited wealth. The East Eggers have had money in their blood for many generations and have an established presence in their community. The houses of both classes are evidence to this fact. Gatsby’s mansion is designed in an newer European style unlike the Buchanan’s more colonial style house and is decorated with gold and lavish items intended to “show off” his wealth. “…period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk and vivid with new flowers. Through dressing rooms and poolrooms, and bathrooms with sunken baths. The dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold. P.96-97” Tom and Daisy also live in a mansion which is Georgian Colonial, which establishes their status as “old money” characters. The people living in the “valley of the ashes” depict a third class. The “valley of ashes is described as ” a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat in ridges…where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys”. Myrtle and George Wilson are the inhabitants in the “valley of ashes”, which is depicted as a wasteland. They live in a car garage which, shows that they live a common or impoverished existence in the desolate wasteland of the “valley of ashes”. The Wilson’s financial and physical environment instructs their distance from characters like Tom Buchanan and Nick Carraway in every way, including their lack of education and class. In this way, Fitzgerald emphasizes major monetary differences through materialistic as well as solidifying the premise for ideological differences.
From the Eggs, the characters must pass through the “valley of ashes” in order to reach Manhattan. The “valley of ashes” represents the industrial era of that time and the seeming destruction that it created. This desolate and wasted land is the “bridge” between the wealth of the Eggs and the chaotic city. It depicts “how the other half lives” through Myrtle and George’s seemingly pathetic. The “valley of ashes” is highly symbolic in that it not only represents that physical obstacle, but also as a symbol of the mentality of the twenties and the result of the Eggs and the city. The leaving of the Eggs also meant that a certain security was lost and that the characters were now capable of being subjected to the unpredictable.
The weather also plays a part in the overall setting and tone of the story. The scene of the city is presented in a confusing manner during hot weather. It is set as the stage for the confrontation of Gatsby with Tom. The hot weather and the atmosphere of the city often leads to a confrontation. In Tom’s secret apartment that he shares with Myrtle, they host a party where Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose. In the case of the confrontation of Tom to Gatsby, the weather is also hot. The weather plays the part of creating a physical manifestation of tension between everyone in the hotel room in the city scene. It hangs over the characters creating a daze and irritability in everyone. In other cases, the weather emulates the mood of the story. For instance, when Gatsby is standing outside in the rain with his hands in his pockets, Gatsby is depicted as a saddened figure. When he returns outside with Daisy, the sun comes out and the atmosphere is pleasant. Fitzgerald uses the weather and the seasons as a reflection of the story line and its current stage. The Great Gatsby starts out in the springtime, a time of new growth and beginning. The story takes place until the end of summer and beginning of autumn. As spring and summer pass by, steady improvements, it seems, are occurring in Nick and Gatsby’s relationship. Gatsby’s death is synonymous to the death in autumn. Falling leaves and dying shrubbery coincide with Gatsby’s own death. The progression of the story is parallel to the changing of the seasons. The reflection of the tale can be seen through the weather and changing seasons.
Fitzgerald uses the setting and seasonal change to create the progression of the characters, symbolism and the plot. The backdrops create the framework that the characters live in and interact. The setting of the story creates all the contrast between East and West, “new money” and “old money” and the social classes. Not only do the physical representations of these differences separate the characters and create their character, but also a more representative division is shown. By using symbolism embedded with actual display of its imagery, Fitzgerald is able to capture both, a symbolic essence and tangents of reality.