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The Great Gatsby. Chapter 2. The Valley of Ashes. Chapter 1 (Eggs = wealth) juxtaposed with Chapter 2 (Valley of Ashes = poverty) The Valley of Ashes = The American Nightmare

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The valley of ashes
The Valley of Ashes

  • Chapter 1 (Eggs = wealth) juxtaposed with Chapter 2 (Valley of Ashes = poverty)

  • The Valley of Ashes = The American Nightmare

    • “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” (27).

      • Ashes = industrial waste (bi-product of the rich/extravagant lifestyle)

      • Grey – color motif (lifeless/poverty)

      • “Men” implies working class individuals

      • Beaten down by the drudgery of day-to-day physical labor

The diction of failure
The Diction of Failure:

  • Diction (negative)

    • Desolate

    • Grotesque

    • Dimly

    • Crumbling

    • Ghastly

    • Impenetrable

    • Obscure

Dr t j eckleburg
Dr. T.J. Eckleburg

  • The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg (motif – disapproval)

    • Billboard/Painting/Advertisment -“his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under the sun and rain” (28)

      • “some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens” (28)

      • Man’s face (w/ glasses) that “brood” (dwell with morbid persistence)

        • Negative connotation

        • Disapproval in what he sees?

          • “Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare”(28)

          • Tom “exchanges a frown with Doctor Eckleburg”

        • Later compared to “the eyes of God” by Wilson – moral decay as well as physical?

  • Bridge/River

    • “The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river…”(28)

    • Allusion to the River Styx – Greek Mythology

      • a river in Hades across which Charon carried dead souls

        • insinuates view from outsiders (in this case Nick)

Tom and nick
Tom and Nick

  • Nick’s introduction to Myrtle via Tom

    • “I want you to meet my girl” (28)

      • Tom – possessive? Indication of Myrtle as a possession?

    • “His determination to have my company bordered on violence […] the supercilious assumption was that on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to do” (28).

      • Second use of supercilious (haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression) to describe Tom’s behavior.

      • Again, Tom’s need for approval from Nick

Wilson s shop
Wilson’s Shop

  • Wilson’s shop

    • “…a garage-Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON. Cars Bought and Sold” (29)

    • Description of shop indicates poor financial returns

      • “the interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner”(29)

        • Car Motif

          • Jordan/Baker

          • Ford (American car) destroyed, old, not working

            • Cars in the 1920s = status symbol = wealth

            • Symbolic of the American Dream

            • Wilson’s dream has been metaphorically “put aside” and as a result is subject to decay


  • Wilson = negative of Tom (poverty vs. wealth)

    • Blond/spiritless/anemic faintly handsome

    • “A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity” (30).

      • “faintly” suggest something that is past its glory similar to Wilson and his business

      • Wilson answers “unconvincingly” when asked about the state of affairs by Tom

      • Ignored by his wife

        • “She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost” (30)

        • “Wilson…mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls” (30).

      • Tom and Wilson

        • Friendly with veiled antagonism (Tom)

          • Car discussion

          • “…maybe I’d better sell it somewhere else after all” (29)

        • Tom, like so many others he dismisses, also does not think highly of Wilson:

          • “He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive” (30)


  • Myrtle – finds Tom’s wealth appealing (foil of Daisy?)

    • Thickishfigure

    • Mid-thirties

    • Faintly stout

    • Sensual

    • No facet or gleam of beauty (face)

    • Vitality/smoldering

  • Materialistic

    • Attempts to elevate her social status through her relationship with Tom

      • Purchases: “Town Tattle”, moving picture magazine, cold cream, small flask of perfume, and a dog

      • Keeps an apartment in the city with Tom: “long white cake of apartment houses” (32)

        • Diction of superiority

          • Throws a “regal” (kingly) glance (33)

          • She enters “haughtily” (33)

Par tay

Party at the apartment – “the bottle of whiskey – a second one- was now in constant demand by all present” (39) – drunken atmosphere = moral confusion

  • In reference to Katherine (her sister): “She’s said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know”

  • Changes her dress 3 times in Ch. 2 – changing audience and attitude

    • “The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur (arrogance)

    • Note: darker muddy colors in comparison to Daisy’s light and airy presentation

      • #1 –dark blue crepe-de-chine (no facet of gleam or beauty) at home in her garage

      • #2 – brown figured muslin, tight over her hips

      • #3 – elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffron

  • At the party: “Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment…” (35).

  • Also: “I’ve got to make a list of all the things I’ve got to get. A massage and a wave and a collar for the dog and one of those cute little ash trays…” (41).

Who s all there
“Who’s all there?”

  • Guests:

    • Catherine – Myrtle’s sister

      • Slender and worldly

      • 30

      • Stick bob of red hair

      • “powdered milky white complexion” (34)

      • “proprietary haste”

      • Possessive

      • Reveals her attempt to be higher class (similar to her sister) with her Monte Carlo story (38).

      • Knows of Gatsby (again, notoriety?) – “Really, I was down there at a party about a month ago. At a man named Gatsby’s. Do you know him?” (36-37).

        • Rumor: Gatsby’s supposed relationship (cousin) with Kaiser Wilhelm

          • Note Keiser Wilhelm – Prussian (German) emperor often noted as the protagonist t of WWI

      • Informs Nick how neither (Myrtle or Tom) can stand the person they are married to (George or Daisy)

The mckees
The McKees

  • Mr. McKee – self-absorbed with own accomplishments in photography

    • Pale feminine man

    • In the “artistic game” (photography)

    • Respectful and polite

  • Mrs. McKee – “I almost married a kyke who’d been after me for years. I knew he was below me” (38).

    • Shrill

    • Languid

    • Handsome

    • Horrible

Nick gets wasted hilarity ensues
Nick gets wasted…hilarity ensues.

  • Nick

    • Unreliable in opinion vs. action, now completely so as a result of his inebriated state?

      • “I have been drunk just twice in my life and the second time was that afternoon, so everything that happened has a dim hazy cast over it although until after eight o’ clock the apartment was full of cheerful sun” (33).

    • Recognizes his awkward attendance of the situation

      • “I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight…”(40)

        • Indication of Nick’s love for country/nature

        • Distinctively “mid-western” in thought

    • Still reserves judgment in the end in his action of remaining at the party insteadof leaving in disgust

  • Myrtle uses the party as a platform to “show off” her wealthy relationship to Tom in front of the guests.

    • Myrtle’s relationship (her p.o.v.) simply exists to elevate her status over her current life with George

      • Irony/Hypocrisy – “My dear, most of these fellas will cheat you every time. All they think of is money” (35).

  • These people
    “These people!”

    • Again, an attempt to appear educated: “appendicitis” (35) is used in the incorrect way.

    • Dismisses comment on dress

      • “This crazy old thing, I just slip it on sometimes when I don’t care what I feel like” (35).

        • Intentionally wore

        • Rejects compliment in order to be accepted

        • In reality (garage) never would have owned the dress

    • Verbal animosity toward blue collar/servant class (note: that of herself and husband)

      • “These people! You have to keep after them all of the time” (36).

  • Tom = visible indication of the party as a distraction (beneath his lofty expectations?)

    • “Tom Buchanan yawned audibly and got to his feet” (36).

    • “Two what?” – disinterest in Mr. McKee’s photography

    • Insinuates his disgust of Myrtle’s (true) lifestyle with his comment to Mr. McKee:

      • “George B. Wilson at the gas pump, or something like that” (37).

  • Continues pattern of disrespect toward women

    • Orders Myrtle: “Get some more ice and mineral water” (36).

    • Later, physically hits her (41).

  • Your tragic fate is looking so clear it s your nightmare
    Your tragic fate is looking so clear. It’s’ your nightmare!”

    • Myrtle’s “American Nightmare

      • Myrtle struggles to escape her current situation

        • Marriage to Wilson

          • Perception of superiority

            • “I married him because I thought he was a gentleman. I thought he was fit for breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe!” (39).

          • Materialism

            • “He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in and never even told me about it…and I lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon” (39).

        • Living in the Valley of Ashes

          • “They’ve been living over that garage for eleven years” (39).

        • Blue collar (poverty?) lifestyle

      • Pines for the life of the rich and famous

        • Uses Tom ($)

      • Refuses to face reality

        • Tom will never marry her despite what he says:

    Romantic idealism
    Romantic Idealism

    • Indication of (false) romantic idealism – story of how she met Tom (40).

      • Irony = attracted to Tom’s appearance, like her husband when she first me him

    • Give Myrtle the excuse (via Catherine to Nick) that he cannot divorce Daisy because she is Catholic

      • Catholics do not believe in divorce

      • “Daisy was not Catholic and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie” (38).

    • Attempts to (incorrectly) put herself on the same social level as Tom (and by association, Daisy)

      • “Daisy, Daisy, Daisy I’ll say it whenever I want to!” (41).

    • Tom recognizes this disrespect, and similar to his emotional control over Daisy, uses his physicality to control Myrtle

      • “Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand” (41).

    • At the onset of violence, the social air of the scene dissipates revealing the façade:

      • “women’s voices scolding”

      • Mr. McKee awoke from a doze and stared in a daze toward the door”

      • “…trying to spread a copy of “Town Tattle” over the tapestry scenes of Versailles”

    Bow chica wow wha

    • Nick’s post-party excursion (drunk misadventures?)

      • Ends up in the elevator with Mr. Mckee

        • Returns to his apartment with him (both men drunk)

          • “I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands” (41).

        • Wakes up in Pennsylvania station (little recollection of how he arrived).