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The Valley of the Ashes in the Great Gatsby Essay

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Discuss the role played by the Valley of the Ashes.

In The Great Gatsby, the Valley of the Ashes illustrate the inequality between its inhabitants and that of West Egg and East Egg, in terms of social standing and income, as well as the hopelessness of poverty resulting from the inability of its inhabitants to rise up the socio-economic ladder. Thus, the valley represents the failure of the Dream that America promises, which is the ideal of equal opportunities for all, associated with the New World.

The valley is described as a “desolate” place where “ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills into grotesque gardens”. (21) Ashes that dominate the area take the shape of natural greenery. The term “grotesque gardens” uses alliteration, with juxtaposition; to highlight the odd pairing of ashes and greenery. Ashes are associated with death while ridges and “gardens” represent the potential to flourish and grow in the promise and ideal of equality as in “the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams.” (143) The trees that once stood here were able to speak to man’s dreams, which allude to America, the land able to speak to man’s dreams and capacity for wonder. All this is replaced by grey ash that suffocates the inhabitants, restricting them to their social class. This presents a bleak image of hopelessness that surrounds the valley.

Similarly, ashes take the form “of ash-grey men, who moved dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”. (21) The stiff, weak movements show its inhabitants to be barely alive. These men have the same lack of life and vitality as their surroundings do. This is seen in the inhabitants of the valley. George Wilson, who...


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...rom the elite rich, who possess old money. Tom also claims that Gatsby “threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy’s”, (142) and can be said to be using his false wealth to mislead and confuse Daisy and Nick into thinking he is someone of their standards, which shows that Gatsby is not recognised as one of their class. This undercuts the glamorous wealth associated with Gatsby, and the ideal of equality in the American Dream.

By exploring the physical site of the valley, followed by the inhabitants of the valley – George and Myrtle, George representing the working class and Myrtle the exception, extending this to the references of the valley to Gatsby’s humble origins, the Valley of the Ashes represents the low social mobility and the failure of the American Dream.



Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Oxford World Classics. 2008. Print.


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