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The Valley of Ashes as Metaphor in The Great Gatsby

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The Valley of Ashes as Metaphor in The Great Gatsby

Throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, location is a critical motif. The contrasts between East and West, East Egg and West Egg, and the two Eggs and New York serve important thematic roles and provide the backdrops for the main conflict. Yet, there needs to be a middle ground between each of these sites, a buffer zone, as it were; there is the great distance that separates East from West; there is the bay that separates East Egg from West Egg; and, there is the Valley of Ashes that separates Long Island from New York. The last of these is probably the most striking. Yet, the traditional literal interpretation does not serve Fitzgerald's theme as well as a more figurative one would--the "Valley of Ashes" is not literally a valley of ashes, but is rather a figurative description of the middle-class values and suburbia that clash with those of New York as well as East and West Egg.

Supposing that the valley of ashes is literally a valley strewn with ashes, there arise certain technical concerns. Ashes are light and easily blown about—a Sahara-like desert is expected, yet the dust storms Nick describes are rather tame, conjuring up very familiar human images (23); even those that Wilson sees are gentle and "fantastic." (160) Perhaps this doldrum-like state might emphasize the lack of change, but would still fail to account for the lack of effect rain has. Rain would wash away the ashes, or at least make a mess, but it fails to do so; the valley of ashes remains, neither blown nor washed away--weathering of some sort would have to eventually purge the valley of its ashes, if a strict literal interpretation is held to. Clearly, it is imprudent to take Fitzg...

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