Describe at least ONE important setting in the written text(s). Explain how the setting helped to show the writer’s idea(s). Note: Setting is the time, place, and circumstances that form the background against which characters or individuals live and act.
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. The Great Gatsby is written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and follows the life of three main characters during their 1920’s upper-class summer in New York, narrated by Nick Carraway. Their lives are filled with lies, materialism and judgment. Fitzgerald uses the idea of the American Dream to illustrate settings and the people that live there, but the illusion of the American Dream is that it can only ever be a dream. I will discuss that no matter how hard you work, the illusion of the American Dream will aways be just a dream.
- West Egg – corrupt American dream
- East Egg – fake American dream
- Valley of Ashes – the failed of the American dream
West Egg represents the corruption of the American Dream. West Egg is the home to the newly rich, those that live there have made their wealth illegally. They have earned their way up the social classes to becoming successful and wealthy but they are still not accepted into the upper-class society. They will never truly fulfil the American Dream as they’d never be treated as equal which is why it represents the corruption of the American Dream. They didn’t make their wealth legally, they surpassed the hard work that the American Dream reflects, they will never be accepted as they aren’t as classy and respected as East Egg (old money – those who were born into wealth and gained money through inheritance). When Tom Buchanan first attends Gatsby’s party, he labels Gatsby and those that attend his parties as bootleggers as “a lot of these newly rich people are just big bootleggers” so are therefore not worthy of respect from the upper class. Those that live in West Egg are automatically labelled as bootleggers because East Egg can’t comprehend how anybody could make all of their wealth from working so, therefore, must have made their money illegally. We later discover that Gatsby did, in fact, make his wealth from selling liquor which was illegal in the 1920’s, supporting the corruption of the American Dream. West Egg and East Egg are almost the same despite how those that live there made their wealth (illegally and through inheritance) they are the same as they are both home to the upper class. Even though West Egg is labelled “the less fashionable of the two” Nick believes that this is “the most superficial tag”. West and East Egg have a huge divide of old and new money but both still have a lot of wealth. This shows truly how corrupt the American Dream is, that two groups of people are wealthy but the ones who ‘worked’ for their wealth still aren’t accepted into the upper-class society. West Egg has rightfully earned their position into the life that the upper class live but still aren’t treated as equal, which is part of what the American Dream is. Fitzgerald uses West Egg to show the corruption of the American Dream. Those that live in West Egg can never truly be accepted by the upper class, never truly fulfilling the American Dream. No matter how hard they work, they will always be just the working class. Not only does it represents people’s hopes and dreams being an illusion but also shows the downfall and corruption of the American Dream and how it’s never fully achievable. The idea of the American Dream is that people can live a better, richer and fuller life “with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. The idea of the further you climb up the social classes, the less accepted you become and more desperate you become for respect. Even after those that live in West Egg have rightfully earned their place in the upper-class society they are still deemed “less fashionable” and are labelled as bootleggers. They’ve worked hard and still aren’t accepted. They are so desperate to be apart of the upper class that they turn to illegal businesses to earn their wealth, cheating and corrupting the American Dream.
East Egg represents the fake American Dream. East Egg is where the highest of the upper class live, they have earned their wealth through inheritance and live and breath money. They haven’t had to work hard for their wealth, it was handed to them. They hold a superior stand over all those who aren’t a part of their upper-class society. They are what those who believe in the American Dream strive to have. East Egg has an aura of perfection and achievement of the American Dream, “the white palaces… glittered along the water” showing what ‘achieving’ the American Dream could look like. White in The Great Gatsby represents plain and boring, which is exactly what East Egg is, they haven’t had to do anything they just live their life in money. They put all their effort into presenting the world immaculately, so much money that their house glitters along the water. They haven’t achieved the American Dream, they faked it, with presenting the world the best that money can buy, alluding to the fakeness of the American Dream. As the palaces are glittering it hides how plain and boring living the upper-class lifestyle it, hiding the masking the illusion of the American Dream. Living in East Egg is like living in a “distinguished secret society”, which only the upper class are a part of, they were born a part of the American Dream, born into the secret society, they know no different and can’t comprehend how somebody from West Egg could be a part of the same social position they are. Being part of a secret society shows how secluded the upper class is and how even after achieving the American Dream, those who have made their wealth won’t be a part of the society and never fulfilling the American Dream. They have created a bubble of what the American Dream looks like but will never accept those that are living the American Dream because in their eyes, those who have made their wealth on their own “are just big bootleggers” and aren’t to be associated with. The upper class hold a superior power over those outside of their ‘world’ making those outside inferior. East Egg faking the American Dream gives false help to those in West Egg who are so close to living the American Dream and false hope for everyone in the Valley of Ashes who once believed that they could live “a richer and fuller like”.
The Valley of Ashes represents the failed American Dream. The Valley of Ashes is where the working class lives, where they spend their lives day in, day out, just working and is located in between East and West Egg on the way to New York. No matter how hard they work they will never earn enough money to be even near the same social position as the upper class. They are trapped inside the walls that the Valley of Ashes forms, never being able to climb high enough to escape. The American Dream is an impossibility demonstrated by the Valley of Ashes. Inside the Valley of Ashes, “ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” the ashes are the dead hopes and dreams of people who once believed in a possibility of a better life, and believed in the American Dream. So many people are trapped in the Valley of Ashes because they’ve stopped believing, they know now that the American Dream can only ever be a dream, their minds are clear of the illusion. The ashes completely shape the valley, forming hills and gardens, completely suffocating the land. Everywhere they look they see what they once thought was a possibility of a life but what in reality never was and never could be. The ashes don’t just take the form of the dead dreams of those that live there but also from the dead dreams of West Egg as well as New York, the people that live there have tainted the American Dream, putting all their lost hope into the Valley of Ashes. Moving all the lost hopes and dreams that form the ashes away from West Egg and New York, hides the illusion of the reality of the American Dream, keeping the illusion alive. Keeping the illusion alive lets the idea of the American Dream live on for generations to come, hiding what truly is the American Dream – just a dream. The Valley of Ashes is formed and landscaped by the dead dreams of those around them. Those who find themselves trapped in the grasp of the failure of the American dream “move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”, they have accepted their fate that living in the Valley of Ashes is all they will ever know, they have stopped dreaming. They’ve lost hope and are now just walking lost souls waiting for the day to end. They’re already fading into the ashes, already aware of the illusion that is the American Dream. The ‘ashes’ have created a barrier, an impenetrable cloud, that they can’t past, so they don’t even try, moving dimly day by day. Ashe fill the atmosphere of the Valley of Ashes, they live and breath the reality of the American Dream – an impossibility. The American Dream can only ever be a dream, the Valley of Ashes is the representation of this. No matter how hard they work they’ll always be in the Valley of Ashes, it’s their home. They work hard and have legal businesses but that’s not good enough to break down the barrier that the Valley of Ashes forms. It’s a “desolate area of land”, a prison for the hard working, which is the unfair reality of the American Dream.