What Does The Valley of Ashes Symbolize in The Great Gatsby

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About this sample


Words: 826 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Mar 5, 2024

Words: 826|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Mar 5, 2024

The Great Gatsby, a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, presents a detailed exploration of the American Dream through the use of symbolic landscapes. Among these landscapes, the Valley of Ashes stands out as a potent symbol that resonates throughout the novel. This essay argues that the Valley of Ashes symbolizes the moral decay, the gap between the rich and the poor, and the death of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby.

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Firstly, the Valley of Ashes represents the moral decay hidden beneath the glittering facade of the wealthy. Fitzgerald describes the Valley as 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". This vivid description creates an image of a desolate, lifeless place, filled with industrial waste, which symbolizes the moral bankruptcy of the society Fitzgerald portrays. The figurative 'ashes' can be seen as the rotten morals of the wealthy and privileged class that, despite their ostentatious display of wealth, lack ethical principles and values.

Secondly, the Valley of Ashes signifies the stark socio-economic divide that exists within the society. It serves as the dwelling place for the impoverished, a stark contrast to the opulent neighborhoods of East and West Egg. The location of the Valley, situated between the Eggs and New York City, marks it as a transitional space. It is here that the rich pass through without a second thought, highlighting their indifference to the plight of the less fortunate. This geographical symbolism underscores the vast gulf between the rich and the poor, and the neglect and marginalization suffered by those who have not attained the elusive American Dream.

The third, and perhaps the most poignant symbolism of the Valley of Ashes, is its representation of the death of the American Dream. The American Dream, a national ethos centered on ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity, is presented as being unattainable for the majority. The inhabitants of the Valley, such as George Wilson, work diligently in hopes of a better future. However, their dreams are never realized, and they remain stuck in their desolate conditions. This reflects Fitzgerald's critique of the American Dream as a mere illusion, unattainable for those not born into wealth and privilege.

To corroborate these arguments, Fitzgerald's use of characters like George and Myrtle Wilson, who reside in the Valley, provide further evidence. Despite their aspirations to escape their impoverished conditions, they remain entrapped in the Valley, symbolizing their futile attempts to attain the American Dream. The tragic fate of these characters serves as a stark reminder of the disillusionment that often accompanies the pursuit of this dream.

One academic source that supports the symbolism of the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby is an article by literary critic Matthew J. Bruccoli titled "The Great Gatsby and the American Dream." In this article, Bruccoli discusses how Fitzgerald uses the Valley of Ashes to critique the materialism and moral decay of society during the Roaring Twenties. He argues that the Valley symbolizes the consequences of the pursuit of wealth at the expense of ethical values, highlighting the emptiness and disillusionment that accompanies the American Dream for many individuals.

Furthermore, the socio-economic implications of the Valley of Ashes can be further explored through a study by sociologist Dalton Conley titled "Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America." Conley's research delves into the persistent wealth disparities in America, particularly among racial minorities, and how these inequalities contribute to the perpetuation of poverty and social marginalization. By applying Conley's findings to the Valley of Ashes, one can draw parallels between the struggles faced by the impoverished residents of the Valley and the systemic barriers that prevent them from achieving upward mobility.

Moreover, the death of the American Dream as symbolized by the Valley of Ashes can be reinforced through an analysis of historical context. During the 1920s, the era in which The Great Gatsby is set, America experienced a period of economic prosperity and cultural transformation known as the Roaring Twenties. However, this era was also marked by widespread corruption, income inequality, and moral decadence, all of which are reflected in Fitzgerald's portrayal of the Valley of Ashes. By examining primary sources such as newspaper articles, political speeches, and economic data from the time, one can gain a deeper understanding of the societal conditions that influenced Fitzgerald's critique of the American Dream.

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In conclusion, the symbolism of the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby extends beyond a mere backdrop for the novel's events; it serves as a multifaceted metaphor for the moral decay, social inequality, and disillusionment that underpin American society. By drawing on academic sources, historical context, and literary analysis, one can appreciate the richness and complexity of Fitzgerald's critique of the American Dream as embodied in the desolate landscape of the Valley of Ashes.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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What Does The Valley Of Ashes Symbolize In The Great Gatsby. (2024, March 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
“What Does The Valley Of Ashes Symbolize In The Great Gatsby.” GradesFixer, 05 Mar. 2024,
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