Throughout the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ an idea that Fitzgerald critiques is The American Dream. James Turslow once said “The American Dream is that dream of a land where life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” However in reality, the reality of the American Dream is quite the opposite. Fitzgerald portrays this through the use of setting. The settings he used throughout the novel portray different aspects of the American Dream these settings include: East Egg, The Valley of Ashes and New York.
The first setting in Great Gatsby that represents the idea of the American Dream is East Egg. Throughout the novel, it is shown to us that East Egg is an location that not only represents the idea of the American Dream but the false American Dream. We first begin to see this idea shown when the appearance of East Egg is describes to us “Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water”. This imagery begins to shape how we portray East Egg and start to attach stereo types about places like East Egg. The “white palaces” allow us to link this place to the ideal of royalty and ultimate wealth. As well as how they “glittered along the water”, the way he words this creates a link to a mirage like image. A mirage is an illusion, just like the idea of the American Dream that East Egg represents. Daisy speaks of a “rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged”, this shows us that the idea of East Egg is like a secret society. It allows us to see that the idea of the American dream is not as it meets the eye, and there is much more to this ideal life beneath the surface. I believe that Fitzgerald uses setting effectively to show us how East Egg is an illusion, and how the stereo type that society has formed around this wealthy life is false.
Another setting that Fitzgerald uses to show the idea of the American Dream is the Valley of Ashes. Fitzgerald created The valley of ashes to represent the fail of the American dream, as well as the reality of the American dream. Fitzgerald first describes the Valley of Ashes as “fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens.” The way that Fitzgerald describes this place, allows us to associate this area with something repulsive. This description begins to shape our image of what this piece of land may look like. The word “grotesque” means distorted or ugly, very much like the reality of the American Dream. When he says “where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke”, it shows that there are mounds of ashes that occupy this area. I believe these ashes also represent the people living here’s failed dream, and how all their lost dreams are piled on top of each other like a pile of ashes. This an important line as it enhances what the reality of the American dream really is and how prominent it is in their life’s, the failed dream is their homes, chimney and smoke. The line “with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”, represents the people who live in the fail of their dream. The men that live here move dimly as they are tired and spend their life’s working towards a dream that is never going to become a reality. Their dreams “crumble” just like the facade that is the American Dream.
The final setting that Fitzgerald uses to critique the idea of the American Dream is New York itself. New York represents the illusion of the American Dream, and the ideal life that this city boasts. This idea is enhanced when Nick says “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all. . . .” even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.” This quote is portrays the idea that anything is possible when you’re in the city. This line allows Fitzgerald to shape this place that becomes the symbol of the American Dream and represents the life that everyone wishes to be apart of. The line “without any particular wonder” enhances this as it is normal for the impossible to be possible. When Nick says “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” This quote is showing us how the city represents promise, mystery and all the beauty in the world. However, Fitzgerald wants to show us that a place cannot be that perfect. Furthermore, making us question the reality of the American Dream and what the illusion is hiding.
To conclude, throughout the novel the Great Gatsby critiques the idea of the American Dream through setting. The prominent settings are :East Egg which represents the false American dream, New York which represents the illusion American Dream and the Valley of Ashes that represents the failed American Dream. I believe that portraying these aspects of the American Dream through setting allows us to understand what Fitzgerald’s ideas about the American Dream really are. Furthermore, showing us how society itself sees different aspect of the social classes. The American dream is an idea where everyone is capable of anything and anyone has the same advantage and disadvantages in life. However, Fitzgerald allows us an insight into what the American Dream is truely like and how it is ultimately a dream, a dream that seems to lie just out of reach of all those who try to grasp it.