Great Gatsby Setting

How does Fitzgerald use setting in Chapter 1 and 2 of The Great Gatsby?

Fitzgerald uses setting throughout The Great Gatsby as a technique for suggesting the differences between the working and upper classes - Great Gatsby Setting introduction? During both Chapter One and Two of the novel Fitzgerald’s descriptions of the differing settings are extremely useful in developing the story and individual characters further.

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The first setting that Nick describes to us is the house of Gatsby himself. The house is described as a ‘colossal affair’. This is the primary description of a character’s house throughout the novel, meaning that there is a greater impact of the house’s size and perhaps greatness in comparison to other residences. Also, the word ‘colossal’ when used as a description of this particular house seems to create an air of it seeming too large and therefore causes the reader to judge Gatsby by his assumed excessiveness prior to meeting him. The front of the Buchanan’s house is a ‘reflected gold’, this not only suggests general wealth but also the use of ‘reflected’ suggests that the wealthy connotations that gold has is reflecting onto the inhabitants of the house. However, Gatsby’s house is hidden under a ‘thin beard of raw ivy’. With Gatsby’s house being somewhat hidden away, Fitzgerald causes the reader to believe that Gatsby uses his house as a disguise to mislead others into believing he has class.

Gatsby’s mansion is also a ‘factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy’. The oxymoron ‘factual imitation’ has an intentional rhetorical effect that seems to emphasise the fact the house is not original or old. It is suggested to the reader through this ‘factual imitation’ that Gatsby created the house to try and copy the history behind the ‘Hôtel de Ville’ in Normandy. In contrast to Gatsby’s ‘factual imitation’ the Buchanan’s residence is a ‘Georgian Colonial mansion’. This time period in American history is about as old and full of history as a house could have been. Fitzgerald’s immediate difference in description between the houses act as transferred epithets to suggest that the Buchanan’s have both money and class, whereas Gatsby has just money due to his ‘colossal’ house being a ‘factual imitation’ of such a historically full part of Europe. Fitzgerald introduces the reader to the houses of the characters before meeting the people themselves. This is an interesting technique as it gives the impression of belongings being more important than the person, seemingly a theme throughout the novel.

Immediately West Egg is described as the ‘less fashionable’ of the two Eggs. The use of a comparison between the Eggs suggests a rivalry between the places, and also that everyone that is living in West Egg is trying to imitate those that live in the East. As Gatsby lives in the ‘less fashionable’ of the two places the ‘factual imitation’ of his house is reinforced due to the comparison. The first time that East Egg is directly described is when Nick states that across the bay the ‘white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered’. The houses being the colour ‘white’ suggests that the people living in the houses are of a high class and are somewhat of pure money in comparison to those living in West Egg. Also the residences are not just described as houses, but ‘palaces’. Palaces are generally associated with royalty and fortune, therefore reinforcing the history and money that the people living in the houses have. The reputation of the Eggs are judged by the people that live there. As Gatsby lives on the less fashionable side in a seemingly copied house, West Egg gives the impression of being less worthy of class than that of East Egg. The Buchanan’s also have roots in East Egg due to their house having been there for a long period of time, causing it to seem more impressive to live in that area.

The valley of ashes is introduced to the reader in Chapter Two, with no mention of the desolate area in the previous chapter it is instantly apparent that Fitzgerald distinguishes between the upper and working classes. Throughout the description the word ‘grey’ is repeated to enhance the reader’s understanding that this setting is of the working class as grey is a dirty white, and is therefore not as pure as East Egg. The people living and working in the valley of ashes are ‘ash-grey men’, defined by what they do and are therefore working class. The ‘invisible track’ that the ‘ash-grey men’ are on suggests that poverty is like an illness and that they are unable to escape from it. Fitzgerald also causes the people in the valley of ashes to lose their individuality and power as they ‘swarm’ to work. The use of swarm dehumanises the workers and causes them to seem insignificant. This insignificance is also found in that there are no singular descriptions of the workers, only collective, therefore suggesting that the working class are all the same. The valley of ashes is the place in which ‘ashes grow like wheat’. This paradox associates ash with life as wheat is the basis of bread. However, once you are in the valley of ashes you are unable to get out due to the ‘invisible track’. Fitzgerald’s description of the valley of ashes causes the reader to define poverty as lying between wealth and capitalism, while supplying all with a dumping ground.

Fitzgerald’s repetition of the word ‘small’ and use of ‘crowded’ when describing Tom’s flat in New York creates the effect of the apartment seeming slightly strange and wrong. The fact that Myrtle decorated this flat reenforces the strange feel to the apartment due to the abnormal packing of space and she is perhaps the reason why it is so odd as she is out of place. The copies of Tattle Town that lay over the apartment cause the reader to understand that the flat is not at all for those of the upper class as they would never be associated with tabloid magazines, this is also suggested when Nick describes it as being ‘terrible stuff’. His judgemental nature toward the apartment in this chapter cause the reader to feel as if the entire setting is unsavoury and that the people in it are certainly not those that he would normally associate with.

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