The Valley of Ashes (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Book Review)



The valley of ashes. A wasteland of ashen gray, powdery dust, and foul air. A land of the poor, of the souls lost to failure of the American Dream. Lying midway between East Egg and West Egg, it is an intersection of reminiscent loss. A land the poor call home, and those trying to escape its grip, all plagued with the same ash, smog, and the smoke of industry. A land overrun with factories and iniquity - it is designed to be a key symbol of the American Dream theme in The Great Gatsby. A symbol of loss, of failure. The American Dream was aspired of and, in literal sense, dreamed of by all of the American people. Sadly, those who made their way to fortune and the life of a dream did not tend to get there through means of honest or hard work. Those who weren’t so lucky or sly enough to make it were forced to the labor of industry governed by the rich - and those who aimed to get out of it, too, failed - and it was such that became their ultimate downfall. 

The character Myrtle Wilson is a prime example of such downfall - the only character to remain untouched and free of the coat of ashes and dust. Her attempts to escape The Valley of Ashes were fruitless. Her outreach to Tom Buchanan as his mistress proved a failure. Her attempt to sneak her way into his inheritance, into his private, exclusive life, and to escape the bleak, ashen life of The Valley of Ashes proved to be meaningless. So meaningless that it became the utter downfall of her life. Hit and killed, laid to rest in the valley, she never did escape it and it was there her body was finally touched by the hands of smog and ash, sealing her life there forever. No one gets out. No one leaves. The dominion of the rich, old or new money, is too strong. Such was the life of the American Dream. You either get rich or die trying, and such was the overlooked part of the American Dream: its corrupt failure.

The corrupt failure of the American Dream doesn’t remain free of blame, though. So much of the ash and smog, the back-breaking labor and death, was instituted and caused by the rich. The valley was nothing but a place for the poor to be laid to, and for the rich to dump their problems - another symbolism of its ash and destruction. Ash is seen by many as destruction or burning. As scorched earth, never to be the same again and never meant to be rebuilt. The rich and their power, fleeing from the problems, and putting all of their hard labor into the industry employed by the poor, is yet another reason The Valley of Ashes is what it is. A valley - sunken land, ready for the deposit of the trouble, the strife, and the death the rich cause - always to be forgotten and never spoken of.

So long as the old money of the east and the new money of the west remain, so will the horrible midland of The Valley of Ashes. So will it remain a valley of forgotten pain. So it will remain an escape, a release, for the problems of the rich. It will remain the laborious, industrial puppet of the rich it is and always has been. The desolate valley will stay with its mouth agape, waiting. Waiting for the continuous sprinklings of ash from the rich. Waiting for more lost souls, always to be forgotten.