- Slides: 18
‘The Great Gatsby’ Chapter Two Notes
Summary We are immediately introduced to a new setting- the Valley of Ashes. This is a strip of land located about halfway between the two Eggs which is used for the dumping of industrial ashes. Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson and her husband George (a garage owner) live here. Tom wants to introduce Myrtle to Nick and they visit George’s garage. The action moves to Manhattan, New York where Tom and Myrtle have a flat. They throw a party at which Nick gets drunk.
Summary Continued Nick learns that Tom has deceived Myrtle by claiming that Daisy’s religious beliefs prevent him from getting a divorce. Tom and Myrtle argue when Daisy’s name is mentioned. Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose in a fit of violence after she repeats Daisy’s name when commanded to stop.
Setting- The Valley of Ashes This setting offers a clear insight into the dark side of the American Dream. Home to the downtrodden working classes who are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. The American Dream stipulates that those who are industrious will be rewarded irrespective of their background. However, the likes of George Wilson seem to work hard to the cost of their vitality in order to preserve the status quo for the likes of Tom Buchanan. Symbolic of the moral and social decay identified by the author. In pursuing wealth, society’s success stories lose sight of basic humanity. They overlook the suffering of others and instead prioritise material possessions.
Setting- The Valley of Ashes “. . 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 ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” ‘Wheat’, ‘hills’ and ‘gardens’ all have associations with nature, beauty and life. By contrast, ash has negative connotations of death, decay and misery. By combining them, Fitzgerald suggests that all beauty is destroyed in this desolate land. Repetition of the word ‘and’ creates a long sentence which lists the objects made from ash. This highlights the scale of decay and slows the sentence to mirror the drudgery of everyday life for residents of the valley of ashes.
Setting- The Valley of Ashes Men living in the valley are chained to unprofitable work in industry. They are described as ‘ash-grey’ and are ‘already crumbling’. This evokes sympathy from readers who are forced to contrast these monotonous half-lives with the splendour and indulgence enjoyed by the (indolent) upper-classes.
Setting- The Valley of Ashes ‘A line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track… immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight. ’ Colour and definition is absent from this bleak landscape. Highlights the efforts taken to hide away the darker face of consumerism from the upper classes. Repeated images of grey, obscuring cloud and blindness emphasise the extent to which suffering is overlooked by the privileged. Transport routes (road and rail) consciously designed to ‘shrink away’ from the Valley of Ashes. Further emphasises the unwillingness of the upperclasses to confront unappealing realities.
Setting- New York Contrasts sharply with the Valley of Ashes. A place of immorality where people act out their desires without fear of consequences. Backdrop for Tom and Myrtle’s affair. The drunken debauchery of Myrtle’s party brings the city’s lack of moral depth to the forefront of the chapter’s focus. People pursue pleasure in wild and selfish ways and seemingly do so without being judged negatively.
Symbolism- The Eyes of Dr T. J. Eckleburg Literally this advertisement is a realistic detail of a culture of consumerism found in 1920’s America. BUT the faded paint of the eyes symbolise the extent to which this society has lost its connection with God – the sign is looking over the Valley of Ashes just like God.
Characterisation- Tom’s actions in this chapter reinforce our negative impressions from chapter one. Tom is: • Aggressive (‘taking hold of my elbow, literally forced me from the car. ’) • Arrogant (‘supercilious assumption that on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to do. ’) • A bully. (This is seen in his treatment of George who is desperate to acquire Tom’s car) • Ignorant (In response to a conversation which bores him, Tom is said to have ‘yawned audibly and stood up. ’)
Characterisation- Tom Deceitful (He tells Myrtle that he cannot leave Daisy as she is a Catholic and does not believe in divorce). Violent (‘Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. ’*) * The need for only ‘a short deft movement’ emphasises Tom’s cruelty and the fluency of the movement suggests that such displays are not unusual. Again, Tom is seen to be able to act in any way he desires without fearing repercussions.
Characterisation- Myrtle Dreams of escaping the drudgery of life in the Valley of Ashes and believes Tom will offer her an escape route. As such, her character represents the idea of escape. Her dream is illusory. This is made clear to us both by Tom’s deception and by his reaction to Myrtle’s use of Daisy’s name. It is immediately clear that she and Daisy are very different:
Myrtle versus Daisy Myrtle Daisy Wearing of bold colours emphasises her overt sexuality and femininity. Wearing of white connotes innocence and purity. Charged with sensual and verbal energy. Nick notes her ‘immediate perceptible vitality. ’ Initial impression of angelic tranquillity. Languid approach to life. Makes a conscious effort to appear privileged. Naturally inhabits the life of the privileged. Highlighted by her complaints at needing to make a list to remember everything.
Characterisation- Myrtle ‘Mrs Wilson … was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream coloured chiffon … with the influence of the dress, her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality … was covered into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions become more violently affected… and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her, until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air. ’ Change of dress symbolises her movement from her ‘real’ self to her ‘desired’ self. Wears a pastel cream dress which Daisy might wear. Highlights desire to emulate Daisy and escape her mundane reality. Removes the characteristics which are at the heart of her appeal to Tom.
Characterisation- Myrtle is materialistic and superficial. She first notices Tom’s expensive attire and this attaches allure to his personage. Her husband loves her deeply but she cannot see beyond his social status. This is evident when she complains of his borrowing of a suit for their wedding day. Her materialism is ironic as she is reduced to a mere commodity in the eyes of Tom. As she gains in wealth, she becomes indifferent towards the plight of those who do without. This is a comment on the impact of wealth accumulation on morality.
Characterisation- George ‘a blond, spiritless man, anaemic and faintly handsome. ’ Stark contrast between George and Tom. George is a morally upright man who works hard. Despite his enterprise, he is impoverished and lacks vitality. Evokes our sympathy as he is reduced to a mere ‘ghost’ who exists merely to maintain a social system which affords elite status to the likes of Tom.
Structure- Gatsby’s Delayed Introduction As in chapter one, Gatsby is conspicuous by his absence. He remains enigmatic and mysterious. Our interest in the character intensifies when Myrtle’s sister shares a rumour she has heard about the protagonist: “Well they say he’s the nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s. That’s where all his money comes from”
The Shallowness of the Upper Classes “The little dog was sitting on the table looking with blind eyes through the smoke, and from time to time groaning faintly” Again we see the idea of distorted vision. This quote also links to theme Shallowness of the Upper Classes Material possessions are tossed aside when people are finished with them. Myrtle bought the dog to create a certain appearance. She discarded of it as soon as this purpose was served.