The Great Gatsby | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Chapter 2

Professor Tony Bowers from the College of DuPage explains Chapter 2 in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby | Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 2 opens with a description of the "valley of ashes," a dismal location between the Eggs and New York City. The valley is the dumping ground for New York City's ashes, and the entire area is coated with gray dust. As Nick Carraway describes the desolate place, he mentions the faded billboard of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg—two large eyes peering out from enormous yellow spectacles. Tom and Nick are taking the train to New York City, and Tom wants to stop at the valley of ashes to introduce Nick to "his girl," Myrtle Wilson, the wife of garage owner George Wilson. The Wilson garage is described as "unprosperous and bare," and the Wilsons' lives are simple.

Shortly after, Myrtle appears in the garage and under the ruse of meeting her sister Catherine in New York, joins Tom on the train. The threesome takes a taxi from the New York train station, and Myrtle frivolously insists they stop to buy a puppy from a street vendor because a dog will be "nice" for the apartment. After being joined by Catherine and her friends, the McKees, everyone begins drinking excessively, and they all become quite drunk. Myrtle pays attention to the puppy only to show it off as a new accessory for the apartment. As the party progresses, Myrtle begins complaining about her life and about Tom's marriage to Daisy. Infuriated that she would mention Daisy's name, Tom swiftly strikes Myrtle in the face, breaking her nose. The party comes to an abrupt end and Nick takes an early morning train back to Long Island.

Analysis

The valley of ashes is a hugely symbolic place, literally covered in the waste of capitalism. The pursuit of wealth and damages left in its wake are important topics in the novel. Hovering over the valley of ashes are the faded eyes of Dr. Eckleburg, eyes George Wilson later refers to as the eyes of God. The fact that they are faded suggests that spirituality and religion are long-forgotten institutions, which further highlights the immorality and corruption of the novel.

The valley of ashes again uses geography as a motif for differentiating social classes. Fitzgerald uses the stark contrast between the valley of ashes, the Eggs, and New York to vividly represent the socioeconomic status of the people living in these areas. Against these backdrops he examines the concept of class and, specifically, the elite versus the lower class. Using the gathering at Wilson's garage in the valley of ashes as a backdrop, the contrast between the Buchanans and the Wilsons is clear. George seems content with his station in life, while Myrtle (like Jay Gatsby) longs for attention and affluence.

Once the party is in full swing, Myrtle has fully transformed from poor garage-owner's wife to what she perceives to be a wealthy socialite. Her behaviors are affected and obviously mimicked, but she is eager to display the fantasy life she has created for herself—including the puppy, her newest domestic accessory toward which she displays a superficial affection. It's clear, however, that the puppy is a frivolous purchase and has no real meaning for either Myrtle or Tom. Although the group knows of the affair between Tom and Myrtle, there is no acknowledgment of the affair's immorality. Despite her eagerness, it's clear that Myrtle does not have the breeding or refinement to pull off the facade. Drunk, she begins chanting Daisy's name. Irate, Tom breaks her nose, reminding Myrtle of her place, and displaying his brutishness.

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