What is the Valley of Ashes and What Does it Represent?

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If you’ve read Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” before, you’d be familiar with the phrase Valley of Ashes. The phrase describes the gloominess and depressing nature of a location in the book. By bringing the Valley of Ashes into the book, the author eases readers into the book’s central theme. He also lets readers anticipate a sad or dark moment in the book. The word ashes in the phrase entails that it’s a place of sadness and death.

In one of the book’s later chapters, the Valley of Ashes would be the setting for Myrtle’s death and become the story’s turning point. The Valley of ashes represents so many things that we’ll review in this article. We’ll also find out who lives in the Valley of ashes and how it represents the American dream. But before we go on, let’s briefly review what the Valley of ashes is and what it stands for in the book.

What is the Valley of Ashes?What is the Valley of Ashes?

This setting in the novel, The Great Gatsby refers to an economically depressed industrial area located between Manhattan and West Egg. Despite its name, it’s important to note that the setting is not made of ash. Instead, its name depicts how the level of smoke and greyness that characterizes its atmosphere due to its heavily industrialized nature.

The dust and grayness are direct consequences of the factories around the location. The smokestack from the factories deposits layers of ash and soot everywhere around the area.

The Valley’s location just around the road and train tracks running from Manhattan to West Egg means that the wealthy class are aware of the state of the area. Most significant characters in the book regularly used both transport modes throughout the book. The Valley of Ashes is also close to a shallow river that serves as a route for factories to ship their products to different destinations.

What Does the Valley of Ashes Symbolize in The Great Gatsby?

What Does the Valley of Ashes Symbolize in The Great Gatsby?

The Valley of Ashes is one of the most important settings in this famous 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The novel represented The Valley of Ashes as an unpleasant place, revealing a dark side of American society in the early 1920s. Ultimately, it tells the story of a morality breakdown caused by extreme wealth inequality. The setting contrasts directly with settings like Manhattan, East Egg, and West Egg.

Although the author significantly fictionalized New York’s geography in The Great Gatsby, the Valley of Ashes can be traced to the industrial area of Queens, which is between Manhattan and West Egg. We can say that West Egg represents New York’s Great Neck area because of its depiction in the book as a less fashionable area compared to the Nearby East Egg, where wealthy people like Tom and Daisy Buchanan live.

What Does the Valley of Ashes Represent?

What Does the Valley of Ashes Represent?

While the West Egg and the East Egg represent new money vs. old money, the Valley of Ashes is a place devoid of wealth. It represents the poor, desolate part of New York City, where working-class people live. As explained above, there are so many factories in the area. These factories cause an unending cycle of pollution. At some point the author use the speed of wheat plants to describe the unending cycles of smoke pollution in the area.

While the Valley of Ashes represents a poor, hopeless area, the residents of the area are even more hopeless. They’re left behind by society and mostly seen as tools for enriching wealthy capitalists while they continue to struggle in misery and poverty.

Here, Fitzgerald depicts the Valley of ashes to directly represent his criticism of the American Dream. The Valley of Ashes represents the unattainability of achieving the classic American Dream.

The Valley of Ashes also represents the living status of the lower class because here, residents are poor and mostly without futuristic plans to get out of poverty. Instead, they are comfortable being the fulcrum upon which the economy of the wealthy survives.

The colors gray, black, and lack of color have several meanings in the book. For instance, the color black represents sorrow and death. The grey color represents the grey area obstructing character relationships and the ashes that engulfs the Valley. The lack of color symbolizes the absence of positive emotions in grim moments. In the end, the colors help readers connect to the emotions the writer wants to pass with each character.

The Role of the Valley of Ashes in the Novel

The Role of the Valley of Ashes in the Novel

Now that you already know who lives in the Valley of Ashes, you’re probably wondering about the role of the setting in the book. For starters, the Valley of Ashes is a clear illustration of the disparity in living standards of its inhabitants and those of the East Egg and West Egg. Beyond the inequality in income and social standards, there’s also the hopelessness that comes from the perpetual inability of residents to climb the social ladder. This further portrays a failure of the American dream: the ideal of equal opportunities for all.

The Valley also serves as a “desolate” space known for growing ashes into hills and ridges like wheat. Ashes dominate the area in the shape of natural greenery. The author uses the term “grotesque gardens” as an alliteration to highlight the odd pairing of ashes with greenery. With ashes generally being associated with death and ridges representing a potential to grow and flourish into something good, you can see the author’s representation of the present situation while hoping that the promise and ideal of equality would soon become a reality.

The Importance of the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby

The Importance of the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby

Throughout the book, you’ll continually see the Valley of Ashes providing a counterpoint to the lavishness of West Egg and East Egg. The Valley does not only represent poverty but hopelessness. Thus, the Valley of Ashes residents are typically condemned to live there since they often lack the financial capability to escape. With their potential being suppressed by the rich living around the Valley, it’s even more difficult to find hope. In Fitzgerald’s exact words, the Valley is:

Best described as a farm where wheat plants are replaced by ashes and smokes are as visible as chimneys and houses. He also paints the picture of ash-grey men, walking around dimly, nearly crumbling into thin air.

This vivid description by Fitzgerald depicts an image of crumbling reality, An temporary image that can be dispersed into thin air by the slightest breeze, like ashes from a fire. This image makes the Valley the direct opposite of the lavish lifestyle of the significantly richer West Egg and East Egg residents. These wealthy residents only come close to the Valley when they drive through it.

The Valley further represents how impossible it was to implement the American Dream. Greed and excesses were the order of the day, with the industrialization of America further encouraging the impoverishment of the lower class. The dumping of ashes into the Valley represents the by-product of American capitalism. These and many more are the reasons why the Valley of Ashes is ranked so high among Fitzgerald’s most striking literary symbols.

Wrapping Things Up: What is the Valley of Ashes and What Does it Represent?

The Great Gatsby is an excellent book for the author’s efforts to deliver the thematic preoccupation of the book in a very relatable manner. But more important is how he uses irony to take the reader through different emotions.

Although the main events in the book ends with Gatsby’s murder and George’s suicide, the novel concludes with a chapter that talks about Nick’s reflection on the aftermath of Gatsby’s death.

So far in this article, we’ve reviewed everything you should know about the Valley of Ashes, as depicted in the novel, The Great Gatsby, including figure representations and what the place symbolizes.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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