The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a post World War I novel set on New York’s Long Island and its surrounding areas. Locations such as West & East Egg and New York City are where the main characters live, love, and play. Nick Carraway narrates the story of the provocative and mysterious Jay Gatsby and his desperate attempts to regain the affections of his former girlfriend and now married Daisy Buchanan. But in an unusual turn of events, this attempted romance leads to the murder of Gatsby.
The clean, refreshing coastal area’s of the West & East Egg communities offers the backdrop for Gatsby to try to lure Daisy to him by throwing lavish weekend parties at his beachfront mansion. Gatsby’s use of the property, just to be across the bay from Daisy, reveals the depth of his love for the beauty. The single green light across the bay provides the image of Daisy as a golden girl. “Her voice is full of money,” says Gatsby, noting the charm that he sees in her. Money is a prominent theme in this novel where the wealthy Gatsby thinks he can buy Daisy. But Daisy is secure in her marriage to another wealthy man, Tom Buchanan, despite her knowledge of his infidelity. Marital status is of no concern to Gatsby and the other members of this carefree society where couples do not go out of their way to hide their adulterous affairs.
Nick like Gatsby, on the surface seems stable. But one must question why, at the age of thirty, his family still financially supports him. Nick’s living arrangement is rather unstable. His rented beach house, which is an eye sore, appears lived in and without character. Nick sees himself as having high morals and says of himself, “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” But Nick’s ongoing relationships with three women are less than moral.
At about the half way point between the beauty of West & East Egg and the industry of New York City lies the valley of ashes. This area, rich in symbolism of World War I is familiar to both Nick and Gatsby, both veterans of the Great War. Like the battlefields of France, ashes rise higher than the mightiest armaments, houses resemble bullet ridden abandoned farmhouses on bleak war torn canyons. Nick and Gatsby are no strangers to the rat infested trenches of death. Perhaps Nick and Gatsby are among the lucky ones, they returned home in one piece, all limbs intact. Shell shock is all that remains in their hearts and minds on their return home, where location is important to reinventing themselves. Here, the faded eyes of T. J. Eckleburg in this solemn dumping ground are an ironic image on a commercial billboard.
Once having passed this wasteland, the motor-road advances toward New York City, which offers a drastic contrast from the sleepy Eggs of Long Island. New York City is a breeding ground for unscrupulous businessmen as Meyer Wolfshiem. Wolfshiem a known gambler, racketeer, and gangster has a boatload of stories about dirty money, murder, and the 1919 fix of the World Series. Gatsby and Wolfshiem’s ownership of side street drug stores, located in New York City and Chicago, is mearly a
front for their bootlegging business. Perhaps this explains the temporary nature of why a wealthy man as Gatsby occupies a mansion that he rents and does not own. This suggests that Gatsby may one day have to relocate, quickly and unexpectedly. Or perhaps, the suggestion is that if Gatsby is successful in his pursuit of Daisy, this may be the reason for a quick relocation.
Also housed in the city is the tacky apartment of Tom Buchanan’s mistress Myrtle Wilson. The apartment, cluttered with oversized furniture, speaks volumes about how much Tom cares about his kept woman. This apartment is procured for the purpose of carrying on their adulterous relationship and is symbolic of their raunchy affair. But the apartments location, Broadway and West 158th Street, is an upgrade from the space Myrtle shares with her husband. George Wilson’s dusty car garage houses an upstairs apartment where George and Myrtle live very modestly. One must ask why is Tom with all his wealth and his past college football accomplishments doing this? Why does Tom have an extramarital relationship with an unattractive woman that is below him in both social and financial status? It is apparent that Tom’s post college career is anti-climatic. Tom seems to be having trouble living up to his past physical excellence. Arguably, Tom is the most restless and rowdy of the group and his use of alcohol further affects his judgment. This is evidenced by his acts of violence, especially towards women, in addition to his racist rhetoric.
The home of Daisy and Tom is also rented and temporary. But rented or not, Daisy is attracted to Tom’s wealth. Daisy is motivated by money and it is questionable if she loves Tom. But Daisy is not swayed by Gatsby’s attempt to take her from Tom. Daisy rejects Gatsby upon the revelation that he is a bootlegger and that his fortune is unstable, illegal and can be taken away. Daisy is for sale but she seems to have a shrewd business-like sense of what it will take to get her.
Jay Gatsby is the intended hero in this novel but his murder is ironic in that he is shot in a case of mistaken identity. But he is not killed in a fashion one might expect of the bootlegger. He is not shot by the hand of one of his shifty business associates and he is not shot as a result of a deal gone bad. Gatsby’s murder by George Wilson is an act of mindless revenge. Tom, in an act of betrayal tipped off Wilson that Gatsby is the owner of the car that hit and killed Myrtle. However, it is unknown whether Tom is aware that Daisy was the driver of Gatsby’s, “circus wagon,” as Tom describes it. In a sense Gatsby dies for Daisy. His death is undignified as his house staff, all Wolfshiem’s proteges, fishes his lifeless, bullet-ridden body out of his swimming pool.