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A Summary of the Symbolism of Geography in The Great Gatsby
Political scientists will tell you that there is immense symbolic power in geographical opposition. Sometimes it’s for obvious historical reasons, like East Germany versus West Germany. Other times, it is the naming mechanism itself that carries the symbolic weight. For example, because North Dakota receives far fewer tourists each year than South Dakota, it attempted to drop the word “North” from its name to sound like a warmer, more pleasant place. (He might also want to talk to the Coen brothers about this whole “Fargo” thing.)
The most obvious geographic opposition that exists in the modern United States is North versus South, but America’s east-west settlement also creates interesting symbolism. Just think east versus west coast. On one side you have the Old Establishment (New England, the Puritans, Manhattan, Harvard, Yale) and on the other you have the Young Guns (the frontier, the forty-niners, Las Vegas, California , Los Angeles). Unfortunately for the huge swath of in-between states, the term “Central America” has no such exciting association.
A prime example of how this regional symbolism works can be found in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Set on a 1920s East Coast, it uses geography to help establish characters and highlight conflict. Jay Gatsby, originally from North Dakota (brr!), makes his fortune, reinvents himself, travels to Long Island and buys a mansion to reconnect with his lost love, Daisy. (Who, by the way, has since married a Yale-graded East Coast millionaire. How’s that for the token trifecta?) Many parties and lots of drunkenness later, Jay and Daisy renew their relationship.
However, without getting into too much of a Great Gatsby recap, let’s just say it doesn’t end well. One of the major red flags Gatsby raises for the East Coast elite is his sketchy upbringing. Although he pulls an unexpected I’ll-see-your-Yale-and-raise-you-Oxford on Daisy’s husband, filling his house with books and calling everyone “old sport”, it turns out that Gatsby n only attended college for five years. month. As established, crisp and east-facing as Oxford may be, Gatsby clearly hasn’t spent enough time on sophisticated speech or demeanor.
The other big hurdle is Gatsby’s illegitimacy to the East Coast throne. Although he is absurdly rich, his wealth is “new” and therefore less than that of Daisy’s husband. This is reflected in the fact that Gatsby lives in West Egg and not in East Egg, where Daisy lives: not only is East Egg the most respectable neighborhood, but it also evokes the East/West, old/new, Manhattan/Hollywood relationship. which makes Gatsby look like a fraudulent newcomer. (Which, to be fair, it is.)
With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder his character’s intro and ending both rely on the symbolism of that “green light” you probably remember from one of the most famous quotes. of Great Gatsby: Looking longingly above the water, Gatsby stretches his arms east toward the silver-colored light that emanates from Daisy’s house. Although he’s as close as he can ever get to status as Manhattan’s social elite, the real tragedy is that Gatsby is the last to know.
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