More on the settings in Chapter 1

The Middle West, the East, East and West Egg, New York, Daisy and Tom’s house

The Middle West

Apart from being associated with wealth and tradition, the Mid West of America is also where the previous generation of Nick’s family has consolidated their ‘hardware business’. This carries connotations of solidity and continuity, unlike the ‘bond business’ of the East which is a new, quite abstract form of financial transaction. For all its solidity and family links, Nick comes to view it, after the Great War, as ‘the ragged edge of the universe’ and wishes to move away.

The East

The East of America seems to be a location associated with restlessness. Nick ends up there because he is no longer satisfied with the Mid West. Daisy and Tom are said to have ‘drifted here and there unrestfully’ and Nick comments that he doesn’t know why they came East. He also doubts that they will remain there, as Tom is ‘seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game’. There is a clear parallel being set up here with Gatsby, who we discover later is also searching for something unattainable.

East and West Egg

These two fictional locations are very close together, twenty miles from New York, and jutting out into the Long Island Sound. West Egg is where Nick and Gatsby live, and East Egg is where Daisy and Tom live. The language used to introduce these two locations is rich with references to the extraordinary: ‘strangest’, ‘riotous’, ‘curiosities’, ‘unusual’, ‘a source of perpetual wonder’, ‘bizarre and not a little sinister’. 
There is also a sense of social hierarchy expressed using these two locations. East Egg is the superior location, the more ‘fashionable’ and has ‘white palaces’, whereas West Egg has ‘huge places’, notable for their imitation of grandeur (‘spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy’). However, their colossal size merely implies ambition and aspiration rather than assured and established success.

New York

The metropolitan centre of the region, to which workers commute every day, New York is also where Tom keeps his mistress.

Daisy and Tom’s house

Tom is extremely proud of his new home, introduced as ‘a cheerful red-and-white Georgian colonial mansion’. His stance on the front porch implies his dominance over the space, as well as his wish for the location to reinforce his status. The exterior is lively and ‘glowing’ with light. However, the image of a running lawn, which begins with dynamic movement over a quarter of a mile distant, jumping over objects, but then merely ‘drifting’ once it reaches the house, might suggest a loss of purpose and vitality underlying the bold status markers.

The interior of the house is presented using less masculine imagery: the colour inside is ‘rose’, we see the ‘frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling’ and nature penetrating into this space, so that the grass ‘seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room…’ Some of the language has negative connotations: ‘fragilely bound’, ‘pale flags’, ‘twisting’, ‘shadow’, which are sustained in the next image of the ‘anchored balloon’, ‘the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture’. The overall effect is beautiful but unsettling, particularly the surreal notion of two women and a couch floating in the room and coming down to the ground as Tom closes the windows. Does this signal his limitation and restriction of the women in the novel, or merely that he deflates airy ideas and nebulous fantasies?

A man’s world

College – in the 1920s, increasing numbers of women were attending college (the equivalent of university in England) and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise (1920) depicting college life in great detail. Nick’s experience of college was completely male-dominated, and this is because he graduated from New Haven (Yale University) in 1915. Yale only admitted female students in 1969.

Business - Not only is education dominated by men but the business world was also exclusively male. Women in the novel are very limited in their choices of occupation, so Daisy is a wife and, to some extent, a mother. Jordan has her own sporting career but she is never seen pursuing this, so her principal identity in the novel is as a friend to Daisy and girlfriend to Nick. Myrtle is a wife and mistress.

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