The Valley of Ashes is an important aspect of the novel, The Great Gatsby, because it emphasizes on the lifestyle differences between the grey-stricken working class and the golden wealthy. The ashes and everything that is covered in it like the houses and cars shows us that the working class has learned to accept the gloomy way in which they live in. “The ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades” because they have less hope of migrating to the golden world of the wealthy and that is why their world is so grey and “dimly lit.”
While the East Egg and West Egg represent old money vs new money, the Valley of Ashes is a place completely devoid of any wealth. It represents the poor, desolate region of New York City, occupied by mostly by working class people. The Valley of Ashes is physically a place of factories and industrial excess, causing it to be polluted: “ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”
While it is a harsh, hopeless place, the people living there are even more hopeless. They are the ones who have been left behind by society, producing materials for the wealthy capitalists but themselves struggling to get by. They want to leave but they can’t, as Myrtle’s desire to elope with Tom reflects. They lead miserable, poor lives. Myrtle’s husband George Wilson, who runs an auto repair shop, is quite a pathetic personality and often beats his wife, relieving his frustrations through domestic violence.
Fitzgerald’s depiction of the valley of ashes speaks directly to his criticism of the American Dream. The valley is on the other side of the city hidden beneath the glamorous lives of Daisy, Tom, Gatsby and Nick. While the wealthy frolic, the people in the valley of ashes are increasingly buried by the literal ashes created by industrial pollution.
The Valley of Ashes thus represents the great difference between the rich and the poor, and the hypocrisy of the American Dream.
The valley is created through industrial dumping and thus a by-product of capitalism. The people and also the environmental are suffering. Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, with their empty, void lives, are the characters represented as the formless bodies of ashes in the valley of ashes. The ashes are symbols of dead, with more self-centered and arrogant people arising from them. Every generation, the ashes pile distorting the American Dream further.