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The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

-Significance of Houses-


    The homes in The Great Gatsby play a major role in setting the scene of the novel as well as establishing the characters, especially in chapter one. Setting down these guidelines is especially important in the book’s first chapter, where the reader does not know anything about the book. Chapter one necessitates that a method be used to introduce the reader to the setting of the book while revealing pieces of each individual’s characteristics. The houses in that Fitzgerald introduces in chapter one prove to be the perfect medium for introducing setting and characters. The three major houses of the novel are all introduced in chapter one, along with the five major characters, the inhabitants of these three houses in chapter one. The home of each character provides insight into that individual’s lifestyle and corresponding characteristics.

    The houses and mansions of The Great Gatsby etch out the setting for the story beautifully, introducing the reader to the Long Island communities of West Egg and East Egg and their respective quality of housing. East Egg is seen as the more fashionable, all-around better community with a large number of mansions, most of them white and impeccably kept. The view from West Egg across the bay to East Egg is dazzling, as the “white palaces of fashionable East Egg” line the shore for all to see. On these pretensions, Fitzgerald splits up the main characters of his novel according to the qualifications of each community. Tom Buchanan, for whom money is no object and image is everything, lives with his wife Daisy in East Egg in one of the most elegant mansions in the more elegant community. Gatsby, who could afford to live anywhere were he wants chooses to live in an equally gorgeous and massive mansion in West Egg for the sole purpose that it is across the bay from Daisy’s house. Nick, the poorest character introduced in the novel lives in the only place he can afford, one of the cheapest houses in the cheaper community. He simply does not have the funds to live in mansion that “rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season” and instead rents out small “weatherbeaten cardboard bungalow.” A coworker had convinced him to rent the house together, but the man was moved to Washington and Nick had the house all to himself, paying rent at eighty dollars a month. However, Nick’s small house does not play a large role in the novel, as most of the action occurs in and around the book’s mansions.

    Throughout the course of The Great Gatsby the mansions of the major characters play major roles both in plot development and in the reflections they make on their owners. The mansions that play major roles are obviously those of the major characters, Gatsby and the Buchanans. Both mansions are equal in size, grace, and style and both are described in equally beautiful fashion by Fitzgerald. As Nick’s neighbor, Gatsby’s gaudy home is introduced first, described as “a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.” Tom has a home of rival beauty that again rolls smoothly out of Fitzgerald’s pen as the Buchanan East Egg monster is described as “a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally, when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.” However, the similarities do not stop there, as the respective owner of the rival mansions is also a rival for Daisy’s love, in fact Gatsby’s mansion exists as a ploy to repeat to past and recapture Daisy’s affection. The establishment of these two mansions in chapter one sets up the plot structure perfectly for the events that occur in later chapters.

    All of the houses in The Great Gatsby, including Nick’s, provide insight into the characters that inhabit them. Nick, the most honest and moral person in the novel finds his strict, upstanding disposition to be out of place in the east, much the same way his tiny house in squeezed in between two monstrous mansions, one of them Gatsby’s. His moral standards that he outlines in the very beginning of the book are something foreign and overlooked by the characters of the book and the entire flow of Eastern culture in general in the same way that his minuscule bungalow is overlooked and hidden in the sea of mansions that make up both West Egg and East Egg. Gatsby on the other hand is completely devoid of moral standing, which is a normality in the Eastern United States and blends in very well. Similarly, Gatsby’s large mansion reflects his moral standing and blends in with the rest of the mansions in the community. He, like the rest of the east, is all style and no substance. The Buchanans fall along the same line as Gatsby, but in Tom’s quest for something to replace the glory that he experienced playing football. In this effect, Tom is even more vain than Gatsby because Gatsby’s wealth is all placed toward the recovery of Daisy’s love and Tom’s wealth is simply inherited and spent on whatever he feels like he should have. In this way, the houses in The Great Gatsby reflect the attitudes and characteristics of their owners.

    The homes and mansions found in chapter one of The Great Gatsby play a major role in many different ways. These structures provide a beautiful setting for the story, put the plot in motion, and provide peaks into the major characters, the inhabitants of the houses. The houses set up the communities of West Egg and East Egg and the pretensions that go along with each community. The mansions themselves provide ornate settings and establish a place for the major action of the novel later on. The type of house also reflects the characteristic of the individual who lives in it, separating Nick from the other characters. Overall, the houses and mansions play a very important role in chapter one and throughout The Great Gatsby.

Works cited

Chandler, Marilyn R. Dwelling in the Text: Houses in American Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991

www.wiu.edu/users/mfwc/wiu/mansion.html