The Great Gatsby

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East and West Symbol Icon
Nick describes the novel as a book about Westerners, a "story of the West." Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Gatsby, and Nick all hail from places other than the East. The romanticized American idea of going West to seek and make one's fortune on the frontier turned on its ear in the 1920's stock boom; now those seeking their fortune headed back East to cash in. But while Gatsby suggests there was a kind of honor in the hard work of making a fortune and building a life on the frontier, the quest for money in the East is nothing more than that: a hollow quest for money. The split between the eastern and western regions of the United States is mirrored in Gatsby by the divide between East Egg and West Egg: once again the West is the frontier of people making their fortunes, but these "Westerners" are as hollow and corrupt inside as the "Easterners."

East and West Quotes in The Great Gatsby

The The Great Gatsby quotes below all refer to the symbol of East and West. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Roaring Twenties Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of The Great Gatsby published in 2004.
Chapter 9 Quotes
That's my Middle West . . . the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark. . . . I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker
Related Symbols: East and West
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

After Gatsby’s funeral, Nick adopts this broader perspective on the events that have transpired in the novel. He observes that all of the characters were coastal transplants who hoped and failed to pursue an American Dream on the East Coast.

Nick offers, here, an interesting case of re-narrativizing his life: with this added realization of the characters’ common heritage, he can reinterpret the tale as “a story of the West.” Thus their actions and flaws become less characteristic of individual choices and more of the social types they represent. That they “possessed some deficiency” renders the plot of the novel fatalistic and pre-determined based on social constraints, while the “common” oddly binds together these Westerners even as the novel’s plot has tended to highlight their differences.

The passage also speaks to a sociological shift taking place in the twenties: Whereas before the West was seen as a frontier of opportunity, at this time, a financial boom caused migration patterns to shift back eastward. Yet if the the western American Dream brought one into regions of relatively greater freedom and opportunity, those who moved east were confronting the rigid social systems epitomized by East Egg. Thus Fitzgerald has used these characters as a way to make sense of a broader pattern of movement, in which even those who were seen as wildly successful in the roaring twenties could not conform their identities fully to the nature of the older East Coast.


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East and West Symbol Timeline in The Great Gatsby

The timeline below shows where the symbol East and West appears in The Great Gatsby. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Roaring Twenties Theme Icon
Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) Theme Icon
...service in World War I, an experience that left him feeling restless in the dull Midwest. (full context)
Chapter 4
The American Dream Theme Icon
Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) Theme Icon
Past and Future Theme Icon
...Nick about his past. Gatsby claims to be the son of wealthy parents from the "Midwest" town of San Francisco, to have graduated from Oxford, been a noted jewel collector in... (full context)
Chapter 7
The American Dream Theme Icon to resell it. He says he's trying to raise money to finance the move west that he has planned for him and his wife Myrtle. Tom is startled at the... (full context)
The American Dream Theme Icon
...heard Myrtle struggling upstairs. Wilson told him he had locked her up until they moved west the following day. (full context)
Chapter 9
The American Dream Theme Icon
Nick now describes The Great Gatsby as a story of the West since many of the key characters (Daisy, Tom, Nick, Jordan, Gatsby) involved were not from... (full context)