In essay form, compare and contrast the devastation of New Orleans as shown in “In the Ruins” to the setting of the valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby. In what ways are the two settings similar? How are they different? What do you think the author of “In the Ruins” thinks about New Orleans as a place, and what would he think of the valley of ashes if he were to see it? Besides the physical devastation/ruin, what sort of human/spiritual devastation do you think is present in each of these locations? Make sure to quote from both the essay and the novel in some significant way in your response as evidence/support. If you have ever witnessed destruction of a city similar to that of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or urban decay similar to that of the Valley of Ashes, feel free to include that in your discussion as well. Though not exactly the same topic is covered, it is possible that “In Praise of Chain Stores” could work its way into the discussion as well…you do see that the valley of ashes was once a thriving place…perhaps some mention of the ideas from “Chain Stores” could work, too!
New Orleans and the Valley of Ashes
With great minds, great ideas follow – and in quite the same manner, birds of the same feathers flow together. In yet two of the greatest literary works performed by two different writers, several similarities emerge, which seem to suggest and echo the same idea. One of these masterpieces is The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald and another of its kind is the essay, In the Ruins by Walker Percy (1999). This paper seeks to explore several similarities, differences, and notions in the two novels by comparing and contrasting the devastation of New Orleans as showcased in the essay In the Ruins to the setting of the valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby. The paper does so by answering different literal questions aligning to the thoughts of the two dynamically entangled and developed minds.
The first question ask for similarities that are evident in the two prominent settings of New Orleans and the Valley of Ashes. There are innumerable undeniable similarities in the settings developed by the two novelists who seems to have their thoughts to be propelled towards the same direction. First, it is easy to identify and thus note that both the settings – unlike their surroundings – are very poorly kept in nature. The Valley of Ashes, which is bordered by the rich exurbias of East Egg and West Egg, is a desolate place characterized by grey and smoke chocked ashes that are significant in that area. Similarly, in the location as shown in the ruins, New Orleans is represented as the ruins due to the ravaging that has proceeded from a recent attack from a natural phenomenon. Furthermore, both settings are evidence of actually and realistic areas within the country, and not fictitiously created. This creates a somber atmosphere of ruins that form the basic setting of the two narratives.
Secondly, the question inquired on the differences that are evident from the same settings. Apparently, though minimum, the settings are different in that the New Orleans was in ruins due to a natural phenomenon mainly illustrated as Hurricane Katrina while the valley of ashes is full of ashes that arise from the pollution from the rich and the industrialized nature of the city. Furthermore, the author of the Great Gatsby stretches out the imagery of the setting to represent the social and the moral decay of the people in bid to pursue wealth at the expense of their environment. However, the same is not showcased by the author of In the Ruins, since the same kind of destruction is caused by a hurricane in the area.
Thirdly, the question asked on In the ruins author’s thought of New Orleans as well as his possible thoughts – might he see the valley of ashes that is presented in the Great Gatsby. First, as observed in his text, the author of In the ruins has a critical view of the city of New Orleans after the attack by the hurricane, and the fact that the area is frequently attacked by hurricanes. In his description of the hurricane, he illustrates it as a devastating sensation with the same magnitude of effects. This is evident by the statement: “So the hurricane passed,—tearing off the heads of the prodigious waves, to hurl them a hundred feet in the air,—heaping up the ocean against the land,—upturning the woods. Bays and passes were swollen to abysses; rivers regorged; the sea-marshes were changed to raging wastes of water.” If the same author were to see the ruins of the land in the valley of ashes, the view will transform immediately due to the difference of the two occasions. This is majorly because, being that the ruins of the valley is evidently a human carelessness caused specifically by the rich people.
Moreover, the question asked the sort of devastating human or spiritual sense that is evident from the three locations. In the valley of the ashes, the settings as described by Fitzgerald (p 23) “with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air”. This in many ways may showcase that the area is a direct representation of the immorality and the society at that moment, and that the same was evident since the same area was responsible for several spiritual demeaning characters. For instance, it is described that Tom has an affair with someone from the same dump, and even Nick – who is quite an upstanding character – is ‘clouded’ in his judgement just by passing through the same area. Therefore, it was also a cause of spiritual devastation in the area. Similarly in the setting of New Orleans, the spiritual and human suffering is brought about by the elaboration that the area has natura disaster closely lurking somewhere at its fronts. This is an indication of living under constant fear by the people – all of them worrying about reoccurrence of the same event. This is an extreme form of human devastation just like in the setting of the valley of ashes.
In conclusion, it is evident that the two pieces of art are in many ways similar, both literally and ideally. The two stories, both have a setting that are not exactly similar but posses similarity as discussed in the paper. The valley of ashes, symbolizes the actual occurrence of human suffering as well as pollution, that is stirred up majorly by people from the urban areas. This idea has been the cause of emergence of slums in cities and criminality. Furthermore, the same has been related with New Orleans, which though in a different manner, posses spiritual and human suffering. Due to the place being prone to disaster, the people of the area have to live in fear all the time, much like the people of the valley of the ashes, crippling progress in both ways.
Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby (1925). na, 1991.
Percy, Walker. Love in the Ruins: A Novel. Macmillan, 1999.