Chapter 2 of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is pivotal in setting the tone for the underlying themes of decadence, moral decay, and the hollowness of the American Dream.

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The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary

Detailed Overview

This chapter introduces the Valley of Ashes, a desolate and impoverished area lying between West Egg and New York City, symbolizing the moral and social decay hidden by the glittering façade of the wealthy classes. It also features a pair of eyes painted on a fading billboard for Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, which serve as a brooding omnipresence that some characters interpret as the eyes of God watching over the wasteland.

Extensive Plot Summary

  • Valley of Ashes: Nick Carraway, the narrator, describes his journey with Tom Buchanan through the Valley of Ashes to New York City. The Valley is depicted as a grim wasteland, overlooked by the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, emphasizing the theme of desolation and moral decay.
  • Tom’s Affair: The chapter reveals more about Tom Buchanan’s character, showcasing his arrogance and cruelty. Tom and Nick visit George Wilson’s garage in the Valley of Ashes, where Tom is carrying on an affair with Wilson’s wife, Myrtle. George Wilson is portrayed as a lifeless yet trusting man, unaware of his wife’s infidelity.
  • New York Apartment: Tom takes Nick to the city, where he rents an apartment for his trysts with Myrtle. Here, Fitzgerald exposes the crass and vulgar nature of the affair, contrasting it sharply with the ostensible sophistication and charm of the East Egg elites.
  • The Party: The chapter culminates in a party at the apartment, attended by Myrtle, her sister Catherine, and other guests. The party descends into chaos, revealing the shallow and hedonistic lifestyle of the characters. During the gathering, Myrtle taunts Tom about Daisy, leading him to react violently and break Myrtle’s nose, highlighting his brutal nature and the destructive impact of their lifestyles.


Chapter 2 of “The Great Gatsby” illustrates the contrast between the glittering surface of the wealthy classes and the grim reality of the working class, represented by the Valley of Ashes. The moral decay of the society is depicted through the characters’ actions, particularly Tom’s blatant infidelity and aggression, serving as a critique of the American Dream’s corruption.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary

Notable Quotes

  • “This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens.”
  • “The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose.”

Chapter 2 is crucial for understanding the novel’s critical exploration of themes like decadence, the elusiveness of the American Dream, and the dichotomy between the societal classes during the Jazz Age. It sets the stage for the unraveling of the characters’ lives and foreshadows the tragedy that unfolds.

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