“This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where 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 men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” (23) The image Fitzgerald creates in this passage is not a very pleasant one, depicting the impoverished in a filth ridden valley, masked by the overpowering presence of the ashes. The entire landscape is grey and dull; the hills, the houses, and even the people. This is a dramatic contrast to the lives of the wealthy, where everything is shiny, new, and always changing, whereas the ashes are perpetual and dismal.
Every time Nick describes the Valley of Ashes, something grim is happening, or about to happen. For example, after Myrtle is killed, Wilson’s “glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small grey clouds took on fantastic shapes and scurried here and there in the faint dawn win.” (159) Wilson has almost completely lost himself at this point, and when he looks out to the ashheaps he is seeing what his life was: poverty. Unchangeable, murky poverty, that he couldn’t get Myrtle or himself out of.
However, in WIlson’s delusion, he feels like there is a way he can make things right. He has to go and find Tom, who he believed to be driving the ‘“death car” and kill him to avenge Myrtle. Once he finds out someone else had been driving the car, he goes to find Gatsby. “A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about… Like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.” (161) After Wilson shoots Gatsby, he also shoots himself because he feels like he has no other way to escape his life of hardship, and Nick describes his body as being “ashen” which invokes the image of the dull, grey valley where Wilson had lived. He didn’t belong in the fast paced life of the wealthy, and wouldn’t have been able to handle it because of how weak minded he was. The poor were trapped in poverty, under the formidable ashes.