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.

from F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (Chapter II) on Rap Genius

Meaning

In this sentence, F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the juxtaposition between the pastoral and industrial elements of “The Valley of the Ashes” in order to convey the jarring sense of poverty in this area between West Egg and New York. The pertinence of using the words “valley” and “ashes” within the same phrase is that there is a sharp contrast between the word “valley”, which is associated with green, rolling, hills and agriculture, symbolizing life, and “ashes”, which are associated with industry, factories, and in a sense, death. This is in a way romanticizing and ignoring the suffering of those in the Valley of Ashes, by referring to it as a fantastic farm instead of the awful hell-hole it really is.

Additionally, the fantastic, incredulous imagery of the “fantastic farm” and “grotesque garden” cause the reader to believe that the valley is almost fantasy and unbelievable. As “ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys” they represent the rickety, low quality houses made by the impoverished people in this area. In fact the grey ashes in this area actually represent everything in the Valley, from the houses, to the people, and everything in between. Everything in the Valley of Ashes is viewed as just as insignificant and repulsive as the ashes that cloud the air around them.

Moreover, the imagery of “men who move dimly and [are] already crumbling through the powdery air” illustrates the feebleness/incompetence of the men whose lives are withering away due to tough lives and the blindness of the wealthy that pass through the Valley of the Ashes. The men in this valley become so invisible to others that they end up just resembling the “powdery air” around them. It’s like just by living in this valley they are already basically dead.

To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “The Great Gatsby (Chapter II)” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and leave a comment on the lyrics box