Identifying the Fisher King may be the most difficult of tasks, but in truth, may be one of the most vital in correctly interpreting The Great Gatsby as a Grail Quest Since the Fisher King is so inexorably tied to the Waste Land, one cannot find one without finding the other. The valley of ashes is the most evident waste land Even Fitzgerald uses this term to describe the valley of ashes (28). If the valley of ashes is the waste land, then the clearest candidate for the Fisher King is George Wilson.
The valley of ashes, which is nothing more than a trash dump for Manhattan and Long Island, has three constructions alongside the road where business is to take place. One is empty with a For Rent sign, the second is a restaurant, and the third is Wilson’s garage.
The empty facility is a clear symbol of infertility. Michaelis’s restaurant is a sick banquet hall. And if a car can be compared to a horse, then Wilson’s garage may be comparable to a stable, whence Wilson works, lives, and presides over the waste land, all under T.J. Ecklesburg’s omniscience.
The descriptions of Wilson and his garage demonstrate his unproductiveness (29-30). The interior of the garage is unprosperous and bare. The only car in the garage is a dust-covered wreck. Wilson wipes hands on piece of waste. He is a spiritless and anemic man. He mingles with cement color of walls.
All of these infertile images work for George Wilson, but not for his wife, Myrtle. She has a “perceptible vitality.” An ashen dust veiled everything but her, and Myrtle walked through George (30). Fitzgerald tells us that George Wilson seemed faintly capable of moving, and he was his wife’s man not his own (145). There was not enough of him for his wife (167). The great differences between George and Myrtle are not incidental, but they have everything to do with the state of the waste land itself. In the more ancient of Grail texts, the ruin of the Fisher King’s realm is the result of a curse that came about from marrying a pagan princess.
While the valley of ashes serves as a perfect Waste Land, it is not the only one of the book. The true Waste Land spreads from Manhattan to Long Island. And as the valley of ashes is a trash dump, so does it symbolize the moral and spiritual refuge of these two outer lands. In fact, the entire novel describes a waste land of these sorts.
- The parties at Tom & Myrtle’s apartment as well as the ones at Gatsby’s mansion.
- Gatsby’s crooked bond scheme as well as Nick’s legitimate speculative work.
- The adulteries of Tom & Myrtle, Gatsby & Daisy.
- Jordan’s cheating at golf along with Gatsby & Nick’s constant lying.
- Wolfsheim & Gatsby’s bootlegging.
Expanding The Border
As the valley of ashes is a place of constant dust, Fitzgerald uses the symbol of dust throughout the novel to describe spiritual and moral barrenness. Near the beginning we read that a foul dust floated in the wake of Gatsby’s dreams (6). When Nick reports that there is dust everywhere in Gatsby’s mansion since Wolfsheim’s people took over domestic roles, we can see the waste land that is Gatsby & Daisy’s illicit affair (154). Even before Daisy meets Gatsby, her life is spent in a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust (158), and this dust is the moral corruption of a life spent in the waste land.
The party at Tom & Myrtle’s apartment uses a different but equally compelling image of infertility. The only item hung on the wall is a portrait that to Nick looks like a hen sitting on rock (33). As eggs have always been symbols of fertility, a hen on a rock reminds us of the bareness of the waste land, but also the moral and spiritual sterility of the lives of those people carousing in that apartment, beginning with Tom & Myrtle’s adultery.
If George Wilson is the Fisher King in this Grail Quest, it could then be argued that the Wounded King may be T.J. Eckleburg’s billboard. His eyes represent the eyes of God that can see but can do nothing for these vacuous people. This keenly accents those who try to live a life without God.
This brings us to his living counterpart, Owl-eyes. We consider owls the harbinger of wisdom, so this character’s insights are noteworthy. Owl-eyes notices that all of the books in Gatsby’s library are real, but that the pages have not been cut. He even refers to Gatsby as a real Belasco, referring to the famous Broadway producer of the 20s (50). Owl-eyes not only lets us all know that everything in the mansion is a set piece for show, he further lets us know of the moral emptiness behind it. Gatsby wants to appear well read just as he wishes to come across as highly educated by referring to himself as an Oxford man.
After this party there is an automobile wreck whence Owl-eyes emerges. The driver of the car wants to drive on to the nearest garage even though the car only has three wheels now (60). This all symbolizes how Gatsby’s dreams are as futile as driving a three wheeled car, but he is willing to do it because his dreams are soiled by the dust of the waste land. And it is from these fouled dreams that Gatsby perishes, so it is significant that Owl-eyes is one of three people to attend Gatsby’s funeral. The owl is also a death omen as well as a symbol of wisdom, so Owl-eyes’s wisdom reminds us that the death of Gatsby is inexorably bound to his depravity.
Here are other articles regarding The Great Gatsby:
- “The Reliability Of Nick Carraway: Part One – The Naysaying Narrator” (10.9.12)
- “The Reliability Of Nick Carraway: Part Two – The Drive To Lunch” (10.11.12)
- “Why The Great Gatsby Is The Best American Novel” (6.21.12)
- “What Made Daisy Faye Buchanan & Jay Gatsby So Attractive And Attracted To Each Other?” (8.28.12)
- “Who Shot Jay Gatsby?” (3.4.13)