Letter No. 7 - Gatsby's Geography


When I first read The Great Gatsby in my high school English class, the story was so fantastical that I couldn't imagine that it described a real place. The grounds on which Gatsby’s parties occurred appeared to be taken out of a dream, and the desolate Valley of Ashes with Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s spectacles loomed otherworldly, and larger than life.

It wasn’t until I re-read the novel in graduate school that I fully recognized that the locales described in the novel had real life parallels on Long Island.

Were it not for the map appended to the end of my paperback copy, I honestly wouldn’t have made the connection. Fittingly, I happened to be reading The Great Gatsby as I embarked on a flight from New York City to Boston, meaning that my flight path out of Laguardia Airport took me right over the northern part of Long Island and thus provided an aerial view of the Fitzgeralds’s two ‘Eggs,’ more commonly known as ‘Necks’ outside the domain of the novel.

Great Gatsby Map Long Island Sound

I recall craning my neck out the airplane window as I matched up the geography on my printed map with the terrain below, and then imagining both Daisy and Gatsby’s houses on opposite sides of Manhasset Bay. I imagined the route the commuter train of the Long Island Railroad would take to Penn Station and the roads that took the characters speeding back and forth from New York City.

Manhasset Bay Cow Neck Great Neck East Egg West Egg Manhattan Skyline Aerial

In Miles Corak’s introduction to our edition, he goes into greater depth regarding the geographical touch points of The Great Gatsby, and especially what they signify in terms of socioeconomic inequality. I won’t steal his thunder, but after talking to a family member who grew up on Long Island, I became much more interested in sleuthing out the precise equivalents of the book’s key locales.

One of the most iconic images from the novel is that of the ‘green light.’ Early in the story, Nick Carraway recalls watching Gatsby staring across the bay from West to East:

“Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.”

What could this green light have been? My relative, who had spent time sailing in Manhasset Bay as a young man relayed to me that this light may actually have been emanating from an entry buoy in the water. I then downloaded the NOAA Booklet Chart for the Long Island Sound and was able to locate the buoys right there in Manhasset Bay. It was then that I saw it off the coast of Plum Point labeled ‘Fl G 4s,’ which can be translated as being a flashing green light blinking every 4 seconds.

 

Green Light Gatsby Buoy East Egg West Egg NOAA Flashing Green Light

Then I thought that Daisy’s house must have then been right off Plum Point. After all, it would make sense, given that the homes here in 2021 are enormous estates, exactly like the ones from the novel. When we zoom in with Google Maps, we can see the dock that Nick and Gatsby descried earlier. Although perhaps they mistook the light as coming from the dock, when it came from the buoy. Or potentially F. Scott Fitzgerald himself didn’t perceive the difference.

Plum Point Dock Daisy Buchanan Manhasset Bay

In this way we can almost imagine the actual location on the ‘Eggs’ where Daisy and Gatsby’s homes sit. 

Location Gatsby Daisy Mansion East Egg West Egg

While as of today, many of the mansions of the Hearsts and Guggenheims have been torn down as they became too expensive to maintain, the town of Sands Point (or East Egg) still occupies the title of richest town in New York State.

For a deeper investigation into the socioeconomic geography of The Great Gatsby, check out Miles Corak’s new introduction in our edition coming out next month.


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