Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals—like the egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact end—but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.
In this passage, Nick compares West Egg and East Egg, the two fictional peninsulas on Long Island (based on real-life locations) where much of the story takes place. In a geographical sense, the peninsulas are so nearly identical that Nick speculates that birds passing overhead can’t tell them apart. Yet to “the wingless” (humans), East Egg and West Egg are different in almost every respect besides shape and size.
I lived at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming-pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby’s mansion.
Here Nick describes West Egg, the “less fashionable” of the two Long Island peninsulas, as a place where small, modest houses like his own are wedged between grandiose mansions with sprawling estates. Earlier, Nick had described his own house as “a weather-beaten cardboard bungalow” that rented for eighty dollars per month, a far cry from his neighbors’ rent of “twelve or fifteen thousand a season.” Yet Nick’s description of Gatsby’s mansion suggests something artificial about the wealthier residents of West Egg. Although it is massive, luxurious, and fashionable on the surface, Gatsby’s mansion is a replica of a building in France. It is a phony imitation of Old World wealth and status.
Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water . . . Their [Tom and Daisy’s] house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon . . .
Nick’s flowery description of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s mansion helps develop the comparison between “fashionable East Egg” with the “less fashionable” West Egg. In many respects, the Buchanans’ ostentatious waterfront estate resembles Gatsby’s, with its vast lawns, extravagant gardens, and ivy-covered walls. Like Gatsby’s house, the Buchanan mansion has the trappings of Old World aristocracy. Its Georgian Colonial architecture hearkens back to colonial America, and French windows line its walls. In fashionable East Egg, such elaborate features help the Buchanan estate blend in with the other glittering “white palaces” along the water. Similar extravagances in Gatsby’s West Egg estate somehow seem pretentious and out-of-place.
"You live in West Egg," she remarked contemptuously. "I know somebody there."
"I don’t know a single—"
"You must know Gatsby."
"Gatsby?" demanded Daisy. "What Gatsby?"
This brief exchange between Nick, Jordan, and Daisy reveals the condescending attitude of East Egg residents toward their counterparts in West Egg. Jordan regards Nick with contempt because he lives in West Egg, and Daisy claims not to know a single person from West Egg. Jordan implies that she knows only one “somebody” from West Egg, that person being Gatsby.
From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale . . . and a whole clan named Blackbuck, who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near . . .
From West Egg came the Poles and the Mulreadys and Cecil Roebuck and Cecil Schoen . . . and Newton Orchid, who controlled Films Par Excellence, and Eckhaust and Clyde Cohen and Don S. Schwartze (the son) and Arthur McCarty, all connected with the movies in one way or another . . . and James B. (“Rot-Gut”) Ferret and the De Jongs and Ernest Lilly—they came to gamble, and when Ferret wandered into the garden it meant he was cleaned out and Associated Traction would have to fluctuate profitably the next day.
Here Nick lists some of the people who attended Gatsby’s parties, contrasting those who hail from East Egg and West Egg, respectively. Although none of these characters are well-developed in the novel, the details Nick includes reveal stark differences between the two communities. The East Eggers come from well-to-do families, as suggested by their British or Western European surnames, their Ivy League connections, and their snobbish behavior. By comparison, most of the West Eggers have Irish, Jewish, or Eastern European surnames. The names suggest that they belong to more recently arrived immigrant groups and lack the social pedigrees of their East Egg counterparts. They have made their fortunes in new-money ventures such as the movie industry (which was just getting started in the 1920s) and the stock market, and they gamble recklessly.