Homework Help

Cars in GatsbyCars play a big role in The Great Gatsby. The biggest role, of course, is...

user profile pic

gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 17, 2007 at 10:09 AM via web

dislike 1 like
Cars in Gatsby

Cars play a big role in The Great Gatsby. The biggest role, of course, is that Myrtle was killed by a car—an "accident"—but there are other important cars as well. I've always been fond of the drunk trying to drive the car from Gatbsy's party even though it is missing a wheel! My question is, can we make a unified argument about the role of cars in Gatsby? Cars as symbols of status (the chauffer), as symbols of success (Gatsby's car), the garage where Tom's mistress's husband works, etc.

 

Any ideas here?

Thanks.

Greg

3 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted October 18, 2007 at 2:32 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like
Cars in Gatsby

Cars play a big role in The Great Gatsby. The biggest role, of course, is that Myrtle was killed by a car—an "accident"—but there are other important cars as well. I've always been fond of the drunk trying to drive the car from Gatbsy's party even though it is missing a wheel! My question is, can we make a unified argument about the role of cars in Gatsby? Cars as symbols of status (the chauffer), as symbols of success (Gatsby's car), the garage where Tom's mistress's husband works, etc.

 

Any ideas here?

Thanks.

Greg

Greg-  I think you've touched on an important element in Gatsby.  Sounds like a seminar paper to me!

Certainly, I would argue, cars are a reflection of the class issues that dominate the novel and FSF's personal outlook on life.  Jeffrey Meyers notes in his biography of Fitzgerald:  "His heroes are, like himself, fascinated by money and power, impressed by glamour and beauty.  Yet they know they can never fully belong to this secure and propserous world, that the goal of joining this careless and prosperous world is an illusion."

If you extrapolate this class view to the cars, your observations fall neatly into place:  Myrtle, killed by the physical reality of the class to which she aspires; the drunk with the "missing wheel" (he'll never be balanced, never "get it.") Gatsby's car the status symbol of showy class pinnacle, etc.  My point is that cars function as much more than just "I'm wealthy."  They are symbolic of the moving target of class. 

To get back to Myers' point, cars are fallible.  They break down; they fall apart; they can kill.  Furthermore, cars as status symbols are notoriously unreliable.  What is fashionable today may be old fashioned tomorrow. 

user profile pic

asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted December 5, 2007 at 7:47 AM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

I always point out to my students that the novel shows many different aspects of the history of the Jazz Age and the automobile is one.  Not only does the automobile show off the wealth of the characters (Tom, Gatsby, etc.) but I also think that it shows the increased freedom of the time.  Women like Daisy and Jordan are able to go out by themselves if they have an automobile.  I think the automobile also played a big part in enabling the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy. 

I think you can also look at the idea of driving as well with Jordan's "careless" driving and her theory that as long as she doesn't come across another careless driver she'll be okay.  This carelessness really ends up causing the falling out between Jordan and Nick.  He realizes she's just like Tom and Daisy. 

In looking at it as a symbol of status, I think you can definitely look at Myrtle's husband need for Tom's car.  He wants to sell it to make enough money so that he and Myrtle can move away.

user profile pic

litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:04 PM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

Cars are symbols in everyday life.  We express a lot of attitude with our cars.  Is your car big or small?  Practical or playful?  Powerful or economical?  All of these say something about your priorities.  In Gatsby's day, cars were designed to gather attention.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes