Nick and Gatsby cross the Queensboro Bridge and see a hearse followed by a limousine with three African Americans being driven by a white driver. What does this symbolize?

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jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In Chapter IV of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby and Nick are driving to Manhattan over the Queensboro Bridge when Gatsby is passed first by a hearse and then by a limousine "driven by a white chauffer, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl" (page 69). After Nick passes over the bridge, he thinks, "Anything can happen now...anything at all" (page 69).

The three African-Americans being driven by a white chauffeur symbolize the changes of the 1920s and the greater power and equality of African-Americans. While African-Americans still faced racial prejudice, the idea that they could be driven by a white driver was a novel reversal of traditional roles for the time. The fact that they pass Gatsby, as does a hearse, is a foreshadowing that Gatsby's death is near and that he will be eclipsed by events in the future, including the greater equality of African-Americans in society. Nick can't quite make sense of the three African-Americans in the limousine, but he knows that it is a sign that society is on the brink of major change.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As Nick and Gatsby drive along in his creamy roadster, [W]ith fenders like wings," they cross the Queensborough bridge and view the city of New York in its "promise of all the mystery and beauty of the world"; however, this "promise" is negated by the hearse with drawn blinds in which Eastern Europeans look out with "tragic eyes." After them comes a limousine driven by a white chauffeur "in which sat three modish Negroes....the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry."

In Fitzgerald's novel, cars symbolize the driving and reckless nature of those in the Jazz Age. Perhaps, the limousine with the blacks, whose faces convey a "haughty rivalry" alludes to Lothrop Stoddard's book, The Rise of the Coloured Empires, which Tom Buchanan mentions in Chapter 1, a book that mathematically calculates that whites will eventually be outnumbered. As he watches this limousine, Nick thinks,

"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge...anything at all..."

With the two sights together, Nick and Gatsby may see that there is a driving movement toward change in the society and a death to many.

cybil's profile pic

cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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In Chapter IV of The Great Gatsby (I am puzzled about why this question is posted under Moonlit) when Nick drives to New York with Gatsby, Gatsby's huge vehicle “scattered light through half Astoria," but the story immediately moves from light to death with this funeral procession, underscoring a motif of death and ghosts that appears many times in the novel.

Throughout the novel, cars are associated with restlessness and also with power in all its forms and finally with death. They are the new emblem of consumer power, as well as of destructiveness and violence of modern society. In this scene, although we may think we see an unusual role reversal for the era with a white driver, in fact, the driver is probably a professional driver, like a taxi driver, who has simply been hired for the occasion. At the same time, however, Fitzgerald may be using the scene to remind us that hiring a driver and a car is an empty gesture meant merely to impress much like Gatsby's mansion.

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