Could you please tell me the meaning of "sat out" in the following excerpt from the first chapter of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in...

Could you please tell me the meaning of "sat out" in the following excerpt from the first chapter of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald? 

Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light.

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It was not until the 1920s that automobiles were becoming a common part of the American scene. They created changes as they proliferated.They created a demand for paved highways, but the tax on gasoline paid for the paving. They created a demand for gasoline. Garages, such as the one run by George Wilson, installed gas-pumps out in front. Fitzgerald probably uses the term "sat out" to suggest the way these gas pumps were permanent fixtures and how they were exposed to the elements as well as brilliantly lighted. 

Many of the garages had probably once been livery stables. They were evolving with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Wilson is heavily involved with automobiles, like growing armies of Americans. He repairs cars. He buys and sells cars. And he sells gasoline and motor oil. In Chapter 7 Tom stops at Wilson's garage to buy gas for Gatsby's big roadster. He spends a whole dollar and twenty cents and probably gets eight or ten gallons for his money.

It is noteworthy that Fitzgerald describes the gas-pumps as "new." These new gas-pumps were popping up all over America. Henry Ford's mass-produced Model T Fords were accelerating the changes in the American scene, because they were cheap enough for the masses to own, not like the earlier custom-built big sedans and roadsters that were rich men's toys.

Many of the gas-pumps were red to attract maximum attention from passing motorists. No doubt the big companies that refined the gas would install the underground tanks and the gas-pumps on credit, with the understanding that the garage-owner would buy all his gas from them. This would give the pumps a look-alike character which the great American realist painter Edward Hopper captured in some of his paintings, most notably in one titled simply "Gas," which shows a row of three red gas-pumps and a tall sign with the familiar flying red horse and the word "Mobilgas."

The term "sat out" is generally used to describe something that is left outside or installed outside. For example, a writer might say that several metal chairs and a metal table sat out on the patio. It would be understood that these pieces of furniture stayed there permanently. The term "sat out" is appropriate in describing the gas-pumps because they are like soldiers standing at attention night and day, rain or shine.

Automobiles play a big part in The Great Gatsby. They played a big part in changing American morality. They had the magical ability to transport people miles away in minutes. Gas was cheap and the roads were not yet congested. The criminal element loved them. They were great for hauling bootleg liquor, great for escaping from the law, and great for drive-by machine-gunning of restaurants where their enemies were dining. It is Gatsby's big car that kills Myrtle and causes his own death at the hands of her bereaved husband.

Raymond Chandler, who wrote his Philip Marlowe mysteries about Los Angeles, featured automobiles in his plots because they were such an important part of the Southern California scene. In The Big Sleep, there is a Buick limousine, a Packard convertible, and a Plymouth sedan, among others, which are like part of the cast of characters. General Sternwood made his fortune from oil wells. Carmen could never have gotten to Arthur Gwynn Geiger's bungalow without her Packard convertible, and Owen Taylor the family chauffeur could not have gotten there to shoot Geiger without borrowing the big Buick.


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The Great Gatsby

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