In The Great Gatsby, how do the motifs of parties, alcohol, crime, and cars relate to Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby?   

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These motifs do relate to both characters, but in somewhat different ways.

The Party Motif: Gatsby's parties are a means to an end. He stages huge, glamorous, elaborate garden parties hoping that Daisy might wander in one night. Once he is reunited with her, the parties cease. The party most closely associated with Tom occurs in the apartment he rents in New York City where he can meet Myrtle. This party is small and crowded, smoky and unpleasant. It ends in violence when Tom breaks Myrtle's nose during a drunken argument.

The Alcohol Motif: Gatsby serves alcohol to his guests, he earns money by bootlegging alcohol, but he does not drink it. During his years with Dan Cody, Gatsby observed the effects of alcohol and did not touch it himself, although women sometimes rubbed champagne into his hair. Tom drinks bootlegged liquor while condemning Gatsby for selling it; he is a hypocrite.

The Crime Motif: Gatsby built his fortune through criminal activities after going into business with Meyer Wolfsheim, a gangster. Besides selling liquor which was outlawed under Prohibition, Gatsby's activities included the theft of bearer bonds. Tom scorns Gatsby for his criminal activities, while covering up Daisy's role in Myrtle Wilson's death. Tom also bears some responsibility for Gatsby's death because he deliberately directed the distraught and dangerous George Wilson to Gatsby's home.

The Car Motif: Gatsby's huge, cream-colored Rolls-Royce with its three-note melody horn and shiny glass symbolizes his great wealth and the gaudy display of his fortune. The car identifies Gatsby as a member of the "new money" set who make up West Egg. Tom feels snobbish contempt for Gatsby's car, calling it a "circus wagon." Tom's association with cars concerns George Wilson. Tom leads George on, pretending to be interested in buying a car from him, while seeing Myrtle at Wilson's garage. Tom feels quite superior and smug in fooling the naive, gullible husband of his mistress.

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The Great Gatsby

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