In a tableau of the Jazz Age in which Hedonism prevails, the "bad drivers" of the 1920s in The Great Gatsby seek the acquisition of wealth and social standing as a measure of one's worth. Each of Fitzgerald's main characters is mesmerized with materialism.
Envious of wealth as an avenue to nicer things than she can have married to a dusty mechanic in the Valley of Ashes, Mrytle becomes the mistress of the affluent Tom Buchanan; and, as his mistress Mrytle assumes affectations such as mitigating an elaborate afternoon dress given her by Tom: "It's just a crazy old thing [that] I slip on sometimes." Her voice adopts a "high mincing shout" as she talks and she adopts an "impressive hauteur" as she complains about her husband George who is "not fit to lick my shoe."
Later, Myrtle feels so empowered by her role as mistress that she complains to Buchanan about Daisy. However, her airs do not work with the brutal Tom, who breaks her nose with his open hand. Nevertheless, Myrtle remains enamored of the rich man and fatefully runs to meet what she mistakes for his car as Daisy hits and kills her.
Arrogant and cruel, Buchanan is a "supercilious" man who is only impressed with people who have more money than he. He worships money; a $35.000.00 necklace bought him Daisy, his wife, whom he does not respect, nor really like. Nevertheless, she is his wife, his property, and when Jay Gatsby wishes to reclaim her, Tom challenges Gatsby's background," By
On a particularly torrid afternoon when Tom, Daisy, Nick, and Gatsby decide to go to the city, Tom gives Gatsby the keys to his car, and he drives Gatsby's. Once in the city, Tom accuses Jay Gatsby of not having gone to Oxford, "You must have gone there at the time Biloxi went to New Haven."
"What kind of row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow?
and derogates his auto as "a circus wagon." When Myrtle Wilson is struck and killed by the car, the unconscionable Tom conspires with Daisy, who has murdered the woman to lead Mr. Wilson to suspect Gatsby.
With a voice that "sounded like money," Daisy seduces those who love money and has the quantitative value of money as her authority. When, for instance, she enters the Marie Antoinette room of Jay's mansion, she is impressed by the opulence. Then, when Jay shows her all his colored shirts, "Daisy bent her head into the shirts and bega to cry stormily." Shallow and living in a dream-world charmed by money, Daisy tells Jay she would like to "get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around."
Under the influence of materialism, Nick loses his moral compass. As Jordan Baker tells him, Nick becomes "a bad driver." Influenced by Gatsby's affluence, Nick is impressed, but later repulsed when he learns how Gatsby makes his money.
At first, Nick succumbs to the "lavish recklessness" of those in the East Egg, perceiveing Gatsby as almost mythical, a Trimalchio, whose car that has fenders "spread like wings," much like those of Icarus. Yet, he retains a certain cynicism; as he drives through the Valley of Ashes "all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money."
As he turns thirty, Nick realizes his life has spiraled out of control, and vows to return to the Midwest. At the same time, he is impressed with Gatsby's idealism amidst the moral corruption.
"They're a rotten crowd...You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."