List the number of times that cars are mentioned in The Great Gatsby.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although I consider myself a very observant reader, I will admit that I wouldn't attempt to answer your question without a Kindle in hand.  Now that I finally have one, I can happily answer your question with quite a surprising result!

Cars are mentioned exactly 88 times in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

It's a high number, isn't it?  The large number of times truly surprised me.  I think it was surprising mostly because I was thinking of particular incidents that involve cars within the book.  I thought it might be fun to list them and then go into a little explanation of symbolism.  There are exactly 11 incidents that involve cars.  Here they are:

  • Cars going into and out of the Eggs.
  • Cars going into and out of the Valley of the Ashes.
  • Wilson's exploits hoping to buy and sell cars.
  • The car accident after Gatsby's party.
  • Nick calls Jordan a "rotten driver."
  • Gatsby shows Nick the famous yellow car.
  • As Gatsby meets Daisy at Nick's.
  • The group heads to NYC for thier hot confrontation.
  • Wilson sees Tom in Gatsby's car.
  • Daisy hits Myrtle and the car is deemed "the death car."
  • Cars in Gatsby's funeral procession.

It is the second-to-last incident that has the most "car" words associated with it:  24.  Rightly so.  It's the most important incident of all.

Just to end with a little note about symbolism, I need to mention that Gatsby's creamy yellow car is usually pegged as a symbol of material wealth.  Let's look at its original description:

I'd seen it.  Everybody had seen it.  It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns.

In this regard, I also think it's REALLY interesting that at least part of Wilson's business involves "cars, bought and sold."  This shows that the man, living in the Valley of the Ashes mind you, desires that same material wealth, but can't obtain it for his wife, Myrtle, ... and to his own detriment.  Poor guy.

A more controversial take on general car-symbolism in this novel is that the car is a symbol of death.  If you scan the incidents above, you can see this works with many of them:  the "death car" being the most spectacular, of course; but even Jordan's rotten driving could have killed someone; the accident outside of Gatsby's mansion did cause a wreck; and a car did bring Gatsby to his grave.

And thus my theory lives on:  that the material wealth (symbolized by cars) of the Roaring Twenties validly foreshadowed the death (again symbolized by cars) of the stock market otherwise know as the Great Depression.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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