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What is the Significance of Cars in F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’

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‘The Great Gatsby’ is a book which very much revolves around money and the status of people within society who are aspiring to be seen as wealthy, important and well known in some way, whether for popularity, money, or in Gatsby’s case, mysteriousness. In the 20’s cars were becoming available for the wealthier classes, especially in America, and had numerous uses, and misuses, to people across the Nation. I can tell that cars were a very popular accessory when they are talked about. For example, it is said in the book when daisy says “Did they miss me?” and Nick replies, “The whole town was desolate, All the cars had the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath.” This quote implies that cars played a great importance in people’s lives at the time.

In a time when many people chose not to work for a living because of inherited or general wealth gained in some way rather than manual labour it was important for people to be able to show their status and good taste in as many ways as possible. Reasons for this could be for fun, for gaining popularity of another way for a rich, unemployed person to pass some time. Cars were a good and easy way for wealthy people to show off as cars were very new and exciting at the time.

It is shown throughout ‘The Great Gatsby’ that the cars the characters drive tell a lot about their disposition and nature, and also about the taste or wealth they’d like to be seen to have. In the book, most of the characters were ‘noveau riche’, so as to say they had newfound money, so had extravagant and eccentric ways to spend their money. In the 20’s, people started growing, comparatively, very rich from this newfound money and wanted to spend it on crass materialistic objects, they wanted their car to reflect a personal image of prosperity.

Gatsby’s car is rich cream, whereas the impression I get form the book is that the uniform colour in wealthy New York in the 20’s is black. The reason I give for this difference in taste from the rest of his nation for Gatsby is to stand out and be recognised as the “epitome of wealth”, as his car is described. His reason for buying the car is rather obviously to convey his material success and prosperity, which he finds only natural. This part of his personality contrasts because he hides from guests partying in his own house or “the town hall” as it was often described for its anonymity.

His purchase of this car shows his love of materialistic things which in the long term have no emotional value, which in a way can help explain Gatsby’s character, in that he thinks about things in the short-term rather than long. The fact that you can’t distinguish Gatsby’s true personality, only what he’d like to be seen as, from his car gives me the belief that Gatsby is very pretentious and almost enigmatic. Nick said of Gatsby’s car: “It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a hundred suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green conservatory we started to town.”

Gatsby also used his car to perform various illegal trades of alcohol, which were rife in New York at this time due to the prohibition of it. This was Gatsby’s main source of income so he had to have a private place, aside from his home, in which these dealings could go on.

Nick Carraway’s car is an old Dodge, which I believe, is rather relative to his personality. Nick is far from eccentric and he enjoys a simple, hassle free lifestyle. The Dodge shows that he wants a car for the freedom that it gives you and he’s not too eccentric on what he spends on his car and is not bothered with trying to impress anyone.

The wealthy classes were, at this point in time, now able, with the use of cars, to commute to the city whenever they wanted, at their every whim. This resulted in many people would moving to the outer parts of the city, or suburbs, and this is obviously what these characters had done. Living in the suburbs meant that these young men and women could live in prettier, less congested areas but could enjoy the same cosmopolitan lifestyle as they would do in the city.

Cars are often used to gain privacy which would be otherwise impossible, the new era of cars which dawned in the 20’s for wealthy Americans brought about the fact that relationships were no longer confined to the home but a couple could go wherever they wanted (within reason) in a small amount of time in complete secrecy and remain anonymous. This theory applied to Daisy and Gatsby, Tom and Myrtle who would be constantly indulging in these extra-marital affairs that were provoked and assisted by the use and convenience of automobiles.

This was one, of a few occasions, in which that the privacy and anonymity of cars were misused. Tom would visit various mistresses, including a chambermaid from “a Santa Barbara hotel”, and the best know of them, Myrtle Wilson. It is shown in the book that Tom would make various excursions to see Myrtle Wilson and take her places in his car, his car fueled the affair as it was all too easy to continue it and the relationship remain unknown, up to a point anyhow.

I also found it relevant in this essay to state the fact that

Myrtle’s husband was the owner of a garage which Tom had to visit for gas during the book and this shows that the automobile industry was introduced in the book in less obvious ways which shows that cars were a very important factor throughout ‘The Great Gatsby’.

The bringing about of cars also sparked a revolution in people’s social lives. Trendy, wealthy young men and women were now not stuck in the home having incredibly organised and sober ‘black-tie’ dinners very infrequently but could organise a party for whenever they wanted because of the convenience of cars. Taxis are also often used after parties for the less sober of partygoers, although drink driving occurs sometimes during the book.

The characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’, like Tom, Daisy, Jordan and Gatsby, loved to live their life socialising and being able to do whatever they wanted, at their own expense. Cars made the fast and full lifestyle that they craved available. If they wanted to just ‘pop’ into New York City for an afternoon, this was more than easy for them as they could just hop into their cars and drive down in a small amount of time. Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Gatsby and Nick did do this on several afternoons and would decide on impulse. For example, one character would say “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?”, and another would say, “Who wants to go to town?”. I know New York was a fashionable and exciting place to visit at day and in night when Nick narrates “I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night”.

Driving cars were also the cause of numerous accidents and deaths within the book. The first that is spoken of is an accident that happens outside Gatsby’s house; “Fifty feet from the door illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up, but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupe which had left Gatsby’s drive not two minutes before.” The death as a consequence from driving is Myrtle’s, she is run over by Daisy in Gatsby’s car as she speeds home.

Cars were a hugely important factor and introduction into standards of general living in prosperous New York throughout ‘The Great Gatsby’. The accident and death shows that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is not only a book about the conveniences of cars, but also the dangers and results of these fast indulgent lifestyles, it shows that cars aren’t only fashionable but powerful and destructive and can cause huge impact on people’s lives, whether in good ways, or bad. Their wild ways and dangerous, life-threatening, behavior shows that many of the leading characters in this book are over-indulged and, most important of all, intensely irresponsible

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