The Great Gatsby and the Car
If the Fast and Furious franchise has taught us anything, it is that cars are closely linked to the American Dream. It should be no surprise that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a novel considered a seminal text of the American Dream, features a car as both plot device and symbol.
Gatby’s car, introduced when Gatsby’s takes Nick to lunch, represents his status and can be understood as a of Gatsby’s character.
“It was a rich cream color, bright and there in it’s 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.” (pg.33)
The bright colour of the car and reference to the mirrored suns reflects Gatsby’s wealth as well as an attempt to draw the attention of Daisy. The metaphorical reference to it’s “monstrous length” provide an over-exaggerated depiction of Gatsby and his wealth. The listing of various boxes that have been attached provide a sense of the added adornments that pus the car, and by implication Gatsby, beyond the more established wealth of East Egg and Tom and Daisy.
The contrast between Gatsby and Tom and proximity of their characters is presented through the pivotal Plaza Hotel chapter when they swap cars, facilitating the first tragedy of the novel (it is arguable there are many tragedies in The Great Gatsby, the first irrevocable tragedy is the death of Myrtle). Tom’s brief stop at Wilson’s garage while driving Gatsby’s car sets the stage for Myrtle running out into the street and in front of the speeding car after the traumatic events at the Plaza Hotel. By running out into the street, Myrtle is actively chasing her dream of Tom and wealth. Her death presents a dramatic reminder of the fatal consequences of chasing a dream.
During their brief stay at the Plaza Hotel, both Gatsby and Daisy are forced to confront the reality of each other. Gatsby faces the obstacle of Daisy’s love for Tom that cannot be quickly swept away. Daisy realises that Tom and Gatsby are more similar than she might have imaged, diminishing the dreamlike status of Gatsby. After Tom has triumphed over Gatsby and regained his wife, it is significant that he says:
“You two start on home, Daisy,” said Tom. “In Mr. Gatsby’s car.” (126)
Tom is clearly confident in his victory over Gatsby and nothing to feel from the man, trusting that even though Daisy will ride in the Gatsby’s monstrous car, it will not be sufficient enough to provide Gatsby with any measure of success. When Gatsby’s car become the “death car” (128) after leaving the Plaza Hotel, it is not just Myrtle who is killed, Daisy and Gatsby’s dreams have also died.
Let us forget for a moment the ridiculousness of Daisy wanting to drive so she could steady her nerves. Gatsby tells Nick, “when we left New York she was very nervous and she thought it would steady her to drive” (133). Instead, the death of Myrtle is a symbolic retaliation of Daisy on Tom for his cruel destruction of her dream. Unfortunately, Myrtle’s tragedy begins a reaction that ultimately kills Wilson and Gatsby utilising the car as a means to (incorrectly) identifying the murderer.
Oh yes, and here is a Fast and Furious trailer for good measure.