The Symbolism of Cars in The Great Gatsby

29 January 2017 - English - Year 9

Kamea produced a fantastic piece of homework on the symbolism of cars in The Great Gatsby for her English homework, highlighting the nature of the extravagant 1920s society. 

The Symbolism of Cars in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald creates symbolism through the mention of cars. One thing that cars symbolise in the novel is the conspicuous consumption. For example, Gatsby’s car is the  epitome of excess and showiness; it is described by Nick as ‘Gorgeous’ with ‘a rich cream colour, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool boxes and terraces with a labyrinth of wind shields that mirrored a dozen suns.’ This rich and complex description from the narrator depicts the car to be merely a show, another glamourous surface for Gatsby. This links to the topic of commercialism, and how in the novel, appearance and wealth are the superior aspects of a person.

Furthermore, the ‘Labyrinth of wind shields that mirrored a dozen suns’ could represent the shedding of one’s personality; just as the wind shields conceal the driver within the cars extravagance, Gatsby uses his parties and fabulous wealth to distract from his ‘roughneck’ personality. Moreover, the excessive details of the ‘hat boxes and supper boxes and tool boxes’ suggest the showiness and tackiness of the car and of Gatsby and how his tacky ‘new money’ will be excluded from Tom and Daisy’s ‘old money’. Additionally, the worlds ‘swollen’ and ‘monstrous’ make the reader picture the car to be a repulsive, distorted vehicle, attempting to make itself larger and flashier than it is, similar to the way that Gatsby shows off his material possessions and wealth. Moreover, Tom Buchanan describes Gatsby’s car as a ‘circus wagon’, which implies that Gatsby’s car is merely to entertain, for showiness. It also reinforces the fact that Gatsby’s ‘new money’ will always be inferior to the Buchanan’s ‘old money’.

Another important car in The Great Gatsby is the car belonging to the drunk man at Gatsby’s party. He driver, in his drunken state, runs his car off the road and breaks the wheel. After the incident, the drunk party-goer lacks the ability to realise what happened. This represents the careless nature of the rich society in the 1920s and their ignorance. The notion that money, possessions and social relationships are things to be used and discarded; this event also overshadows the dark scenes that are to come later in the book.

Another crucial event in The Great Gatsby is the death of Myrtle Wilson, in which Daisy, who was in the yellow car with Gatsby, hit and runs her. Myrtle recognised the car in which Tom was earlier in the day and ran out into the road, only to be killed. This, once again, symbolises the moral and carelessness of daisy. Also, the fact that Myrtle recognises the yellow car, not the driver, represents again how in that society appearance and the surface was everything - Just like Gatsby disguises his ‘roughneck’ interior, his involvement win nefarious affairs, and his life as James Gatz under his elaborate parties and his magnificent house which attracts Daisy, the yellow car, which attracts Myrtle, hides Daisy and Gatsby beneath it.