For many of Fitzgerald’s characters, the automobile represents American progress. Fitzgerald, however, remains unconvinced. Despite its superficial role as an emblem of man’s ingenuity, Fitzgerald suggests that the automobile is actually a tool of destruction. Several other symbols of American progress—wealth, scientific research, the metropolis—turn out to be corrupting forces in
But Fitzgerald repeatedly shows that these awe-inspiring cars are dangerous, misleading, and destructive. Soon after his wedding, Tom endangers his life by getting into a heavily publicized car accident. (By noting that there is a young female hotel employee in the passenger seat, Fitzgerald suggests that the accident also endangers Tom’s marriage.) Leaving Gatsby’s party, a drunken buffoon crashes his car and loses a wheel: The man’s status symbol exposes him as a weak fool. Though beautiful, Gatsby’s leather seats heat up and burn him toward the end of the novel. A speeding car is responsible for Myrtle’s death, and Jordan Baker describes her ruined love affair in terms of physical injuries and “bad drivers.” The exhilarating joy ride that takes Nick and Gatsby over the Queensborough Bridge ends when a police officer points out that the men are out of control. Fancy cars lead people astray in almost every chapter.
Like the automobile, many other symbols of American prowess prove deceptive in
By including the automobile in his array of false status symbols, Fitzgerald calls into question the idea of a wholesome, attainable American dream. The men and women of
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