The Great Gatsby

by

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Great Gatsby can help.

The Great Gatsby: Motifs 1 key example

Definition of Motif
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... read full definition
Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Driving:

The motif of driving represents The Great Gatsby’s overall critique of the irresponsibility and immorality that the novel portrays as being rampant in 1920s America. The novel continuously implies that although (or, perhaps, because) the Roaring Twenties were a decade of economic expansion and prosperity in the United States, they were also a time of overindulgence, negligence, and selfishness. Various characters own expensive cars that they drive recklessly, which reflects a broader culture of carelessness (particularly among upper-class people) in the U.S. in the 1920s.

The first instance of reckless driving occurs in Chapter 3, when a man drunkenly crashes his car into a ditch after attending one of Gatsby’s lavish parties:

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.

[...]

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than [the driver] was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”

“But the WHEEL’S off!”

He hesitated.

“No harm in trying,” he said.

The accident is meant to be humorous—the driver barely makes it out of Gatsby’s driveway before crashing, he’s absurdly calm considering he’s just been in an accident, and he’s determined to back the car out of the ditch despite its missing wheel.

But his nonchalance also has a dark undertone, as his willingness to drive drunk indicates that he doesn’t care about his or other people’s safety. Moreover, the fact that he’s unphased by the damage to his “new coupe” suggests that rather than valuing his possessions, he sees flashy objects like his car as disposable and easily replaceable. In these ways, the accident (and the driver’s lack of concern about it) is representative of the upper class’s superficiality, decadence, and disregard for other people.

On this same night, in Chapter 3, Jordan Baker almost hits some workmen while she's giving Nick a ride:

It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat.

“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

Jordan isn’t worried about being a careless driver and nearly causing a serious accident, because she expects other people to be careful on her behalf. She also believes that “it takes two to make an accident”—in other words, a pedestrian shares the blame if a driver hits them. Jordan leads a carefree, luxurious lifestyle and isn’t concerned about anyone but herself. Her belief that it’s other people’s job to accommodate her irresponsibility serves as another pointed critique of how money and privilege can cause people to lose sight of their morals. It’s particularly noteworthy that the people she nearly hits are workmen, as this symbolizes the upper class’s disregard for the working class.

Soon after these incidents, in Chapter 4, Gatsby gets pulled over for speeding:

With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Long Island City—only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated I heard the familiar “jug—jug—SPAT!” of a motorcycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.

“All right, old sport,” called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.

“Right you are,” agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. “Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse ME!”

“What was that?” I inquired. “The picture of Oxford?”

“I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year.”

This is another example of a wealthy, privileged character driving recklessly without consequences. Gatsby is able to get out of a speeding ticket because he “d[id] the commissioner a favor once”—presumably an illegal favor, since it’s eventually revealed that Gatsby is involved in organized crime. This incident cynically suggests that the rich are able to buy their way out of consequences for dangerous, selfish behavior.

Finally, in Chapter 9, the reckless driving in the novel comes to a head when Daisy Buchanan accidentally kills Myrtle Wilson in a hit-and-run while driving Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce:

The “death car.” as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment, and then disappeared around the next bend. [...] The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.

Rather than accepting responsibility for the accident, Daisy speeds away and “disappear[s] around the next bend,” leaving Myrtle Wilson’s dead body in the road. Notably, Myrtle is a working-class character, while Daisy is extremely wealthy. So, like Jordan narrowly avoiding the workmen, this fatal accident represents the way lower-class people suffer (and even die) while upper-class people thrive and easily get away with immoral behavior.

Daisy then allows Gatsby to take the blame for the accident, since they were in his car and no one witnessed who was driving. As a result, Daisy’s husband, Tom, tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the one who killed Myrtle—knowing full well that George will kill Gatsby in retaliation. In Chapter 9, after George does indeed kill Gatsby and then commits suicide, Nick reflects on Tom and Daisy’s carelessness:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...

Nick’s thoughts about the relationship between Tom and Daisy’s wealth and their carelessness sums up the novel’s critique of how easy it was for upper-class Americans at this time to get away with irresponsibility—even to the point that their actions hurt or killed other people. Though the reckless driving in The Great Gatsby starts off comedic, it gradually becomes deadly, reflecting the idea that the decadence and frivolity of the Roaring Twenties wasn’t sustainable and would inevitably end in tragedy.

Chapter 4
Explanation and Analysis—Driving:

The motif of driving represents The Great Gatsby’s overall critique of the irresponsibility and immorality that the novel portrays as being rampant in 1920s America. The novel continuously implies that although (or, perhaps, because) the Roaring Twenties were a decade of economic expansion and prosperity in the United States, they were also a time of overindulgence, negligence, and selfishness. Various characters own expensive cars that they drive recklessly, which reflects a broader culture of carelessness (particularly among upper-class people) in the U.S. in the 1920s.

The first instance of reckless driving occurs in Chapter 3, when a man drunkenly crashes his car into a ditch after attending one of Gatsby’s lavish parties:

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.

[...]

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than [the driver] was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”

“But the WHEEL’S off!”

He hesitated.

“No harm in trying,” he said.

The accident is meant to be humorous—the driver barely makes it out of Gatsby’s driveway before crashing, he’s absurdly calm considering he’s just been in an accident, and he’s determined to back the car out of the ditch despite its missing wheel.

But his nonchalance also has a dark undertone, as his willingness to drive drunk indicates that he doesn’t care about his or other people’s safety. Moreover, the fact that he’s unphased by the damage to his “new coupe” suggests that rather than valuing his possessions, he sees flashy objects like his car as disposable and easily replaceable. In these ways, the accident (and the driver’s lack of concern about it) is representative of the upper class’s superficiality, decadence, and disregard for other people.

On this same night, in Chapter 3, Jordan Baker almost hits some workmen while she's giving Nick a ride:

It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat.

“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

Jordan isn’t worried about being a careless driver and nearly causing a serious accident, because she expects other people to be careful on her behalf. She also believes that “it takes two to make an accident”—in other words, a pedestrian shares the blame if a driver hits them. Jordan leads a carefree, luxurious lifestyle and isn’t concerned about anyone but herself. Her belief that it’s other people’s job to accommodate her irresponsibility serves as another pointed critique of how money and privilege can cause people to lose sight of their morals. It’s particularly noteworthy that the people she nearly hits are workmen, as this symbolizes the upper class’s disregard for the working class.

Soon after these incidents, in Chapter 4, Gatsby gets pulled over for speeding:

With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Long Island City—only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated I heard the familiar “jug—jug—SPAT!” of a motorcycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.

“All right, old sport,” called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.

“Right you are,” agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. “Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse ME!”

“What was that?” I inquired. “The picture of Oxford?”

“I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year.”

This is another example of a wealthy, privileged character driving recklessly without consequences. Gatsby is able to get out of a speeding ticket because he “d[id] the commissioner a favor once”—presumably an illegal favor, since it’s eventually revealed that Gatsby is involved in organized crime. This incident cynically suggests that the rich are able to buy their way out of consequences for dangerous, selfish behavior.

Finally, in Chapter 9, the reckless driving in the novel comes to a head when Daisy Buchanan accidentally kills Myrtle Wilson in a hit-and-run while driving Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce:

The “death car.” as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment, and then disappeared around the next bend. [...] The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.

Rather than accepting responsibility for the accident, Daisy speeds away and “disappear[s] around the next bend,” leaving Myrtle Wilson’s dead body in the road. Notably, Myrtle is a working-class character, while Daisy is extremely wealthy. So, like Jordan narrowly avoiding the workmen, this fatal accident represents the way lower-class people suffer (and even die) while upper-class people thrive and easily get away with immoral behavior.

Daisy then allows Gatsby to take the blame for the accident, since they were in his car and no one witnessed who was driving. As a result, Daisy’s husband, Tom, tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the one who killed Myrtle—knowing full well that George will kill Gatsby in retaliation. In Chapter 9, after George does indeed kill Gatsby and then commits suicide, Nick reflects on Tom and Daisy’s carelessness:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...

Nick’s thoughts about the relationship between Tom and Daisy’s wealth and their carelessness sums up the novel’s critique of how easy it was for upper-class Americans at this time to get away with irresponsibility—even to the point that their actions hurt or killed other people. Though the reckless driving in The Great Gatsby starts off comedic, it gradually becomes deadly, reflecting the idea that the decadence and frivolity of the Roaring Twenties wasn’t sustainable and would inevitably end in tragedy.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 7
Explanation and Analysis—Driving:

The motif of driving represents The Great Gatsby’s overall critique of the irresponsibility and immorality that the novel portrays as being rampant in 1920s America. The novel continuously implies that although (or, perhaps, because) the Roaring Twenties were a decade of economic expansion and prosperity in the United States, they were also a time of overindulgence, negligence, and selfishness. Various characters own expensive cars that they drive recklessly, which reflects a broader culture of carelessness (particularly among upper-class people) in the U.S. in the 1920s.

The first instance of reckless driving occurs in Chapter 3, when a man drunkenly crashes his car into a ditch after attending one of Gatsby’s lavish parties:

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.

[...]

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than [the driver] was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”

“But the WHEEL’S off!”

He hesitated.

“No harm in trying,” he said.

The accident is meant to be humorous—the driver barely makes it out of Gatsby’s driveway before crashing, he’s absurdly calm considering he’s just been in an accident, and he’s determined to back the car out of the ditch despite its missing wheel.

But his nonchalance also has a dark undertone, as his willingness to drive drunk indicates that he doesn’t care about his or other people’s safety. Moreover, the fact that he’s unphased by the damage to his “new coupe” suggests that rather than valuing his possessions, he sees flashy objects like his car as disposable and easily replaceable. In these ways, the accident (and the driver’s lack of concern about it) is representative of the upper class’s superficiality, decadence, and disregard for other people.

On this same night, in Chapter 3, Jordan Baker almost hits some workmen while she's giving Nick a ride:

It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat.

“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

Jordan isn’t worried about being a careless driver and nearly causing a serious accident, because she expects other people to be careful on her behalf. She also believes that “it takes two to make an accident”—in other words, a pedestrian shares the blame if a driver hits them. Jordan leads a carefree, luxurious lifestyle and isn’t concerned about anyone but herself. Her belief that it’s other people’s job to accommodate her irresponsibility serves as another pointed critique of how money and privilege can cause people to lose sight of their morals. It’s particularly noteworthy that the people she nearly hits are workmen, as this symbolizes the upper class’s disregard for the working class.

Soon after these incidents, in Chapter 4, Gatsby gets pulled over for speeding:

With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Long Island City—only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated I heard the familiar “jug—jug—SPAT!” of a motorcycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.

“All right, old sport,” called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.

“Right you are,” agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. “Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse ME!”

“What was that?” I inquired. “The picture of Oxford?”

“I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year.”

This is another example of a wealthy, privileged character driving recklessly without consequences. Gatsby is able to get out of a speeding ticket because he “d[id] the commissioner a favor once”—presumably an illegal favor, since it’s eventually revealed that Gatsby is involved in organized crime. This incident cynically suggests that the rich are able to buy their way out of consequences for dangerous, selfish behavior.

Finally, in Chapter 9, the reckless driving in the novel comes to a head when Daisy Buchanan accidentally kills Myrtle Wilson in a hit-and-run while driving Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce:

The “death car.” as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment, and then disappeared around the next bend. [...] The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.

Rather than accepting responsibility for the accident, Daisy speeds away and “disappear[s] around the next bend,” leaving Myrtle Wilson’s dead body in the road. Notably, Myrtle is a working-class character, while Daisy is extremely wealthy. So, like Jordan narrowly avoiding the workmen, this fatal accident represents the way lower-class people suffer (and even die) while upper-class people thrive and easily get away with immoral behavior.

Daisy then allows Gatsby to take the blame for the accident, since they were in his car and no one witnessed who was driving. As a result, Daisy’s husband, Tom, tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the one who killed Myrtle—knowing full well that George will kill Gatsby in retaliation. In Chapter 9, after George does indeed kill Gatsby and then commits suicide, Nick reflects on Tom and Daisy’s carelessness:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...

Nick’s thoughts about the relationship between Tom and Daisy’s wealth and their carelessness sums up the novel’s critique of how easy it was for upper-class Americans at this time to get away with irresponsibility—even to the point that their actions hurt or killed other people. Though the reckless driving in The Great Gatsby starts off comedic, it gradually becomes deadly, reflecting the idea that the decadence and frivolity of the Roaring Twenties wasn’t sustainable and would inevitably end in tragedy.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—Driving:

The motif of driving represents The Great Gatsby’s overall critique of the irresponsibility and immorality that the novel portrays as being rampant in 1920s America. The novel continuously implies that although (or, perhaps, because) the Roaring Twenties were a decade of economic expansion and prosperity in the United States, they were also a time of overindulgence, negligence, and selfishness. Various characters own expensive cars that they drive recklessly, which reflects a broader culture of carelessness (particularly among upper-class people) in the U.S. in the 1920s.

The first instance of reckless driving occurs in Chapter 3, when a man drunkenly crashes his car into a ditch after attending one of Gatsby’s lavish parties:

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.

[...]

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than [the driver] was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”

“But the WHEEL’S off!”

He hesitated.

“No harm in trying,” he said.

The accident is meant to be humorous—the driver barely makes it out of Gatsby’s driveway before crashing, he’s absurdly calm considering he’s just been in an accident, and he’s determined to back the car out of the ditch despite its missing wheel.

But his nonchalance also has a dark undertone, as his willingness to drive drunk indicates that he doesn’t care about his or other people’s safety. Moreover, the fact that he’s unphased by the damage to his “new coupe” suggests that rather than valuing his possessions, he sees flashy objects like his car as disposable and easily replaceable. In these ways, the accident (and the driver’s lack of concern about it) is representative of the upper class’s superficiality, decadence, and disregard for other people.

On this same night, in Chapter 3, Jordan Baker almost hits some workmen while she's giving Nick a ride:

It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat.

“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

Jordan isn’t worried about being a careless driver and nearly causing a serious accident, because she expects other people to be careful on her behalf. She also believes that “it takes two to make an accident”—in other words, a pedestrian shares the blame if a driver hits them. Jordan leads a carefree, luxurious lifestyle and isn’t concerned about anyone but herself. Her belief that it’s other people’s job to accommodate her irresponsibility serves as another pointed critique of how money and privilege can cause people to lose sight of their morals. It’s particularly noteworthy that the people she nearly hits are workmen, as this symbolizes the upper class’s disregard for the working class.

Soon after these incidents, in Chapter 4, Gatsby gets pulled over for speeding:

With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Long Island City—only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated I heard the familiar “jug—jug—SPAT!” of a motorcycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.

“All right, old sport,” called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.

“Right you are,” agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. “Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse ME!”

“What was that?” I inquired. “The picture of Oxford?”

“I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year.”

This is another example of a wealthy, privileged character driving recklessly without consequences. Gatsby is able to get out of a speeding ticket because he “d[id] the commissioner a favor once”—presumably an illegal favor, since it’s eventually revealed that Gatsby is involved in organized crime. This incident cynically suggests that the rich are able to buy their way out of consequences for dangerous, selfish behavior.

Finally, in Chapter 9, the reckless driving in the novel comes to a head when Daisy Buchanan accidentally kills Myrtle Wilson in a hit-and-run while driving Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce:

The “death car.” as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment, and then disappeared around the next bend. [...] The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.

Rather than accepting responsibility for the accident, Daisy speeds away and “disappear[s] around the next bend,” leaving Myrtle Wilson’s dead body in the road. Notably, Myrtle is a working-class character, while Daisy is extremely wealthy. So, like Jordan narrowly avoiding the workmen, this fatal accident represents the way lower-class people suffer (and even die) while upper-class people thrive and easily get away with immoral behavior.

Daisy then allows Gatsby to take the blame for the accident, since they were in his car and no one witnessed who was driving. As a result, Daisy’s husband, Tom, tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the one who killed Myrtle—knowing full well that George will kill Gatsby in retaliation. In Chapter 9, after George does indeed kill Gatsby and then commits suicide, Nick reflects on Tom and Daisy’s carelessness:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...

Nick’s thoughts about the relationship between Tom and Daisy’s wealth and their carelessness sums up the novel’s critique of how easy it was for upper-class Americans at this time to get away with irresponsibility—even to the point that their actions hurt or killed other people. Though the reckless driving in The Great Gatsby starts off comedic, it gradually becomes deadly, reflecting the idea that the decadence and frivolity of the Roaring Twenties wasn’t sustainable and would inevitably end in tragedy.

Unlock with LitCharts A+