Sometimes it is easy to notice how fast technology changes around us. For instance, some things may be relevant at one moment, but the next month it might as well be ancient history. Some individuals have the privileges of seeing technology evolve.
People that grew up in the early 20th century have gotten to see so many changes in their lifetimes. This world’s societies and technologies keep evolving, even while we do not really notice. Evolution of technology can be seen through F. Scott Fitzgerald, who writes about 1920s technology in The Great Gatsby through uses of automobiles, telephones, and various technologies that he included. We get a taste of how society was when Fitzgerald was seeing it, and also get to compare it to how we see our society today. Today’s society and technologies have changed to fit human needs, but have also changed in very similar ways that are in The Great Gatsby, and how they were when Fitzgerald saw them.Not only were people’s ways of life different in the era of Gatsby, but the newest technologies that we now take for granted were just coming into society to stay. By 1922, the year The Great Gatsby is set, the affordable automobile was still less than 20 years old.
Since Henry Ford had only sold his Model A in 1903, and most modern day car manufacturers were only a few years old, the automobile was still new technology to the common man. The design of the automobile had been thought up already in 1808 by François Isaac de Rivaz, but it is Karl Benz who is credited by some to be the creator of the first production vehicle as Benz made a few identical copies of his automobile (Revolvy). These combustion engines were the first of what we now see on the roads today and what F. Scott Fitzgerald saw during his younger years and the making of his novel.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was said to be a car lover for the majority of his life. Fitzgerald wrote “when I was a boy, I dreamed that I sat always at the wheel of a magnificent Stutz, a Stutz as low as a snake and as red as an Indiana barn” (Echevarría 73). The Stutz that Fitzgerald speaks of was a major luxury car company based out of Indiana in the early 1900s. These cars were mainly for the wealthier people in the nation, instead of the common everyday man. These are the cars that many, including Fitzgerald, saw and wanted when they came into production. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a young man during this time, and these new automotive technologies such as the Stutz contributed to what he put inside his novels.
Luis Girón Echevarría of the University of Extremadura describes that the “cars in Fitzgerald’s life provide a rough gauge by which to measure the discrepancy between the dream and reality of his life…” (Echevarría 73). Seeing how Fitzgerald would find rough differences between his dreams and reality it can be seen that Fitzgerald wrote about these cars because he admired them for their presence and dreamt of possibly having them himself. The dreaming of Fitzgerald did not have to last long after the range of gasoline powered cars increased. As the petroleum infrastructure grew, with the mass production of gasoline vehicles, by companies such as Ford, they removed the thought of ‘cars were only for the wealthy’ from the United States markets (Revolvy).
But we also do see that the cars in the novel were not just for your everyday man, and that they were thought of as an expensive item that people can flaunt, like Tom and Gatsby did. Fitzgerald likely saw people flaunting their magnificent vehicles in ways that Tom and Jay did in the novel, and that may have inspired those writings in Fitzgerald’s works.Tom and Jay both have very nice cars for the period in the novel. They are able to drive in a flaunting way to show how their social status is. Nick Carraway clearly describes riding in Jay Gatsby’s car “disconcerting” (Fitzgerald 70), which means that Nick felt disturbed while riding in the car. This feeling Nick has may be from Gatsby driving so carelessly and flauntingly. F.
Scott Fitzgerald likely did this on purpose. Professor Lauraleigh O’Meara from University of California says that “automobiles in The Great Gatsby operate both as technology and as commodities” and that “Fitzgerald generally emphasizes one function over the other” (O’Meara 73) meaning that they used them more as technology, than valuables. This is noticed when a car moves characters to their destinations, or is in an accident. At these times in the book the main focus is on the machinery, instead of the unique commodity that it was. When the owl-eyed man goes into the ditch in the third chapter he specifically says “I know nothing whatever about mechanics” and “I know very little about driving–next to nothing” (Fitzgerald 56). These cars in the book are mostly looked at by the characters as hardware or machines.
It is really the same way nowadays. We have new technology in our vehicles now, but when we do not understand the technology we resort to thinking of it as hardware, plain and simple (O’Meara). Society is a vital part of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book.
Some characters can be looked into by the cars they drive. These cars can be used as symbols for “escape and freedom in American culture” (O’Meara 75). Jay Gatsby drives his big wonder car which is described in the book as “a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and toolboxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns” (Fitzgerald 64). O’Meara says that this car “reflects both the national tradition of liberation through movement” (76) and “reminds us that technology is now at the heart of the symbolic structures” (76). Fitzgerald used these automotive technologies as symbols of the wealthy.
The wealthy are free to do as they want, like Tom and Daisy. They actually do find “liberation through movement” (O’Meara 76) and money. This being said, we can see that Fitzgerald’s automotive choices are symbolic. Even today we can see that what kind of cars people drive can possibly define what kind of person they are and what kind of social class they live in. Gatsby had an extravagant car, fit for an extravagant person. The same goes for Tom with his blue coupe. These cars and technologies symbolize the characters class and manners.
While we can see symbolism of characters in automobiles, we can also see how character’s wealth is through other technology. For example, the telephone that we all take for granted nowadays was a valuable commodity at this time. Paul M. Levitt, a professor of English at University of Colorado, says that in 1922 private telephones were still rare to see.
Party lines were starting to become normal in some places, but only the very rich could afford single lines. This was a big necessity for both Tom and Jay, since they are both engaged in illicit affairs and cannot risk having others hearing their conversations. Tom has a history of affairs, and Gatsby has a history with Wolfsheim, and has links to bootlegging and tainted money (Levitt 301). When the phone rang in the Buchanan’s house everyone was started like it was not a usual thing to hear. Nick describes “the telephone ringing inside, startlingly, and as Daisy shook her head decisively at Tom the subject…
vanished into air” (Fitzgerald 15). Tom was able to talk to Myrtle easily from his home, even if it meant interrupting dinner. Not everyone had that luxury. Wealthy people today still have things that the middle class citizens do not, such as the vehicles and telephones in the novel, and society is still very relevant in many ways to how it was in 1922. These examples of technology that have influenced society until today apply to us in many aspects.
Even though most of us ride in automobiles everyday, and own telephones society is very similar than what it was in Fitzgerald’s era of writing. It is also human nature to want to flaunt what we have that others do not. It comes down to people knowing where they are in society, and seeing how the technology that they take for granted comes from this era of Gatsby, and has been improved many times over to what you see today. In many ways society is different than it was when F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby, but it is also very similar in the ways we improve. We as a society always keep evolving, saying to ourselves “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…” (Fitzgerald 180) in the ways we continue to evolve. We as a society are basically what Nick says.
We are “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald 180), where we continue to look at what we can have to improve on, and how they are relevant to our future.