When F. Scott Fitzgerald died of heart failure in 1940, author John O’Hara remarked, “Scott should have been killed in a Bugatti in the south of France, and not to have died of neglect in Hollywood, a prematurely old little man haunting bookstores unrecognized.” The comment very astutely captures Fitzgerald’s status not only as chronicler of the Jazz Age but also of the golden age of automobility. Forever linked with Gatsby’s “circus wagon” car, Fitzgerald was one of the first American writers to acknowledge the role of transportation in shaping twentieth-century American culture. Trains, planes, ships, and, most frequently, cars traverse the pages of his fiction, reflecting the excitement of an ever speedier transportation system as well as its dangers, and providing an excellent lens for considering issues of mobility, consumerism, nationalism, gender, and class in his work. Fitzgerald’s close attention to transportation reflects a society that was increasingly on the move. Exploring the details of what enabled this motion exposes the intricate logistical and financial implications of such movement; one of the first things to note is that not all transportation was created equal. It is highly significant that a Bugatti, not a Ford, is imagined as the appropriate vehicle of his demise. Henry Ford may have envisioned the automobile as a democratizing tool, but one finds few Model Ts in Fitzgerald’s work, where cars with varying degrees of luxury – some bordering on the absurd such as the “Rolls-Pierce” in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” an apparent merging of a Rolls-Royce and a Pierce-Arrow – reflect a highly stratified society. The various forms of transportation not only expose different kinds of transit but also remind us of the varying implications behind specific means of movement. Cars provide independent passage, while trains impose time and order; planes function largely to enable aviators to impress women, ships confer transient citizenship, and subways and trolleys are uncomfortable reminders that the underpaid masses cannot afford most of the preceding forms of transit. The means by which one moves is as significant as the movement itself.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)