The Bonfire of the Vanities The Bonfire of the Vanities question


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The Great Gatsby Parallel?
Rebecca Shamsian Rebecca Jun 05, 2013 07:34PM
(Spoilers ahead for both books)

While reading Bonfire, I instantly though to myself "oh, just like Gatsby!" when the whole car accident happened. I figured this was a deliberate reference-- after all, both books deal with the theme of disillusionment of having tons of money, love affairs, and superficial success while truly being discontent. The American Dream and social class distinctions and stuff. The circumstances surrounding the car accidents in both novels seem extraordinarily similar:

-The disillusioned millionaire male protagonist driving with the woman he is having an affair with
-The woman is the one who was actually driving at the moment when the victim is killed although it appears that the male was driving
-Both are hit and runs
-Both take place while they're driving in a low class areas, away from their decadent homes, and the victim is a resident of this poor/disadvantaged town.

I was pretty satisfied with this until I Googled it to read more about the ties between these two books and was surprised to find that my search brought up absolutely nothing. Now I feel like I'm crazy for being so confident in this connection. Any thoughts?



For the past several years, I've recommended Wolfe's book as a corollary work to my students who love Fitzgerald. It seems fairly obvious that Wolfe was, if not consciously influenced by Fitzgerald, at least channeling Gatsby a bit!


I did see the parallel, even before you mentioned it. I would also compare the GG to BABBITT. Both options would make for a great paper on comparative literature.


i think it is a tenuous link, Gatsby ends with the crash where as Bonfire uses it as a trigger for far larger events

I don't see any real parallels between the books or events


I just found this thread with a search. I immediately noticed the parallel when I read Bonfire when it came out. And I was amazed that no one else did, it was so obvious. To begin with, both protagonists are in the bond market. Then, of course, there's the car crash and the key question of who was driving. The Yale parallel didn't occur to me, but it's clear enough as well. The failure for this to be noticed shows how little imagination critics have. I'm sure Wolfe must have been thinking about it.


Stella (last edited Jul 10, 2013 02:49PM ) Jul 10, 2013 02:10PM   0 votes
I haven't read the book in a long time, and oddly - despite teaching Gatsby every year for 20 years - I didn't notice any parallels with the Great Gatsby when I read it. But right now I am watching the film and can see some more parallels, so went online to see if anyone else has seen parallels:
1. It's told by a narrator involved in the plot, as Nick did/was in Gatsby.
2. Sherman's in the bond business - so was Nick.
3. Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson have a 'love nest' apartment on 158th street; Sherman and Maria's love nest is on 59th street.
4. Melanie Griffith bears a strong physical resemblance (her buxom figure) to Myrtle Wilson; like Myrtle, she's trashy but pretends to be classy.
5. Sherman went to Yale; so did Nick and Tom in Gatsby.
6. Sherman's wife is a shallow woman who is bitter about her husband's affair and takes little digs at him during a meal with his parents - similar to Daisy's bitterness over Tom's philandering and her veiled digs at him during the dinner with Nick and Jordan.
7. In Gatsby, Tom Buchanan is a racist worried about the 'Rise of the Colored Races'; in Bonfire, Sherman's accident becomes a political timebomb because of race issues.
8. Rev. Bacon uses almost exactly Tom Buchanan's words from Gatsby when he says, 'He didn't even stop his car' after the hit-and-run.
9. After he dies, Gatsby is 'abandoned' by his business partner - who doesn't want to get involved in the scandal - Daisy, and all the people who went to his house for parties. Sherman is also abandoned by the people close to him.
10. Daisy is a Southerner; Maria is a Southerner.
11. In the film Gatsby's library is emblematic of his character; in the film of Bonfire, Sherman is confronted by the police in his library and goes there when he gets back from jail.
12. Gatsby tries to prove himself a gentleman by saying he'll say he was driving the car; Maria (in the film anyway) says that if Sherman is a gentleman, he won't report the accident.
13. Daisy and Tom Buchanan have one child - a little girl - as do Sherman and his wife.

I haven't finished watching the film; maybe there will be more links.

I wouldn't say that Bonfire was based on or even inspired by Gatsby; but I think it's quite plausible that Wolfe may have had Gatsby and even Fitzgerald in mind as he wrote. For example, in the film, at least, Fallow says that he was at the end of the line as a journalist and one of his options was to go home, another was to write a novel. It reminded me of Fitzgerald hating is work as an advertising copywriter, quitting NY and going home to St Paul to write his first novel. And Fallow ends up writing a novel and becoming an overnight success (who drinks too much), very like Fitzgerald.

I'm hearing echoes of Fitzgerald/Gatsby more than anything as overt as 'parallels.' One could imagine Wolfe absorbing Gatsby, knowing about Fitzgerald, having that in mind, and writing a novel something like, 'What would have happened if it had been Tom Buchanan in his car when someone was run over in a hit-and-run accident? Tom - the privileged, white, racist, extremely wealthy white man who can buy his way out of any situation?' How would Tom Buchanan cope in the situation Sherman finds himself in in Bonfire? Tom had been in similar situations - his car overturned when he was with a chambermaid from a hotel he stayed in in California and it got into the newspapers. But what if someone was killed and Tom was arrested and thrown to the media dogs? Update it with one's own characters...

I think there's definitely an echo of Gatsby. I'd have to re-read the novel to build a more solid case.


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