The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle Wilson desperately seeks a better life than the one she has. She feels imprisoned in her marriage to George, a downtrodden and uninspiring man who she mistakenly believed had good “breeding.” Myrtle and George live together in a ramshackle garage in the squalid “valley of ashes,” a pocket of working-class desperation situated midway between New York and the suburbs of East and West Egg. Myrtle attempts to escape her social position by becoming a mistress to the wealthy Tom Buchanan, who buys her gifts (including a puppy) and rents her an apartment in Manhattan, where Myrtle play-acts an upper class lifestyle, dressing up, throwing parties, expressing disgust for servants. Myrtle seems to believe Tom genuinely loves her, and would marry her if only Daisy would divorce him. Nick knows that Tom would never marry Myrtle, and the lopsidedness of the relationship makes Myrtle a more sympathetic character than she would be otherwise. To Tom, Myrtle is just another possession, and when she tries to assert her own will, he resorts to violence to put her in her place. Tom at once ensures and endangers her upwardly mobile desires.

Although The Great Gatsby is full of tragic characters who don’t get what they want, Myrtle’s fate is among the most tragic, as she is a victim of both her husband as well as people she’s never met. Myrtle is a constant prisoner. In the beginning of the book she’s stuck in the figurative prison of her social class and her depressing marriage. Midway through, however, this immaterial prison becomes literal when George, suspicious that she’s cheating on him, locks her in their rooms above the garage. This situation only amplifies her desperation to escape, which leads to her death in Chapter 7. When she escapes and runs out in front of Gatsby’s car, she does so because she saw Tom driving it earlier in the day; she thinks he’s behind the wheel. Daisy, who doesn’t know Myrtle, is driving the car when it strikes Myrtle down; Daisy doesn’t even stop to see what happened, and escapes without consequences. The lower class characters – Gatsby, Myrtle, and George – are thus essentially sacrificed for the moral failings of the upper class characters of Tom and Daisy.