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Why does Catherine lie in The Great Gatsby - is she brought by Tom to lie, is she...

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taxi889 | Salutatorian

Posted June 4, 2012 at 6:55 PM via web

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Why does Catherine lie in The Great Gatsby - is she brought by Tom to lie, is she an example of corruption, or is it something else?

Ch 9: "But Catherine, who might have
said anything, didn't say a word. She showed a surprising amount of character about it too--looked at the coroner with determined eyes under that corrected brow of hers and swore that her sister had never seen Gatsby, that her sister was completely happy with her husband, that her sister had been into no mischief whatever. She convinced herself of it and cried into her handkerchief as if the very suggestion was more than she could endure."

Ch 8: "They had difficulty in locating the sister, Catherine. She must have broken her rule against drinking that night, for when she arrived she was stupid with liquor and unable to understand that the ambulance had already gone to Flushing. When they convinced her of this, she immediately fainted, as if that was the intolerable part of the affair. Someone, kind or curious, took her in his car and drove her in the wake of her sister's body."

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tmcquade | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 5, 2012 at 3:11 AM (Answer #1)

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When Catherine first gets the news of her sister Myrtle's death in chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby, she is in disbelief:

When she arrived she was stupid with liquor and unable to understand that the ambulance had already gone to Flushing. When they convinced her of this, she immediately fainted, as if that was the intolerable part of the affair. Some one, kind or curious, took her in his car and drove her in the wake of her sister's body (chapter 8).

Catherine is clearly upset by her sister's death, though so much of her and her sister's life seems to be "for show," it's hard to say what she really believes and feels.  Still, in this instant, she seems distraught at the news and wants to protect her sister's reputation as much as possible.  She obviously knows the truth of her sister's affair with Tom - but her response does not seems to have anything to do with Tom at this point.  There is no textual evidence that Tom asked her to say what she does. 

When directly presented with the question of whether her sister was having an affair with Gatsby, Catherine can honestly say that her sister was not involved with Gatsby in any way.  Where she is dishonest, though, is in saying her sister was completely "happy" with her husband.  Why does she lie?  I believe it's because she loves her sister, and at this point, there's no reason not to do everything she can to help her sister die with as "clean" a reputation as possible. 

When specifically confronted with the possibility of her sister having an affair, she tries to cover her sister's scandalous path as much as possible:

Catherine, who might have said anything, didn't say a word. She showed a surprising amount of character about it too--looked at the coroner with determined eyes under that corrected brow of hers and swore that her sister had never seen Gatsby, that her sister was completely happy with her husband, that her sister had been into no mischief whatever. She convinced herself of it and cried into her handkerchief as if the very suggestion was more than she could endure (chapter 9).

Perhaps her response is partially to alleviate her own guilt at going along with her sister's affair, which she must know at some level was wrong and contributed to her sister's untimely end.  In this way, she may be seen as "corrupt" - she looks after her own interests and she goes along with immoral behavior - but I don't think she is completely selfish in her response.  She is, however, rather self-deluded - she even "convince(s) herself" she is speaking the truth, wanting so hard to believe what she is saying. 

Catherine really has nothing to gain by not telling the truth.  However, her sister, in terms of how people remember her, has a lot to lose if the truth of her adulterous behavior becomes public knowledge.  Catherine tries to keep this hidden from the public eye, perhaps - giving her the best intentions - also trying to protect George's emotions and his memory of his wife in the process.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 18, 2012 at 9:52 PM (Answer #2)

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It seems possible that Catherine realized that her knowledge about the relationship between Tom Buchanan and her sister Myrtle was of real monetary value because Tom is a wealthy man and could be approached at any time in the future for hush money. Catherine is not necessarily a blackmailer, but she should realize that it was a lucky thing for her to know a rich man like Tom personally, as the sister of his mistress, and that he could be useful to her if she played her cards right. There is also the possibility that Tom and Catherine have met since Myrtle's death and have an understanding. But Catherine's silence is another indication of the power of wealth and social prominence.

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