F. Scott Fitzgerald writes two very different death scenes for Myrtle Wilson and Jay Gatsby. What stylistic choices does Fitzgerald make and what do these choices imply about each character?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Scott Fitzgerald depicts the deaths of these two characters in ways that give them equal importance in death. This equality is a stark contrast to their prominence in life and in the book. As characters, Myrtle and Jay are similar because they are the only two characters who die. Fitzgerald draws an obvious parallel between them in that Myrtle is Tom’s mistress and Jay is Daisy’s lover. In other respects, the characters are mirror images. Myrtle longs to escape her dreary, working-class life in much the same way that young James dreamed of escaping North Dakota. During most of the novel, it seems that he succeeded where she did not. However, both of their dreams strongly contributed to their deaths. Those deaths are alike since Daisy was either directly or indirectly responsible.

Through most of the novel, Myrtle Wilson seems to be a minor character. Conversely, Gatsby is a constant presence. Myrtle exists primarily to show Tom’s crude behavior, as he deceives and physically abuses her. Fitzgerald makes Myrtle’s death accidental and, at first, he seems to treat her as inconsequential in the same way that Daisy’s recklessness dismissed her. He also emphasizes her physicality by dwelling on the bloody details of her destroyed body. Further, her death occurs in her own neighborhood, the poor side of town by the valley of ashes. It is only later that the author reveals that Myrtle’s death is the point on which the entire novel pivots.

The most notable fact about Jay Gatsby’s death scene is that F. Scott Fitzgerald does not actually depict Gatsby being killed. Although Gatsby is the victim of a deliberate, brutal homicide, the author paints a tranquil, pensive picture. He is shown peacefully walking through the trees toward the pool, then floating around thinking. Meanwhile, the “ashen, fantastic figure”—whom we only learn later is George Wilson—silently approaches through the trees. The next sentence refers to the chauffeur’s reaction to hearing the shots. Nick’s narrative details their finding first Jay’s body, then Wilson’s. It could be thought that Jay’s dream remained intact, as he died unaware of Daisy’s desertion.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial