How does Tom's treatment of Mrs. Wilson affect Nick in The Great Gatsby?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway gets one of many disappointments, this time coming from Tom Buchanan.  In this chapter, Tom insists in taking Nick with him to go to the city and see Myrtle Wilson, his mistress. Myrtle is married to George B. Wilson, who is doing auto mechanic work for Tom.

Tom is condescending to George, and treats him like a second class citizen.  This is even more evident in that he (Tom) makes a proposal to Myrtle to leave in the next train so they can get together at his apartment.  This, Myrtle will do under the guise that she will go pay a visit to her sister.  Poor George is perfectly unaware of any wrongdoing and, obliviously, lets her go without asking too much.

Nick, as a narrator, is more like an impartial journalist that tells the blow-by-blow account of an event without showing emotion; he just states plain facts. However, there may be a trace of disgust that could be extrapolated from his words when he describes Tom’s actions. He talks about the way in which Tom openly shows his mistress however he wants, lets her talk to his acquaintances, and makes a point to let everyone know that she is, indeed, a mistress. Nick also talks about Tom’s lies as to why he would not divorce Daisy to marry Myrtle; these are lies that Myrtle, at the very least, pretends to believe.

Carraway is equally observant in his description of Myrtle’s actions. He describes how Myrtle changes personalities once she reaches Tom’s apartment, and how she acts like a haughty, condescending socialite during a cocktail party.

The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment, and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her, until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.

It is toward the end of that party, the second time Nick Carraway ever gets intoxicated in his life,  that things get very violent between Tom and Myrtle

Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing, in impassioned voices, whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy’s name.

“Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!” shouted Mrs. Wilson. “I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai ——”

Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.

Once again, there is little in Nick’s voice that denotes any specific sentiment of either sadness or resentment regarding the treatment of Tom toward Myrtle. Yet, the entire composite of his observation, and the use of the illustration “broke her nose with his open hand”, may show that the intensity of the people, and the overwhelming environment of the city, are objects of deception that move him very much away from the sense of curiosity and excitement he may have felt at first.

Clearly, Nick writes his about his whole Gatsby-Tom-Daisy experiences in West and East Egg out of a sense of disappointment. Therefore, Tom’s actions (as well as those of virtually everyone he gets to interact with) would be uncomfortable for Nick.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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