How far does Fitzgerald's presentation of Myrtle Wilson encourage you to feel sympathy for her?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Great Gatsby, Myrtle is a character with whom the reader sympathizes. The author portrays Myrtle as an unhappy wife of a passive mechanic. She has an affair with Tom Buchanan because he is masculine and aggressive. In reality, Tom is married to Daisy. He is taking advantage of Myrtle. Tom is just using Myrtle to satisfy his own selfish needs. Tom uses people to his own advantage. Myrtle is a victim. 

Myrtle is so unhappy in her marriage that she allows herself to become one of Tom's victims. She allows Tom to abuse her because she is desperate for attention. She desires wealth and Tom has money. He buys her gifts which her poor husband cannot afford. No doubt, Myrtle is a victim. The reader has sympathy for Myrtle. She is abused by Tom. He slaps her when she says something he doesn't like. Tom does not truly care for Myrtle:

She is another one of Tom's victims, since he physically hits her in the face at her mention of Daisy's name...

The reader has sympathy for Myrtle because she does not realize that she has a hardworking man who loves her. Also, she allows Tom to use her and abuse her. She is blinded by the need for materialism. Sadly, she does not appreciate a husband who seems to care. 

Ultimately, Myrtle is killed by Daisy. Although it was an accident, Daisy gets her revenge, not even knowing that the woman she kills is her husband's mistress. Myrtle's life ends in tragedy. She is a pitiful victim of circumstances. The reader has sympathy for Myrtle because her life is tragically ended. She seems to be unhappy throughout the story. It seems that Myrtle cannot get a break. The reader can only sympathize with Myrtle as a character who never finds true happiness. Tom gets richer and Myrtle dies. Life for Myrtle seems so unfair. Myrtle was only trying to rise above her depressing circumstances. Sadly enough, Myrtle did not realize she had something worth more than money can buy--she had a husband who truly loved her. Myrtle's life and death is a sad story. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fitzgerald depicts Myrtle in the same light that shines brightly and singes many of his characters.  Myrtle is shown to be someone who wants more than what is and becomes imprisoned by this desire.  Her inability to accept the limitations of her life and find some substantive notion of contentment in it moves her into a realm where she is both abuser and abused.  Myrtle is shown to possess the frailties that many of Fitzgerald's characters in this sad parade of illusory happiness.  She believes in Tom's assertions that he will leave Daisy, just as she believes that she is destined for something better than George and her life.  In the end, these become the pretense for her enduring some of the worst in abuse, and causing her death.  

Like many of the characters in the novel, she does bad things to others, most notably, George.  She is to be criticized for this, but she does these things under the crushing weight of her dreams. This makes her no different than the other characters featured.  Just like the other characters, one feels sympathy for her inability to see that she is trapped under this illusion.  Her pathetic condition is what prevents a full onslaught of criticism against her.  In the end, the reader sees Myrtle and can only help to reflect about her sensibilities in their own being in the world.  This is where Fitzgerald has been able to construct a realm where we don't fully feel comfortable condemning characters like Myrtle or Gatsby, for we recognize their own frailty within ourselves.

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The Great Gatsby

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