In chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby, what does George Wilson think happened to Myrtle?

In chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby, George Wilson thinks Tom ran over and killed Myrtle without stopping.

Expert Answers

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

George Wilson gets it into his head that his wife, Myrtle, has been run down and killed by Tom Buchanan. Under the circumstances, and with the limited information available to him, that seems a pretty reasonable assumption to make.

The big yellow car that mowed Myrtle down is the exact same vehicle that Tom pretended was his own. In actual fact, the car belongs to Gatsby, but George doesn't know that. So when George finds out what's happened to Myrtle, he automatically assumes that the car that killed her belongs to Tom and that he was driving it at the time.

With that in mind, he heads off to kill Tom. Fortunately for Tom, if for no one else, he manages to convince George that the car belongs to Gatsby—which is perfectly true—and that Gatsby was driving it when Myrtle was knocked down and killed, which isn't true. As Tom knows full well, it was his wife, Daisy, who was behind the wheel at the time. But as he doesn't want her to get into trouble, he puts the finger on Gatsby instead.

As a direct consequence of Tom's lies, George goes to Gatsby's mansion, where he shoots Jay dead in his outdoor swimming pool.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 8, George believes that Tom Buchanan ran over Myrtle. George comes to his house to kill him.

This is a logical assumption on George's part. Tom shows up to get gas at Wilson's garage on his way to the Plaza Hotel while driving Gatsby's big yellow car, the car that kills Myrtle. Because he likes to jerk George around, he pretends the car is his own and taunts George with the idea of selling it to him.

When the same car hits and kills Myrtle without stopping, George, thinking it is Tom's car, naturally assumes Tom was driving it. He arrives at Tom's mansion with a gun, but Tom is able to talk him down. He tells George it was Gatsby's car and that Gatsby was driving it, even though he knows it was Daisy driving. At this point, George heads to Gatsby's mansion, where Gatsby is using the pool for the first time at the very end of summer, and kills him, then kills himself.

It is interesting to think how differently the novel could have ended if Tom had not had a chance to defend himself verbally, and George had killed him. That would have left Daisy and Gatsby free to be together, but instead Tom, the symbol of bullying wealth, gets away with manipulating George into doing his dirty work for him and getting rid of Gatsby for good.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George believes that Myrtle was murdered.

Though George Wilson does not seem to know immediately who was driving the car that killed Myrtle, he says to Michaelis:

"He murdered her."

Wilson goes on to say:

"It was the man in that car. She ran out to speak to him and he wouldn't stop."

When the sun rises that morning, George Wilson leaves on foot to track down the driver of the car. As we learn later when Nick confronts Tom about the events of that day, Wilson comes to Tom's house and Tom tells Wilson that it was Gatsby that ran down Myrtle. 

Tom knows, of course, that it was his wife, Daisy, who was driving Gatsby's car that night. It was Daisy that killed Myrtle (her husband's lover). 

By directing Wilson to Gatsby, Tom is doing a few things. Partly, we can presume he is protecting himself from being discovered in his affair with Myrtle Wilson. More to the point, he is deflecting blame from Daisy and thereby saving her and himself from punishment and trouble. He is also essentially creating a scenario wherein Gatsby will be killed.

Tom suggests in the end that Daisy did not tell him that she was driving the car that killed Myrtle, but Tom does admit that he knew what would happen to Gatsby once Wilson was given his name. 

"The fellow had it coming to him." 

Without pity or remorse, let alone guilt, Tom admits to using Wilson's belief that it was Gatsby who killed Myrtle as a way of killing Gatsby. Tom claims it was self-defense and also suggests that he was just telling Wilson the truth. 

The incredible indifference shown by Tom in this passage links him to the moral emptiness that so often characterizes his ilk in the novel. Money insulates him from punishment and so insulates him from any sense of wrong-doing. Wilson's character, deranged as he is, still clings to a sense of moral order.

Wilson takes on the wrath of divine retribution as he stalks Gatsby, if we are to read his understanding of the billboard of T.J. Eckleburg as any indication of his state of mind. 

Wilson: “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!”

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George, in trying to make sense of the events that preceded Myrtle's death and in shock because of the terrible event, comes to the conclusion that Myrtle had been having an affair with Jay Gatsby. He sees what he considers to be evidence proving this in the memory of Myrtle's injuries after traveling to New York City with Gatsby and the Buchanans and Nick a few months previously. He sees further proof in very expensive dog leash that had been hidden in Myrtle's desk drawer, assuming that Gatsby bought it for her, looking forward to the time when they could have a shared pet. George reaches the conclusion that Gatsby purposefully hit and killed Myrtle while Gatsby was driving the yellow car, and he resolves to get revenge.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

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