In The Great Gatsby, what is the significance of the puppy episode?

In The Great Gatsby, the significance of the puppy episode is to highlight Tom's arrogance. He invalidates the knowledge of the dog seller by making uninformed comments about the puppy, and the puppy becomes a symbol for Myrtle's vulnerability when Tom hits Myrtle, making her cry like a wounded animal.

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The puppy episode is significant because it is symbolic of the way Tom views Myrtle as well as how Myrtle views her husband.

Tom clearly does not see Myrtle as his social equal. He thinks of her as beneath him, below him, almost as one as imperious as Tom would think of an animal, like a dog. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for him to strike her so viciously for saying his wife’s name. In fact, he compares Myrtle to a horse when he brags about his sexual conquests to Gatsby. Tom says, “I’ve heard of making a garage out of a stable, […] but I’m the first man who ever made a stable out of a garage.” He is, of course, referencing the fact that Myrtle’s husband, George, owns a garage, and George and Myrtle live in an apartment above the garage. He implies that Myrtle is simply a brood mare for him to have sex with.

Similarly, he behaves in such a superior way with the dog, calling it a “bitch,” as though it is beneath his notice, as he never pays the dog any attention once he has purchased it for Myrtle. Nor does he pay Myrtle much attention outside of their sexual relationship.

Likewise, Myrtle believes her husband, George, to be beneath her as well. She explains that she married him because she “thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick [her] shoe.” It’s telling that she uses the word “breeding,” a word often associated with dogs, in her assessment of him. She implies that she knows something about breeding, but the episode with the puppy would indicate that this isn’t necessarily true.

Her friends insist that she was once crazy about her husband. Then, once she has the dog, she basically ignores the pitiful creature. Nick says that “the little dog was sitting on the table looking with blind eyes through the smoke and from time to time groaning faintly.” Myrtle is careless with others, just as Tom is. The puppy seems, in some ways, symbolic of poor George Wilson, as well as of the condescending ways Tom sees Myrtle and Myrtle sees George.

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The puppy episode reveals a few things about Myrtle.

First, dogs are commonly referred to as "man's best friend." Myrtle is out on a secret rendezvous, slipping away from her husband with another woman's husband. Her actions indicate that she is an unfaithful woman, yet she is drawn to the idea of a creature that will remain loyal to her. Subconsciously, it seems as though Myrtle is at odds with her conscience, trying to create a bond with something that would remain faithful to her.

It is also interesting that Myrtle is drawn to the idea of having a "police dog," which are strong and known for their protective capabilities. Myrtle also seems to recognize that she is in need of protection while in the presence of Tom, which turns out to be a valid concern. Not long after the puppy scene, Tom hits Myrtle for mentioning Daisy's name.

Wanting this dog also reflects Myrtle's careless decision making. She wants to take the puppy back to the apartment that she only shares with Tom during their romantic interludes in the city. What does she plan to do with the dog in her absence? How much time can she possibly devote to caring for a dog when she doesn't even live there? These questions remain unanswered, and the eventual fate of the dog is ultimately unknown. Myrtle's rash decision to purchase a dog that she can share with Tom reflects her fantasies about their relationship—not the reality that she is only a temporary means of entertainment to him.

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The puppy episode is also significant because it exposes Tom's elitism and arrogance. During Myrtle's exchange with the dog seller, Tom frequently interposes with his own self-absorbed comments. For example, when the dog seller presents what he considers a police dog to Myrtle, Tom proclaims, "That's no police dog." In reality, Airedale terriers were the first police dogs in England and Belgium. They were also used as messenger dogs during the First World War. 

Because of Tom's obvious wealth and status, the dog seller is intimidated into agreeing with his assessment. Later, when Myrtle inquires about the sex of the dog, Tom invalidates the dog seller's answer. He insists that the Airedale is female even after the dog seller says otherwise. The puppy episode highlights Tom's hubris and his contempt for anyone he considers his social inferior. In fact, he treats Myrtle much the same way he would a dog or an animal.

When Myrtle insists upon mentioning Daisy's name, Tom breaks her nose with his open hand. Shocked, bleeding, and in pain, Myrtle wails like a wounded animal. Ominously, the text says nothing about an apology from Tom. Because Tom considers Myrtle socially inferior to him and Daisy, he becomes irate when Myrtle challenges him. To Tom, Myrtle is merely his mistress and a dispensable one at that. In his mind, Myrtle is not privileged to speak Daisy's name at any time.

The puppy episode is significant because it clearly exposes Tom's arrogant and elitist attitudes.

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The puppy in The Great Gatsby is significant in two ways. First, it represents an attempt by Myrtle to solidify and domesticate her adulterous relationship with Tom. While on their way to their New York apartment, Myrtle spots a man selling dogs and says, “I want to get one of those dogs…I want to get one for the apartment. They’re nice to have — a dog.” In the couple’s attempt to play house in New York, Myrtle believes the puppy to be the perfect and final touch. When in the city, they don’t have to hide their affair, and freely and openly live as a couple. Myrtle probably views the puppy as her and Tom’s “love child” in a way. On the other hand, Tom’s personality and attitude towards their relationship is also evident through his attitude towards the puppy. While he wants to please Myrtle, he counters her opinion of the puppy being cute by noting the dog’s poor breeding and says to the vendor, “Here’s your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it.”

Later, the puppy plays a larger, more significant role in the novel. He is actually the reason George Wilson discovers his wife's infidelity. George finds an expensive dog leash hidden amongst Myrtle's belongings but notes that they have no dog. This discovery leads George to conclude that his wife had a wealthy lover, and this revelation ultimately, and erroneously, leads him to Gatsby, prompting Gatsby’s unwarranted murder and George’s demise by his own hand.

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