The Great Gatsby Questions and Answers
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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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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Madeleine Wells eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.