What does the character of Michaelis represent in The Great Gatsby?

Expert Answers info

Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2016

write6,420 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

Michaelis is one of the few, or perhaps even the only character, in the novel who is kind and charitable without having any ulterior motive. He is there to comfort George Wilson after Myrtle, his wife, has been struck and killed by Gatsby's car while Daisy was driving. Further, when George looks at the billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg's eyes, thinking of those eyes, it seems, as God, it is Michaelis who points out that it's only an advertisement. Because he is both kind and discerning, it could be that he represents all that is really left of God in this rather godless world. The last name, Michaelis, comes from the Hebrew name, Mika'el. Broken down into its parts, "mi" means who, "ke" means like, and "El" is a shortened form of a word that means God. Therefore, the name Michaelis, all together, means God-like or one who [is] like God. There is so little of real goodness, it seems, to be found in this time and place, where riches are valued over character and status is more important than love or loyalty. The American Dream is dead, and it seems that those unlucky enough to be poor must learn to shift for themselves and expect no help from the wealthy who exploit them. Michaelis is all that remains of true goodness here, and the fact that he is such a minor character of whom we see so little says quite a lot.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,149 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The young Greek man who runs the coffee shop next door to George Wilson's garage, is the principal witness to the murder of Mrytle Wilson as well as a friend to Wilson. It is interesting that he is Greek, suggesting the myth-like characteristics of Jay Gatsby, who is larger-than-life in his magnanimity, splendid car, resplendent mansion, and lavish parties.  In fact, Nick even compares Gatsby to the myth-like Roman, Trimalchio, in Chapter Seven of The Great Gatsby.

Michaelis humbly tries to console George and reason with him when Wilson avows that Myrtle was killed by Gatsby--"He murdered her."  But, as he speaks, Wilson tells him, "God sees everything":

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.

Although he tells George, "That's an advertisement," Michaelis, for some reason, turns away from the window and looks back into the room.  Like the archangel whose name he bears, the humble Michaelis becomes the messenger who tells the police that Wilson has been "acting sort of crazy" on the next morning when Wilson has disappeared.

Perhaps, in this chapter, Michaelis stands also as a messenger of the dominant theme stated by enotes of Fitzgerald's opus magnum:  "Americans have wasted their potential, the original American Dream."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial