What is the significance of Myrtle's desire for a dog in The Great Gatsby?

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It is interesting that Myrtle wants a dog for several reasons.

First, dogs are known as "man's best friend," and something within Myrtle seems to stir toward loyalty. She isn't being loyal to her husband, and her lover is married himself; yet, here she is, reaching out for something to fulfill this void in her life.

It's also interesting that she seems to have no foresight into the care required by a dog. She says, "I want to get one for the apartment. They're nice to have—a dog." It's really unclear how Myrtle plans to care for this dog. After all, she is only really there to meet Tom for their little rendezvous. But, in the moment, she makes a quick decision based on an emotional tug and takes a puppy with her. Myrtle seems to be led by her emotions.

In the next scene, she antagonizes Tom about Daisy until he breaks her nose. Later, she is overcome with emotion and runs into the path of the car Daisy is driving, which kills her. As seen with the dog, Myrtle isn't led by a sense of reason. (As a side note, the question of what DID happen to that dog is one of the mysteries which is never answered in The Great Gatsby.)

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Dogs have long been used by writers and artists as symbols of fidelity, hence the classic name "Fido."  Myrtle's impulsive desire for a dog on the street in NYC is both ironic and poignant.  

Both she and Tom Buchanan are married to others while they engage in their affair, so when Tom purchases the dog cheaply and tells the man who sells it to them, "go and buy yourself ten more dogs," it is suggestive of how little he values the loyalty that dogs epitomize.  Myrtle is so unfamiliar with dogs that she does not recognize its breed or gender-- ironically suggestive of how little she knows about fidelity.

Poignancy is found in the fact that the dog is forgotten rather quickly when they reach the apartment.  Tom and Myrtle spend the afternoon and evening drinking, having sex, and arguing. The puppy becomes a very temporary ersatz child in the "domestic" relationship that Myrtle naively believes will become permanent.  

The episode with the dog contributes to one of Fitzgerald's primary messages in The Great Gatsby: America was losing touch with real values, and the transient pleasures that were taking their place lacked true substance and worth.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott.  The Great Gatsby.  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925.


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