How Do We Know That Myrtle Wilson Is Not An Intellectual

In what way does Fitzgerald indicate that Myrtle Wilson is not an intellectual in The Great Gatsby?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Within the setting of Fitzgerald's novel, the 1920s, there was in the United States a definitive class system.  At that time, only the weathly were able to attend college, while most of the citizenry went to work right after graduation from high school, or even sooner.  As the wife of a mechanic who lives in the less than desirable Valley of Ashes, on the "edge of the waste land," Myrtle Wilson is clearly placed in a social stratum separate from the Buchanans. 

While she aspires to a life of wealth with Tom, proud of the material gifts such as the expensive collar for the little dog that he buys her, she does not conduct herself as any intellectual would.  When, for example, she changes her dress at the New York apartment, Myrtle's "intense vitality" at the garage has transformed into "impressive hauteur."  Her gestures and speech--"the room rang full with her artificial laughter"--are affected as Myrtle puts on airs. She haughtily speaks as though she is above the workers at the hotel:

"I told that boy about the ice."  Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiflessness of the lower orders.  "These people!  You have to keep after them all the time."

Unlike a lady or an intellectual, when she moves, Mrytle carries "her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can," Nick comments.  She is earthy and vital, petty, and jealous. As she speaks with Nick, she describes her intense sexual attraction to Tom Buchanan. Further in the hotel scene, she openly disparages her husband. Also, Mrytle jealously shouts Daisy's name after being told by Tom that she has no right to say her name until Tom brutally hits her, an action that points to Tom's not being an intellectual, either.  That Myrtle acts upon emotional urges rather than rational thought is finally evidenced by her rushing madly to the Gatsby's car that she mistakes for Tom's as it speeds by Wilson's garage.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You might like to think about the way that Myrtle has obviously chosen to decorate the apartment that she shares with Tom. There is a real air of pretension about Myrtle: her voice, her speech, her dress and the way she tries so hard to pass herself off as being part of the upper class to which Tom belongs. Clearly there is an element of this in the interior decor of the apartment. Consider the following description:

The living-room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it, so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swining in the gardens of Versailles... Several old copies of Town Tattle lay on the table together with a copy of Simon Called Peter, and some of hte small scandal magazines of Broadway.

Note how the furniture is deliberately ostentatious, so much so that it crowds the small apartment and is constantly in your face. Likewise, the reading material of Myrtle are gossip magazines rather than anything more intellectual. Such details clearly indicate the intelligence of Myrtle, her interests and her background.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question