Why does Myrtle behave with such hauteur, both toward her husband and in the city apartment?F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his portrayal of the search for the American Dream in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays a vital Myrtle Wilson seeking a way to improve her situation.  Her husband, an anaemic, spiritless man, lives in the Valley of Ashes, a desolate place; he does not satisfy any of the desires of Myrtle, who aspires to live on a higher social level, a level which she perceives as superior.

So, when she enters into an affair with the wealthy Tom Buchanan, Myrtle feels that she has elevated herself socially.  With Tom in the New York apartment, she feels alive, important, and elevated socially.  But, just as Gatsby's dream is illusionary, so, too, is Myrtle's.  The magazines that rest on the coffee table are not socialite magazines, but gossip sheets, copies of the "Town Tattle."  The dress that she wears is one purchased by Tom in which she pretends that she has many others. When Mrs. McKee remarks that the dress is pretty, Mrs. Wison rejects the compliment "by raising her eyebrow in disdain":

"It's just a crazy old thing," she said. "I just slip it on sometimes when I don't care what I look like."

By putting on these airs, by acting superior to the hotel help, Myrtle Wilson feels that she has elevated herself socially, that she somehow is entitled to be superior and have a part of the life of those who can afford anything that they want.  Acting in this manner is an escape for Myrtle from the dismal life that she leads in the land of gray ashes. For a brief time, she can pretend; however, sometimes she starts to believe in her American Daydream and misunderstands her importance as, for instance, when she disparages Daisy only to have her nose broken.

With his juxtaposition of characters from different areas, Fitzgerald makes observations about the people who inhabit West Egg and East Eggand the surrounding areas as well.  The East Egg and the Valley of Ashes are moral wastelands, and the people who enter this area become submerged in the moral wasteland themselves. This is true of Mrytle Wilson; rather than elevating herself, she becomes entrenched in the wasteland of amorality.

crunchtime | Student

Myrtle Wilson may indeed be taking a similar path to Jay Gatsby. The American Dream is alive and well in the eyes of these characters, despite evidence from F. Scott Fitzgerald that the dream is corrupted (yellow car, Daisy, etc).

While Gatsby uses his own abilities to create what he feel will make the Dream, or at least his, come to fruition, Myrtle takes a short cut via Tom, and literally is run over by the selfishness of those who have the dream.

Myrtle truly believes that Tom is going to free her from this perceived failed marriage. If one has read Guy de Maupassant's short story, "The Necklace", they might see a similarity between Myrtle's quietly expressed belief that she was born and married into the wrong social class and she is destined to live in the same extravagance that Tom and Daisy have literally been born into and plan to hold on like grim death.

With Tom, Myrtle has the dog, the social tabloids, and the apartment in the city, and thus believes the lie placed on her by high borne Tom Buchanan. It matters little that Tom treats her only as a physical object, and it matters little that her husband does love her, but apparently not enough to work hard enough to get her out of the Valley of the Ashes.

Like Gatsby, she is destroyed by the corruption of the high class society, and like Gatsby, all of those who do not fit in are pretty much discarded and exist only in the memories of Nick Carraway.

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The Great Gatsby

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