Why are Wilson and Gatsby considered sympathetic? What are their differences and similarities?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most readers sympathize with George Wilson and Jay Gatsby because for the most part they are the victims of Tom and Daisy Buchanans' reckless selfishness. George loses his wife, whom he truly loves, to Tom's fickle relationship with and false promises to her. Similarly, Gatsby loses Daisy--the embodiment of all that he wants in life--to Tom twice, once when he went off to war and again when the careless couple flees East Egg to rid themselves of the trouble that they created.  Fitzgerald also evokes pity from his readers for the two men when he reveals their dreams and the annihilation of those dreams.  Wilson simply wants to run a successful business and make something of himself to keep his wife happy and to earn her respect, and Gatsby works diligently (if not legally) to earn enough to "buy" Daisy's love and the respect of Old Money society.  Of course, neither man realizes his dream and dies violently instead.

While Wilson and Gatsby's similiarities appear in Fitzgerald's characterization of them as sympathetic characters, the two men are also grossly different. Wilson is a dreamer who does not seem to have enough ambition or business connections to be successful. In contrast, Gatsby sets goals for himself and sets out to accomplish them by any means necessary.  Wilson's passive personality is juxtaposed against Gatsby's energetic, almost rabid ambition.

Ironically, in the end, Wilson takes Gatsby's life, but he is not solely responsible.  Just as Daisy Buchanan takes all that is precious away from Wilson by smashing Myrtle with the car, she also drains all that she can from Gatsby before making her escape, leaving him with nothing.

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The Great Gatsby

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