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The Great Gatsby - Is Myrtle presented as a sympathetic character? - Part 1

The Great Gatsby - Is Myrtle presented as a sympathetic character? - Part 1

In ‘The Great Gatsby,’ Myrtle is a character who may be judged because she is introduced to us as a mistress, who could be seen to be breaking up a marriage. However, this successfully demonstrates the stereotype of the time, which indeed still reflects our own today, that the woman is in the wrong in this situation, yet it doesn’t matter about the man involved; it is almost the expected thing to do, which becomes increasingly evident as the character Tom, blatantly takes a call from Myrtle, his mistress, in the middle of the family dinner, yet suffers no repercussions as a result of his actions.

     The first introduction to Myrtle may provide the reader with a negative impression as she ‘blocked the light from the office door.’ This reinstates Fitzgerald’s theme of light and shade within the novel, used to symbolically represent characters and settings. Because Myrtle has effectively created darkness in the office, she may be viewed judgementally as, darkness has negative connotations, for example, fear. Although, the darkness could represent the fact that Myrtle may be hiding something; she may be trying to remove herself from her day to day life, wherein she’s miserable, and trying to enter the superficial yet seemingly sparkling and glamorous lifestyle of Tom Buchanan. Fitzgerald’s use of light and shade to introduce the reader to Myrtle is particularly effective as, he does not have to use his construct Nick to actually say anything disparaging about her, which would probably create immediate sympathy, he just creates a subtle impression by playing off our natural instincts to believe that darkness is not a positive thing.

     Physical descriptions of Myrtle are included, probably not only as a basic description, but to create sympathy, as she is evidently being judged in a superficial way, and it should have no impact upon her personality. Nick, the narrator uses the adjective ‘stout’ which is obviously insulting, especially as women are very concerned with their looks, and this is maybe even more so with myrtle as, if she is not attractive in some way, then Tom has no obligation or desire to continue seeing her. However, Nick continues with almost a contrasting statement, as he says, ‘but she carried her flesh sensuously.’ This subsequent evaluation may at first appear to be a positive comment, yet on more thought, it is obviously suggesting that essentially, she has an attractive figure, and therefore, sex-appeal. As this is particularly objectifying, the reader may feel increased sympathy towards Myrtle, as she evidently being used in one of the worst ways possible. This could be seen as a dehumanisation of Myrtle, as she is basically Tom’s property, with which he can do whatsoever he desires. However, while a contemporary reader might feel sympathy as, such treatment is now views to be wrong, a reader at the time the book was written, may not feel much sympathy in this aspect as the behaviour was viewed as normal, and many people would go to extreme lengths to participate in a wealthy lifestyle; they may have even thought that Myrtle was lucky because, at least she had the chance to indulge in such a lifestyle, even if it was at a cost. 



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