Myrtle Wilson as the Wasteland Figure in the Great Gatsby

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30 November 2007
Myrtle and Fitzgerald's Wasteland

Myrtle Wilson is Fitzgerald's vessel for illustrating the modern wasteland. His conception of the wasteland as an unavoidable, vulgar part of the 1920s society is parallel to his characterization of Myrtle as an unavoidable, vulgar character that refuses to be ignored. He uses her to point out what he sees as the faults of modern society. Myrtle is materialistic, superficial, and stuck living in the physical wasteland referred to as "the valley of ashes." Fitzgerald uses her to portray the social wasteland, particulaly the growing materialism and superficiality of modern society. He makes a huge statement about the repression of the impoverished by the upper-class in the modern wasteland through Myrtle. She not only lives in the geographical wasteland, but she also embodies the moral and social wasteland that Fitzgerald is condemning.

Myrtle is the only vivacious creature in "the valley of ashes," Fitzgerald's geographical wasteland, "a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens"(23). She is not beautiful, but Nick points out that "there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continuously smoldering—" (11). She has one of the showiest entrances of any female in modern literature, which is a comment on the importance of sexuality in the emergening modern wasteland of society. Sensuous and reproductively ripe, Fitzgerald describes Myrtle as smoldering and the wasteland she lives in as on ashy or dusty: "a white ashen dust… veiled everything in the vicinity, except [George Wilson's] wife, who moved close to Tom." (26). Myrtle and George Wilson have been married twelve years and have no children (157), obviously through no fault of Myrtle's, because they live in the barren wasteland. There are several references to the barrenness of the wasteland in the text. The most telling sentence about why Myrtle has not produced any children is her comment about George while in the city: "I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe" (34). By making Myrtle the sexiest character, he shows that even the most sensuous, lively creature cannot reproduce in a wasteland.

Myrtle struggles get out of the barren wasteland, which is precisely why Fitzgerald has her symbolically destroyed by the upper-class. He also shows the unappealing traits of people newly accustomed to money through Myrtle. who believes that a rich lover is her ticket away from the "valley of ashes." Once she arrives in the city, she becomes Fitzgerald's canvas for the moral wasteland of modern society. As soon as they step off the train, Myrtle spends money on shallow items like a gossip magazine. She becomes unnecessarily picky, affecting the same materialistic attitudes of the rich: "She let four taxicabs drive away before she selected a new one, lavender-colored with gray upholstery" (27). Fitzgerald is using her to show that people who are new to wealth become obsessed with consuming and superficiality in the modern wasteland, thus ironically wasting money.

Fitzgerald illustrates consumerism and its traps through Myrtle. The episode with the puppy vendor is the most intense example of the wasteland of consumerism that Fitzgerald vehemently disliked. She spies a puppy vendor that bears "an absurd resemblance to John D. Rockefeller" (27), an allusion to one of the most notorious businessman in American history. The puppy vendor is part of a wasteland by Fitzgerald's description of him as "gray" (27). Colors are significant throughout the novel—Daisy and the wealthy are frequently associated with white; Gatsby is drawn by a green light by Daisy's house that illustrates money; the wasteland is gray. By describing the puppy vendor as gray, Fitzgerald marks him and his business as part of the wasteland.

The puppy vendor clearly takes advantage of Myrtle's naivete, as excellent salesmen do. When...
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