Myrtle Wilson Character Traits in The Great Gatsby

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson in Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, while written 100 years ago, still captivates audiences around the world.

The novel has only a few main characters, but they are quite varied and incredibly interesting.

Myrtle Wilson is one of the main characters to which the reader is introduced quite early in the book, even though she doesn’t make an actual appearance.

Who Is Myrtle Wilson? What is she like?

Who is she in relation to the Buchanans and Nick? Is she even aware of who Jay Gatsby is?

This article will cover a character analysis of Myrtle Wilson, as well as explain her relationship to the main characters in the book.

The Personality Traits of Myrtle Wilson

myrtle wilson in a red flapper dress

The reader first discovers Myrtle Wilson in Chapter 1, although not by name, when narrator Nick Carraway goes to visit his cousin Daisy Buchanan in fashionable East Egg.

As everyone is sitting down to dinner, the phone keeps ringing. Tom leaves to answer and quickly returns to the table, only to have the phone ring again and again.

Jordan Baker (learn Jordan Baker character traits here) , a golf pro who is also at the dinner party, tells Nick to be quiet so she can hear what they are talking about. Jordan is the one who tells Nick that it’s Tom’s mistress who is calling the house.

Myrtle remains unnamed at that point, but we get an introduction to her in Chapter 2.

Myrtle Wilson is married to George Wilson, an auto mechanic and gas station owner who lives in the Valley of Ashes.

Tom invites Nick to lunch in New York, but they get off the train, supposedly to talk to George who is interested in buying a car from Tom.

The true reason for the meeting is so Tom can tell Myrtle to get on the next train and meet him in Manhattan.

This is how Nick describes Myrtle:

Then I heard footsteps on the stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye.

Myrtle is not beautiful like Daisy, nor is she refined or quiet, however, she is full of vitality and life, something even Nick finds somewhat attractive.

It’s obvious that Myrtle is desperate for a better life and is very unhappy living with George who can barely make ends meet.

We learn much more about Myrtle in Chapter 2.

Myrtle Wilson’s Character Traits Come to Light in Chapter 2

Tom Buchanan keeps an apartment in Manhattan (read more on quotes about Tom Buchanan ) for his trysts with Myrtle.

Myrtle talks to Nick at length while waiting for her sister Catherine to show up to the party. Myrtle is clearly anxious to live an upscale life. She tells Nick that she thought her husband was something special when she agreed to marry him, only to discover that he was very poor. So poor he borrowed somebody’s suit to get married!

In Chapter 2, Myrtle and Catherine talk to Nick about George:

“I married him because I thought he was a gentleman,” she said finally. “I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.”

“You were crazy about him for a while,” said Catherine.

“Crazy about him!” cried Myrtle incredulously. “Who said I was crazy about him? I never was any more crazy about him than I was about that man there.”

She pointed suddenly at me, and every one looked at me accusingly. I tried to show by my expression that I had played no part in her past.

“The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in and never even told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out. She looked around to see who was listening: ” ‘Oh, is that your suit?’ I said. ‘This is the first I ever heard about it.’ But I gave it to him and then I lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon.”

“She really ought to get away from him,” resumed Catherine to me. “They’ve been living over that garage for eleven years. And Tom’s the first sweetie she ever had.”

It’s obvious that Myrtle longs to live a life that her husband cannot provide. She comes across as low-class, vulgar, and loud, everything that Daisy is not.

In Tom, Myrtle sees a way out of her unhappy marriage. She seems to believe that Tom actually loves her and would divorce Daisy if he could. Myrtle seems to be under the impression that Daisy and Tom are Catholics who don’t believe in divorce, which isn’t true.

Whether Tom told her this or it’s just Myrtle’s excuse as to why Tom doesn’t marry her isn’t known. Nick, however, sees through the lie and feels pity for Myrtle, who is unhappy with her marriage but lives in a fantasy that one day, Tom will “rescue” her.

A dreamer, a cheater, a low-class, vulgar woman who wouldn’t think twice before “stealing” another woman’s husband, Myrtle is not painted in a good light.

How Did Myrtle and Tom Meet?

While Myrtle wants everyone to believe that she is sophisticated and the victim of a bad marriage, the truth about her promiscuity is told in how she met Tom:

“I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm–and so I told him I’d have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn’t hardly know I wasn’t getting into a subway train.”

Of course, Daisy Buchanan (read Daisy Buchanan Quotes ), Tom’s wife, wouldn’t dream of even talking to a man she didn’t know. This shows how desperate Myrtle was to change her life.

During the party, Myrtle makes Tom angry by talking trash about Daisy. Tom punches her right in the face and breaks her nose.

Still, Myrtle continues the affair with Tom, not seeming to care if Tom is a violent man, as long as she gets to enjoy life’s little luxuries.

How Does Myrtle’s Personality Change?

There is a good description of Myrtle, as Nick saw her, at the garage in the Valley of Ashes, and the change that she undergoes once she’s in the Manhattan apartment:

Nick's description of Myrtle

“Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.”

It’s fairly obvious that Myrtle wants to come across to those at the party, even her own sister, as being richer and more sophisticated than she actually is.

While one might say that Gatsby also had an image he was trying to uphold, the difference between Gatsby and Myrtle is that Gatsby actually had his own money, Myrtle was simply given or was using some of Tom’s money and pretending it was her own.

Myrtle is a tragic yet pathetic creature who is desperate for a life she can never have.

Is Myrtle Related to Nick or to Jay Gatsby?

No, Myrtle has a sister, Catherine, who lives in New York, but is not related in any way to Tom, Daisy, Nick, or Jay Gatsby.

It’s not even clear if Myrtle knows who Jay Gatsby is or if she’s even heard about the lavish parties he throws (read more on why does Gatsby through parties all the time ).

Perhaps if she did hear about his parties, she may have insisted that Tom take her or she and her sister may have attended on their own, hoping to snag a rich husband.

How Does Myrtle Die?

Vintage car on a dark background

It’s hard to ignore Myrtle’s broken nose, and George starts to suspect that his wife isn’t going to New York just to see her sister.

While Myrtle won’t tell George who she is seeing, George knows that he has to do something or he is going to lose his wife, whom he does appear to love.

George locks myrtle in the apartment they share above the garage. We learn in Chapter 7 that Daisy and Gatsby take Tom’s car while Tom, Jordan, and Nick drive Gatsby’s yellow car.

Tom has to stop at George Wilson’s place for gasoline. Myrtle can see Tom in the big yellow car and George does everything but beg Tom for the car he had promised to sell him. He says he needs to sell that car so he can get some money and move away from whomever it is Myrtle is having an affair with.

More than likely, Tom is afraid that Myrtle is going to say something or yell at him out the window, so he speeds away quickly without talking to her.

This must really upset Myrtle, who sees Tom as her knight in shining armor.

After the row Tom and Gatsby have at the hotel in New York, Tom tells Daisy to drive back to East Egg with Gatsby in the big yellow car and that he will follow in his own car.

Whether Tom knew that Myrtle would be looking for that big yellow car is unknown, but she did remember that Tom had been driving that car earlier in the day.

When Myrtle saw the car, she had been arguing with George. She ran past George and into the street, directly into the path of the oncoming car.

The book says that she was killed instantly, and the car stopped for just a moment then continued on its way.

Even in death, Myrtle is objectified as nothing more than a sex object. Nick describes her body as:

Michaelis and this man reached her first but when they had torn open her shirtwaist still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long.

As if Myrtle’s sexuality should be hidden, the body is then wrapped in not one but two blankets, even though it’s one of the hottest days of the year.

What Is the Attraction Between Tom and Myrtle?

Tom Buchanan in a white suit and Myrtle Wilson in a white dress

On Myrtle’s end, she’s obviously attracted to Tom’s social position and money. Tom is described as a “hulking” brute of a man, and perhaps compared to her husband, Myrtle also finds Tom attractive.

It isn’t clear why Myrtle would accept the abuse she receives at Tom’s hands, but perhaps she believes that this is the price she must pay in order to get what she wants.

Being the mistress of a rich man is better than being married to a nobody, at least in Myrtle’s eyes.

For Tom Buchanan, this is just another woman in the string of affairs that he’s had since he married Daisy. Perhaps he finds some thrill in women who are beneath his social status.

Tom had an affair with a maid from a motel in Santa Barbara and others whose status remains unknown. Considering that he’s also seeing Myrtle, one can assume that he finds some appeal in seeing lower-class women.

Perhaps it makes him feel more powerful. Perhaps it’s the “forbidden” aspect of having an affair with women who aren’t in his social arena.

Tom must know that none of these women can affect his wealth or his social status and that he has the power to dump them anytime he tires of them.

Whatever his reasoning is, Tom is much too callous to truly care about anyone other than himself.

Final Analysis

Myrtle Wilson was a loud, brash, and low-class woman, but she didn’t deserve what happened to her.

The author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wanted to show how very wealthy people use other people and throw them away like garbage when they no longer serve a purpose.

Myrtle’s misunderstanding about how Tom felt about her, as well as her tragic and violent death, are all part of Fitzgerald’s cynical message in his book that the American Dream is nothing more than a false promise to anyone who isn’t born into wealth and privilege.

Myrtle Wilson Character Traits in The Great Gatsby
Myrtle Wilson Character Traits in The Great Gatsby
Myrtle Wilson is one of the main characters in The Great Gatsby. What was she like? How did she compare to Daisy? Did Tom love her? Find out the answers here.
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