Who Dies In The Great Gatsby Novel And How?

Last Updated: December 18th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

Death and dying. Morose subjects but one of fascination no matter who you are.

In today’s compelling analysis, I want to dissect the themes of wealth, love, and the American Dream, as well as reveal the underlying factors that contribute to the demise of the characters in this novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

George Wilson, Myrtle Wilson, and Jay Gatsby shown with a grave and tombstone

Discover the artistry of Fitzgerald’s storytelling and the universal themes that continue to captivate readers, making ‘The Great Gatsby‘ a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of this literary masterpiece.

I hope to offer fresh insights into the symbolism of the Green Light, the Valley of Ashes, and the extravagant parties, and how they intersect with the characters’ fates.

Whether you’re a Gatsby enthusiast or new to this literary classic, you will uncover heart-wrenching truths beneath the surface of this timeless tale.

Who Dies in The Great Gatsby? How Do They Die?

It isn’t enough to list who dies- it seems as though everyone wants the gory details, LOL.

In Order of Who Dies in Fitzgerald’s Novel The Great Gatsby:

1. Myrtle Wilson

2. Jay Gatsby

3. George Wilson

Myrtle Wilson is killed when Daisy Buchanan accidentally hits Myrtle with Gatsby’s big yellow car.

Myrtle Wilson wearing white in the 2013 Great Gatsby film adaptation

Heartbroken and mistakenly believing that his wife had been having an affair with Gatsby, George Wilson shoots Jay Gatsby who is relaxing in his swimming pool.

George Wilson, not only distraught over his wife’s death but also with the horrible crime that he has committed, then shoots himself.

Those are the short, sweet facts in this novel, but this isn’t the full story.

Did Tom Know that Daisy Killed Myrtle?

It remains ambiguous and unknown whether Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, knew that Daisy was responsible for Myrtle Wilson’s death. The novel leaves readers with hints and implications rather than explicit confirmation of Tom’s awareness.

Throughout the narrative, there are moments suggesting that Tom might have had some inkling about who killed Myrtle Wilson and Daisy’s involvement. After the accident, Tom is notably concerned about the repercussions and potential scandal.

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

He instinctively helps cover up the situation by making sure everyone at the accident scene knows that he owns a blue coupe, which implies an awareness of Daisy’s culpability.

Additionally, Tom’s character is depicted as shrewd and wise, so it’s conceivable that he pieced together the events, especially given the circumstances surrounding Myrtle’s death.

After the couple returns home, Daisy and Tom are seen talking at the kitchen table, but we don’t overhear the conversation, so it is unknown whether Tom asked Daisy about the accident, or if Daisy told Tom that she had been driving Gatsby’s car.

Fitzgerald intentionally keeps Tom’s knowledge vague. The narrative’s focus is primarily on Jay Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy, and this ambiguity serves to heighten the tension and complexity of the characters’ relationships.

In the end, Tom’s silence on the matter adds to the moral ambiguity and disillusionment that pervades the novel. It leaves readers to ponder whether he chose to remain silent out of indifference to Myrtle’s tragic fate or to protect his own hide and his marriage.

What Were Jay Gatsby’s Last Words?

Quote of Jay Gatsby's last words in The Great Gatsby Novel

Gatsby’s last words were not dramatic or poignant or even a bit prophetic. Gatsby tells Nick Carraway, “Well, good-bye.”

It’s possible that Gatsby said something to his servants when they brought the floating mat out from the garage, but with Nick as the narrator, he wouldn’t know.

Nick went to work that fateful day and left Gatsby to enjoy his pool before it was drained for the season. If Gatsby had any other last words, they are lost forever.

What Does Gatsby’s Death Symbolize?

Jay Gatsby’s death in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby carries profound symbolic significance within the novel. At its core, Gatsby’s death is a reflection of the author’s disillusionment with the American Dream and the corruption of the society during the Jazz Age.

Gatsby, with his lavish parties and ostentatious display of wealth, embodies the quintessential American Dream, a self-made man who believes that through hard work, he can achieve social and economic success.

However, Gatsby’s ultimate undoing stems from his unrelenting pursuit of the past, symbolized by his undying love for Daisy Buchanan. His death in pursuit of a dream that can never be realized underscores the hollowness and fragility of the American Dream.

Gatsby and Daisy dancing with a mansion and the Statue of Liberty in the background

It suggests that the relentless chase of wealth and unattainable desires can lead to self-destruction and disappointment.

Gatsby’s death also reflects the moral decay and decadence of the Roaring Twenties. While it was George Wilson who killed Jay Gatsby, it was Tom Buchanan who orchestrated the murder.

Driven by a toxic mixture of jealousy and entitlement, Tom highlights the moral bankruptcy of the upper class and the depths to which they would sink to maintain their social positions.

Gatsby becomes a scapegoat for their vices, a symbol of the corruption inherent in a society fixated on appearances and superficiality.

Moreover, Gatsby’s death underscores the theme of the inevitability of time and its relentless passage. His final moments, as he looks at the green light across the bay, signify the inability to escape the past, which inevitably shapes the present and the future.

Gatsby’s death is a multi-layered symbol in Fitzgerald’s novel, representing the shattered American Dream, the moral decay of society, and the inexorable passage of time, all of which contribute to the novel’s powerful exploration of the human condition and the era in which it is set.

How Is Death Depicted in The Great Gatsby?

Characters who died in the novel Great Gatsby

Death in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is never quite as simple as it appears. In this novel, death is depicted in a multifaceted manner, reflecting various aspects of the human condition and the Jazz Age society. The novel’s treatment of death is symbolic, emotional, and thematic.

Firstly, there’s the physical death of key characters.

Daisy kills Myrtle Wilson with Jay Gatsby’s car. This tragic hit-and-run accident serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of reckless actions and the carelessness of the upper class. Her death also represents a collision, if you will, between the working class and the wealthy elite.

The violent death of Jay Gatsby himself is a pivotal moment in the novel, illustrating the price one might have to pay for the relentless pursuit of dreams and desires. Gatsby’s murder signifies the ultimate disillusionment with the American Dream and the moral decay of the elite society he aspires to be a part of.

Beyond physical death, there’s the theme of the death of dreams and ideals. Gatsby’s lifelong hope of rekindling his romance with Daisy represents an idealized vision of the past. His death underscores the impossibility of recapturing the past, a theme central to the novel.

The metaphorical death of these dreams is also reflected in the decaying Valley of Ashes, symbolizing the corruption and decay underlying the Roaring Twenties.

In The Great Gatsby, death is a central motif, illustrating the impermanence of life, disillusionment, and the moral decay inherent in the pursuit of wealth and social status. It serves as a powerful and evocative element throughout the narrative, enriching the novel’s thematic depth.

How Is Gatsby’s Death Tragic?

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby

Jay Gatsby’s death is undeniably tragic for several profound reasons.

First and foremost, Gatsby’s death is tragic because it represents the shattering of an idealistic dream. Gatsby has spent years building his life around the hope of rekindling his past romance with Daisy Buchanan, the woman he passionately loves.

Daisy married Tom Buchanan, yet Gatsby never wavered in pursuing his dream. Eventually, his unrequited love and inability to attain what he desired most created a sense of profound tragedy that ultimately led to his demise.

Moreover, the tragic nature of Gatsby’s death is amplified by the fact that it is caused by a case of mistaken identity. He takes the blame for Myrtle Wilson’s death, an accident caused by Daisy, thus protecting her from any consequences.

His unwavering loyalty to Daisy, who represents a mirage of the perfect life he strives for, results in his tragic downfall. This self-sacrifice, while noble in intent, underscores the tragedy of Gatsby’s death as he pays the price for another’s actions.

Finally, Gatsby’s death signifies the larger tragedy of the American Dream during the Jazz Age. His pursuit of wealth and status, which he believes will bring him happiness, ultimately leads to his destruction.

Gatsby’s life and death symbolize the disillusionment and moral decay of a society fixated on materialism and superficiality. In essence, his death is emblematic of the broader societal tragedy explored in the novel.

Some Examples of the Death of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby?

The Great Gatsby serves as a poignant critique of the demise of the American Dream during the Roaring Twenties, and the novel is replete with examples illustrating this theme.

One of the most prominent examples is the character of Jay Gatsby himself. Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of wealth, luxury, and Daisy Buchanan, whom he believes to be the embodiment of his American Dream, ultimately leads to his tragic death. Despite his opulent parties and extravagant mansion, Gatsby remains isolated and unfulfilled, highlighting the hollowness of material success.

Is Jay Gatsby a Real Person or a Made-up Character? 

The moral corruption and ethical decay of the upper class, personified by characters like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, reveal the degradation of traditional American values. Their affair, lies, and indifference towards others exemplify the moral bankruptcy that can accompany the pursuit of wealth and social status.

The Valley of Ashes, a desolate industrial wasteland, symbolizes the harsh reality faced by those outside the upper echelons of society. Despite working very hard, inhabitants of The Valley of Ashes will never achieve the success that Gatsby has enjoyed.

This serves as a stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the West and East Egg, underscoring the harsh economic disparities that challenge the idea of the American Dream.

Additionally, George Wilson’s relentless quest for the American Dream, which he believes can be achieved by selling his auto repair garage and Tom’s old car, ultimately ends in tragedy as he is tricked into murdering Gatsby and then takes his own life, underscoring the destructive consequences of misguided ambitions.

These examples collectively reveal Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the American Dream’s decline, as it becomes distorted, elusive, and often unattainable, serving as a scathing critique of the society of the time.

Final Thoughts Before You Go

In the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, death plays a profound and symbolic role, shaping the narrative in significant ways.

central themes in The Great Gatsby Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The novel sees the tragic demise of key characters, including Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson, who meets her end in a tragic hit-and-run accident, underscoring the consequences of reckless actions and the stark divide between social classes.

Jay Gatsby’s violent death, orchestrated by Tom Buchanan and driven by jealousy and entitlement, symbolizes the moral decay and corruption of the upper class during the Roaring Twenties.

Beyond these literal deaths, the novel explores the death of dreams and ideals, particularly embodied in Gatsby’s unrelenting pursuit of a love he idealizes from the past. His tragic end emphasizes the impossibility of recapturing the past, a central theme in the story.

Ultimately, death in The Great Gatsby is a multi-faceted symbol, highlighting the impermanence of life, the disillusionment of dreams, and the moral decay inherent in the pursuit of wealth and social status.

Fitzgerald’s narrative is a powerful exploration of the human condition during the Jazz Age, where characters grapple with the consequences of their actions and the inexorable passage of time.

Who Dies In The Great Gatsby Novel And How?
Who Dies In The Great Gatsby Novel And How?
Explore the tragic fates of the characters in The Great Gatsby. Uncover the web of love, wealth, and deception in this literary classic