Who Killed Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby?

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

the car that killed myrtle wilson in the great gatsby

All events in this book were leading to a tragic end. The book slowly adds the heat and pressure of love affairs, Jay Gatsby’s past, illegal alcohol, and the seeming superficiality of Daisy Buchanan’s feelings for Gatsby, and eventually, the death of several characters.

In Chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby, Myrtle Wilson dies after Gatsby’s yellow car hit her. According to Gatsby, it was Daisy Buchanan who was driving the car that killed Myrtle.  

While Fitzgerald skillfully takes his time building to this event, in the end, we can clearly see the horrible behavior that all the characters in this book have put on display.

Who was responsible for Myrtle Wilson’s death? Was it her husband? Was it Tom? Was it Jay? Was Daisy the one responsible? Or did Myrtle Wilson kill herself?

How Does Myrtle Die?

After the disastrous get-together in the city with Tom, Daisy, Jay, Nick, and Jordan, the couples separate and begin the drive back to East Egg.

Tom insists that Daisy and Jay drive back in Jay’s car and he will drive everyone else. Tom leaves the hotel a bit later than Daisy and Jay, who get a few minutes’ head start.

1920's Lady similar to Myrtle Wilson - The Great Gatsby

Most likely, Tom Buchanan believed and hoped that Daisy would tell Jay that their affair was over as they drove home.

While Fitzgerald doesn’t tell us what was said between Daisy and Jay, what we do discover is that Myrtle, after being held captive in her room by her husband, somehow escaped.

She then runs out in the street and gets herself killed by Gatsby’s car.

The car slows down but does not stop.

Who Was Driving the Car that Killed Myrtle?

At first, Fitzgerald makes it appear that Jay was driving the car. After all, it was Jay Gatsby’s car so it only makes sense that he was driving it.

It isn’t until Nick Carraway arrives with Tom back at Tom’s home in East Egg that we discover it wasn’t Jay Gatsby driving.

Tom invites Nick into the house to have a drink and wait for his taxi. Nick, disgusted by everyone’s behavior, tells Tom that he will wait outside.

As Nick waits for his taxi, he hears rustling noises coming from the bushes. Nick investigates and finds Jay Gatsby hiding and waiting for Daisy to come outside.

This is when Jay tells Nick that it was Daisy who was driving the car.

Jay says that Daisy was very upset after the fight in the hotel, and they both agreed that driving would distract her and calm her down.

Gatsby tells Nick that he saw Myrtle coming towards the car so he tried to pull on the steering wheel to avoid hitting Myrtle, but it was too late.

Since Gatsby loves Daisy, he says that he will take the blame for Myrtle’s death.

Did Daisy Kill Myrtle on Purpose?

While Daisy knew that her husband Tom was cheating on her, it’s not clear whether she knew that the woman his husband was having an affair with was Myrtle. For this reason, it is unlikely that Daisy killed Myrtle intentionally.

While Myrtle had terrible things to say about Daisy, it’s doubtful that Daisy knew about those things since Tom tried to keep their relationship secret.

However, there is no doubt that Daisy is the one responsible for Myrtle’s death, even if hitting her was an accident.

Wasn’t Myrtle Responsible for Her Own Death?

While no one wants to take the blame, you might say that all the parties involved played a part in Myrtle’s death. It started with Myrtle. If she had not been unfaithful, things would have been different. 

What Did Wilson Do to Myrtle?

George Wilson locked Myrtle inside her room. Perhaps if he hadn’t done that, she would not have been so desperate to get out and reach Tom.

Why Does Myrtle Run Out in the Street?

When Myrtle escaped from her room, she saw Gatsby’s car approaching. She believed that Tom was driving because earlier in the day, it was Tom who drove Gatsby’s yellow Rolls-Royce.

She runs out into the street trying to stop the car, only to be struck and killed.

So Who Was Responsible for Myrtle Wilson’s Death

Myrtle is partly to blame for her own death. She was desperate to leave her husband and be with Tom, even though she knew he was married and that he would never leave Daisy. Myrtle should not have been so reckless as to run in front of a car.

Other characters also played a part in her death. Had Tom Buchanan not used Myrtle like a car, ignoring her when it was inconvenient for him to be seen with her, Myrtle may not have chased after him.

If Nick had told Daisy about Tom’s affair, or if he had not kept quiet about it and told Tom to stop seeing her, Myrtle may still be alive.

In the end, however, it was Daisy who drove the car that killed Myrtle. Even if it was an accident, she should have owned up to her recklessness and faced the consequence of her actions.  

Was Gatsby to Blame  for Myrtle Wilson’s Death?

Jay Gatsby himself is partly to blame. We can’t say for sure that Gatsby knew about Tom and Myrtle. However, Gatsby should never have let Daisy drive his car knowing how upset she was, and he should have stopped the car immediately afterward.

Stopping wouldn’t have prevented Myrtle’s death, but it might have prevented Jay Gatsby’s death.

Who knows? If Gatsby had stopped his yellow car, Daisy may have discovered who her husband was having an affair with, and she may have left Tom to be with Gatsby.

It’s hard to say what was in George Wilson’s mind when he shot Jay Gatsby.

Scott Fitzgerald’s novel doesn’t tell us a lot about George, except that he was a mechanic married to Myrtle.

From the events that happened in the book, however, it becomes pretty clear that George blamed Jay at least in part for his wife’s death.

When Tom stops his car to check out what was happening and sees his lover lying dead on a workbench, it seems that he quickly came up with the idea of killing two birds with one stone. The turn of events gave him a convenient way out of a sticky situation.

What Does Tom Tell George?

Tom tells George that the yellow car that hit Myrtle Wilson was owned by Jay Gatsby (learn more about George Wilson in The Great Gatsby ). Tom most likely believed that Jay was driving the car, so he didn’t lie to George, but Tom must have known that George would try to take revenge in some way, either through the courts or on his own.

George might even believe that the owner of the yellow car was the man Myrtle was having an affair with. Why else would she run out into the street, trying to stop the car that hit her?

Whether Tom told George where Jay lived or George found out on his own remains unknown. Regardless of how he discovered where Gatsby’s house was located, George takes his gun and shoots Jay, then shoots himself.

Did George Blame Himself?

Did George kill himself because he blamed himself for Myrtle’s death? Did he kill himself rather than face the consequences that would occur because he shot Gatsby? Or did George kill himself because the entire situation was unbearable?

These are questions that the reader can only speculate on since the book fails to tell us more about George Wilson’s state of mind.

Final Thoughts

While Jay Gatsby states that Daisy Buchanan was driving the car that struck and killed Myrtle, there were several catalysts that led up to this event. Daisy Buchanan shouldn’t take all the blame.

Another thing to consider is that we only have Jay’s word for what happened. It’s possible that Gatsby was driving his own car but wants to appear like the “bigger man” and accept the blame.

Tom’s affair with Myrtle and the way he ignored her whenever he liked, George’s attempt to cage Myrtle like a dog, and Myrtle’s reckless actions of running in front of a fast-moving car all led to her tragic death.

If you think about it- the tragic end of The Great Gatsby is inevitable because of the poor choices that all the characters in the novel made.

Who Killed Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby?
Who Killed Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby?
Myrtle Wilson was certainly a larger-than-life character in The Great Gatsby, but who was responsible for her death? Tom? Daisy? Gatsby? Or did she kill herself?
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