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How is death represented in 'The Great Gatsby'?

'The Great Gatsby' culminates in the deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle. Whilst there are several (some more metaphorical) ways in which Fitzgerald depicts death within 'The Great Gatsby', Gatsby's and Myrtle's deaths are interesting to further examine as they depict the deaths of two very different people, in very different ways. 

Though neither death can said to be glamorous; Gatsby is shot in his pool and Myrtle hit by a car, it is worth further analysing the ways in which the deaths are described. 

Gatsby is said to have 'shouldered' his inflatable lilo before carrying it to the pool in which he will be killed. This image, of carrying the item on which one is to be executed is highly redolent of Jesus Christ. This allusion by Fitzgerald establishes Gatsby as a kind of martyr who gallantly dies for his love (taking the blame for Daisy's murder of Myrtle) 

By contrast Myrtle's death is described in a rather different light. Myrtle, mistress to Tom and unfaithful to her own husband is hit and killed when Daisy accidentally drives into her. It is reported that Myrtle's breast is 'ripped' off during the incident. This symbol of femininity being so aggressively attacked (you may wish to discuss the visceral nature of the language used) differs greatly to the image of Gatsby's death. Whilst Gatsby is portrayed as divine being in his death, Myrtle is a symbol of destroyed womanhood. 

It is also worth noting the amount of time each death occupies on the page. The entire eighth chapter is dedicated almost exclusively to describing the death of Gatsby and the narration allows us to 'see' the terrible scene. However, Myrtle's death is only reported to us through the conversation's of those with a further degree of separation from the reader. Gatsby is granted a greater degree of intimacy and therefore we expect a reader may feel his death more profoundly. Or perhaps one could argue that the noncholant brevity through which Myrtle's death is reported could inspire feelings of anguish and sympathy for her? 

Another point you may wish to draw upon is that, in spite of the differences of the two characters (one, an upper class gentleman and the other a working class mistress) and their eventual demise, is that they are similar in their desires. Both are desirous of a lover who is already married. Though Myrtle appears to have consummated her desire a little more than Gatsby (by having sexual relations with Tom) both appear to die in pursuit of the object of their desire. Myrtle dies running out to Tom's car and Gatsby dies defending Daisy's reputation. It is fascinating then to analyse just what this means in terms of Fitzgerald's portrayal of death in regards to gender and desire. It appears that within 'The Great Gatsby' desire is considered to be deadly and that women face a crueller fate than men should they succumb to it. 

Katy O. GCSE English Literature tutor, A Level English Literature tutor

6 months ago

Answered by Katy, an A Level English Literature tutor with MyTutor


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