Kakos' 6th Hour

Reactions and comments from my sixth hour Honors American Literature class.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Myrtle's Death: Continuation of Chapter 7 Fishbowl

Please continue today's discussion by responding to at least one of the questions below:

(1) Fitzgerald's description of Myrtle's death is fairly gruesome and detailed:
"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."
What details of this quotation seem important/symbolic to you? How so?

(2) The scene with the cars is complex and confusing (tortuous and labyrinthine, if you will). Fitzgerald probably could have made this vehicular homocide far simpler. What significance might there be in the switches of cars and couples?

(3) Why do you think this scene takes place on Nick's (30th) birthday? Why do you think he forgot it was his birthday?

18 Comments:

Blogger Ryan S said...

It is definitely true that Fitzgerald made the vehicular homicide much more complicated than he had to. He really did not need to add the fact that they switched cars and Myrtle was running crazily at them. Also was the fact that Daisy possibly did this on purpose. But these mysterious details are what make the book juicy and good. Without the switch and the affair between Tom and Myrtle this passage would not have as much meaning. The confusion adds to the suspense. The perplexing aspect of this story is used continuously in this book. One big example is Gatsby and how different he is from every other rich person. Gatsby actually has secrets and this sets him apart. You can not figure out if he is a spy and using Nick to find Daisy or he is a good guy and trying to make a friend. He is tough to figure out and this is what makes Gatsby a monumental character.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Ally_N said...

This may be a stretch, but I think this scene takes place on Nick’s birthday because I think this whole novel centers around the topic of knowing your identity. Knowing who you are, what you want in life, who you want to know etc. In Nick’s case, he had become so involved with Gatsby’s rich, society life he forgot about his own. I think Fitzgerald was trying to make a point with this scene and possibly making fun at the wealthy lifestyle. You could have all the money in the world and with that money you can buy anything you desire, but you cannot buy friendship, love and happiness.

5:10 PM  
Blogger anonko said...

I think it's interesting that Fitzgerald focuses on her breast. I believe that her breast symbolizes Myrtle's womanhood; how she used what she had to make the most of her life with Tom and now it's been stripped away from her. Her body was completely exposed to the public. Myrtle had been living so much of her life in secret, and yet here she is, on display, in the most gruesomely possible manner.

8:23 PM  
Blogger brian k said...

The fact that Fitzgerald portrayed Myrtle's death so gruesomely could represent the severity of the unhappiness the rich attempt to hide. Throughout the whole novel, the rich are constantly trying to cover-up their distaste of life. Daisy often gossips about how miserable other people's lives are because she is unwilling to look at her own life and fix one of the many problems there. Gatsby throws extravagant parties to try to attain what he thinks will stop his unhappiness. When Myrtle dies, everything is exposed for the world to see. Her death is very detailed to symbolize how even though people may try to cover up their unhappiness, the truth will eventually rise to the top.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Andie R said...

I think that the reason Myrtle's death was so gruesome and horrible was because Fitzgerald wanted to shock the reader. He wanted the entire "perfect" world the rich supposedly lead to unravel until it is impossible to miss the reality of their lives. It's over the top and in the reader's face, leaving no room for argument. In a novel where so much has to be inferred, Fitzgerald was not going to take the chance that a reader could assume that Myrtle could possibly have survived. The reader cannot exist along with the characters in a blissful state of ignorance after such a description.

8:32 PM  
Blogger matt l said...

In response to question 3, the fact that the scene occurs on Nick's 30th birthday is quite significant. For most people, turning 30 is somewhat of a big deal. People tend to remember big things like this, so for Nick to simply forget that it was his birthday means that there was a great deal of distraction and unusual events. I believe Fitzgerald has this scene occur on Nick's 30th birthday to reinforce the notion that he really has no importance to his so called "friends". If the people Nick hung out with (ie: gatsby, jordan, tom, and daisy) were indeed his friends, they would have known about his birthday and chosen to at least acknowledge it in some way. Since no one knew or cared, the reader gets the impression that all the other characters were too consumed in their own ordeals to be bothered by things in Nick's life. Nick forgot it was his own birthday, because, he too, is becoming fascinated with the problems of his peers. Fitzgerald shows how Nick is superfluous to the lifestyle that gatsby, tom, and daisy are living in through the simplicity of him missing his 30th birthday. Eventually, Nick will realize how he has been used by both gatsby and tom, and will find a way to rid himself of this empty and lonely lifestyle.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Christine D said...

I definately agree with ally that part of Nick forgetting about his birthday is in part because he doesnt know his idenity. Even though Nick is the narrator, i find it amazing how little we know about him. He gets so caught up in knowing the most of the events (he knows about Tom and Myrtle, and Gatsby and Daisy) that he forgets about his own happiness. He is involved enough in the other relationships to be stuck in the middle, yet because of the social standings and money he isnt involved enough to be seen as a friend of Gatsby and Tom that they can go to for his help. Since he is stuck in such a position, I believe that the only thing he greatly cares about is Jordan. Jordan is also involved in all of the situations which allows Jordan and Nick to have their connection and feel comfortable around eachother. When they are alone together, i think that we see Tom's true idenity more than in any other part of the book.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Logan J said...

I think the fact that they switched cars symbolized all of the phoniness the people have in this story. Everyone seems to have a polite/socially acceptable outward appearence, when really they have almost evil intentions.

Fitzgerald shows us that the obvious is deceiving.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Thomas_N said...

I think the reason why Nick forgot about his birthday is just because he was caught up in the emotions of everyone else. Throughout the book Nick has been trying to help other people with their problems but it seems like he has never had time to focus on himself. Fitzgerald shows the problems of the rich affect everyone and get them so caught up in the moment that even ones own birthday can be forgotten.

9:34 PM  
Blogger LindsayS said...

I think that Nick forgetting his birthday shows how caught up everyone in the book is with living in the moment. That is kind of the philosophy behind all the affairs, it is what makes them feel better at the time. I also think that it is very ironic that Nick's birthday is the same day as Myrtle's death. I think this represents money and how when you get it a lot of your morals and "past self" disappear.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Sarah S. said...

Perhaps the most obvious symbol used in Myrtle's death is the description of her mouth. Fitzgerald describes it as being "wide open and ripped at the corners" - a testament to how, in death, the affair she'd had with Tom was to become public knowledge. The irony of this is that by the time of her death, all parties involved already knew of, or at least suspected what she'd been doing.
As to why Fitzgerald chose to portray her death in such a complicated way, I agree with Ryan S. The complexity and detailing of this particular portion of the novel forces the reader to go over it carefully - paying attention to Fitzgerald's diction and descriptions more so than if Myrtle's death had been simpler. What interests me most about her death, however, was why Fitzgerald chose to 'kill her off' at this time in the novel, after she'd almost completely vanished off the reader's radar as an important character?

10:07 PM  
Blogger katie_r said...

Question #2:
I think the scene with the cars has to be so complex in order for it to make sense. Think about it...if Tom had not stopped by the garage to try to sell Gatsby's car to Wilson, Myrtle would not have seen him and Jordan (mistaking her for Daisy); and when the yellow car came back into view, if Myrtle had known that it was really Gatsby in his own car, I don't think she would have run out to it to try to talk to Tom. And we don't even find out that it was Daisy driving the car until later, and then it makes sense, because in that time period she could have found out that Myrtle and Tom were having an affair, and intentionally killed her. But if all of those things had not happened, Myrtle's confusion, and the accusations that it was Gatsby, and not Daisy, who had killed Myrtle, would not be there, thus destroying the novel.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Hannah S said...

I also agree that Fitzgerald could have made the car scene far simpler. I think that he wanted to make it complicated because he wanted to shock the reader when they found out that Daisy was driving. I also think that it symbolized Daisy's new life by the switching of the cars and Myrtle thinking that Tom is driving the car.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Tori S said...

I think that Fitzgerald had the whole scene with the cars was so confusing because Gatsby was there. Gatsby is portrayed as someone with always going on and he is never dull. If Myrtle's death had been easy and 'nice' it wouldn't fit in with the madness that is surrounded by Gatsby at all times. It had to be a scandal, something that would make people gossip even more about Gatsby.

12:27 PM  
Blogger pinkpokadot0 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Alexandra H said...

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."

"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." This is an important part of the death because "she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long" makes it seem like Myrtle fought to stay alive after she was hit. It also sounds like Fitzgerald was saying that through her gruesome death, she was able to give up her double life and she was set free.

2:01 PM  
Blogger brianc said...

This car accident and death was a very labrynthine scene and this was acctually very neccessary. Anything that Gatsby is involved in ends up being a very confusing and frustrating topic, and why should this have been any different. This scene shows how Daisy was torn between Tom and Gatsby and this can be shown by her switchig in the cars. Also, it shows Tom's confidence and overall manlyness by not valueing Gatsby at all and by almost challenging him to steal Daisy.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Alexaaaaa said...

The fact that Myrtle's mouth was torn open at both corners seems strange to me. It stands to reason that if there were any wound on the head in a car accident, the head would be in much worse condition. This leads me to believe that either Wilson or Myrtle herself cut open her mouth. Under the assumption that Wilson cut her, the cutting of Myrtle's mouth illustrates the husband's anger at Myrtle for lying to him. Assuming that Myrtle did it, this indicates that Myrtle either had a conscience and had strange notions of atonement, went mad from Tom's appearance, or was so infuriated by the lack of life, even violence in her town that she had to inflict pain on herself to feel alive. In any case, Myrtle was crying out for Wilson to beat her at the end, so to some degree, Myrtle wanted punishment for her deeds to provide order in her life. Fitzgerald's society doesn't appear to hold anyone accountable for their actions, as shown in Tom's string of sucessful affairs. In this way, Myrtle herself may represent the longing for security and order in the 20's.

9:31 PM  

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