Fair warning: the following post spoils the ending of The Great Gatsby.
No, the novel. The real one.
Anyway, as I’m currently teaching Gatsby to my 11th grade students — you know, like you do — I’ve had way too much time as of late to think about the characters. Particularly the character of poor cuckolded George Wilson. And I’ve come to a startling conclusion.
At the end of The Great Gatsby, George Wilson — having murdered Gatsby in cold blood, believing he was having an affair with his wife — commits suicide. He was brought to this point, I submit, by a life that was never what it really should have been. He owned his own business, but the garage was unprofitable and he was often on the brink of being destitute. He had a wife, Myrtle, but she never truly loved him. Myrtle Wilson treated her husband with open contempt and flagrantly defied their marriage vows by running around with Tom Buchanan, a fact obvious to virtually everybody but simple-minded George Wilson. No, poor George wasn’t all that bright. He was naive and easily fooled: the only reason he targeted Gatsby at all is because Tom gave him the perfectly accurate yet horribly misleading information that Gatsby owned the yellow car that killed Myrtle. His naivety pushed him towards his ruin. And through it all, George was trapped beneath the harsh, watchful, judging eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg’s enormous billboard, looking down at him from behind its pair of gigantic spectacles, peering at him like the eyes of God.
After his death, though, George awakens to a new life. Gone is the responsibility of his own business, replaced instead with a job that is physically demanding (for which he is suited), but stable and respected. George has become a mailman. In his new life, George meets and marries a girl named Martha. Martha is everything Myrtle was not — kind, intelligent, compassionate, and unselfish. George loves her deeply. After years of hard but satisfying work, George and Martha quietly retire, to live out their days in happiness together.
Then, a new family moves in next door. Although seemingly normal and pleasant, there is a child that vexes George. The boy is troublesome — almost dangerous. He constantly causes damage to George’s property and physical harm to George’s being, causing him to fall from ladders, trip over toys and otherwise suffer a litany of abrasions and bruises. George cannot retaliate, however, due to the youth of the child that good-hearted Martha has taken a liking to. What’s more, the boy appears to have no actual malice in him — the destruction left in his wake is the result of simple-mindedness and a lack of forethought, much like that left by George in his own previous existence. George is crushed under the boy’s affection — he considers the old man to be his best friend, and George endures for Martha’s sake, hoping the child will grow out of it.
But the boy does not.
As time goes on, not only do the boy’s antics grow more cartoonishly outlandish, but more destructive as well. Damage to George’s car, his home, the ruination of a priceless collection of stamps become common. Their encounters become an almost daily occurrence, with longer, more colorful episodes happening on Sundays. True horror sets in when it occurs to George that it has been years — perhaps decades — since he first encountered the child, and nothing is changing. The town stays the same, he and Martha do not age, and the boy — the terrible, devastating sprite — is perpetually six years old. And what’s more, nobody but George seems to realize they have become frozen in time.
It finally dawns on George. He is in Hell. This is his punishment for Jay Gatsby’s murder. Day after day, year after year of slow torture at the hands of little Dennis Mitchell, who simply does not know any better.
But George knows. God is watching. God is laughing at him still, every time something happens. George can see Him in the huge, round spectacles Dennis’s father wears, for George Wilson recognizes that gaze… not from the eyes of Henry Mitchell, but as the watchful stare of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg.