The relationship between Myrtle Wilson and Tom Buchanan helps portray the themes of social classes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. The ways in which Tom and Myrtle’s relationship influences the novel’s commentary on social classes are basically two fold. Firstly, that it is impossible to permanently change ones social class simply by association with someone in a higher class. And secondly, that is impossible for love to exist between two people on opposite ends of the social scale.
One of the biggest ways that the novel has of showing the reader of the impossibility to climb the social ladder simply by association with someone who is at the top of it is how Myrtle leads a double life. When she is with Tom she lives the high life. She goes to classy parties in New York City with rich people and purchases puppies and other things. But, when she is not with Tom she spends most of her days locked up in a small, desolate room above her husband’s unsuccessful garage.
Myrtle never really loved Tom, she just loved the life Tom led, and would be willing to do anything to have that life her self. She loved what Tom would buy her and the parties he would bring her to. Myrtle could have used anyone with Tom’s social class to give her that feeling that Tom gave her. The feeling that she was better than she actually was. In this sense Tom symbolizes a portal, which gives Myrtle brief periods of what she thinks is the best and most enjoyable way to live.
The novel also shows how the social ladder can be climbed. It shows this through Gatsby. Gatsby climbed to the height of social by joining the army than working hard.
Even though the ways and means Gatsby had used to come to his high social standing probably were illegal he still came to his position and wealth by his own merit, and not from simply being around people of higher social classes.
The other lesson the novel teaches the reader is the lesson that love will never work between people of vastly different social standings. This is why Tom and Myrtle’s relationship never seems sincere. Whenever Tom does something nice for Myrtle it is always done with a grudge. Whenever Tom does anything mean to her he quickly tries to give her an insincere apology. After he buys the dog for Myrtle he says to the seller, “Here’s your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it.” (The Great Gatsby, 32.) The way that Tom says this to the dog seller gives the reader a sense that Tom is repulsed by spending ten dollars on a dog for Myrtle. This proves that Tom does not love Myrtle. For if he loved her, he would not have commented about the price but rather how happy he had made Myrtle by buying her the dog. Tom also hits Myrtle. “Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” (The Great Gatsby, 41.) Physical abuse is something that can never be present in a relationship with true love. This incident is further support of The Great Gatsby’s theme of the impossibility of love existing between two vastly different social classes, like those of Myrtle and Tom.
The only time when Tom shows any loving feelings towards Myrtle is after Myrtle is killed by the automobile driven by Daisy. It is only after she is dead does the class difference disappear between Myrtle and Tom, and Tom is able to see the true heart of Myrtle Wilson “[T]hey saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen to the heart beneath” (The Great Gatsby, 145.) “Tom, with his back to us, was bending over [the body of Myrtle], motionless.” (The Great Gatsby, 146) With the latter sentence the reader gets a view of Tom in solace, almost mourning Myrtle’s death.
In the novel’s description of Tom Buchanan, a selfish, privileged, upper class man, and Myrtle Wilson, a working class woman, desperately seeking excitement and adventure in her otherwise drab and boring life, The Great Gatsby gives the reader a portrayal of a relationship that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a “love” affair. Nor is the relationship beneficial in any way to either of them. The relationship of Myrtle and Tom is simply a symbol for emptiness.