The Great Gatsby Contents
The minor characters
Myrtle’s sister, described by Nick as a ‘slender, worldly girl of about thirty,’ appears in the novel twice: in Chapter 2 when Tom and Myrtle come to the apartment in New York, and in chapters 8 and 9 when Nick recounts the responses of Catherine to Myrtle’s death. Her initial shock at the death is followed by calculating dishonesty in order to protect her sister’s reputation. She:
At the party, she is also defensive of her sister, but in terms of her infidelity being reasonable given the unhappiness of her marriage. Nevertheless, she scrutinises Myrtle’s choice of husband and challenges her sister’s rejection of him by noting that she was ‘crazy about him for a while’. This conversation is later mirrored in the Plaza Hotel scene between Daisy, Tom and Gatsby.
Catherine is clearly more independent than the other women in her sister’s apartment, as she lives with a ‘girlfriend’ in a hotel and has also been travelling around Europe with ‘another girl’. She doesn’t drink at the party in the apartment, but is drunk when she first hears of her sister’s death. This compounds her shock and confusion, and she is reliant on ‘someone, kind or curious’ to drive her in ‘his car’.
Married to Chester McKee, and described by Nick as ‘shrill, languid, handsome, and horrible’, Mrs McKee is notable for her attempts to get her husband to notice potential photographic subjects (‘Chester, I think you could do something with her’) to which Mr McKee barely responds or rudely silences her when she offers further suggestions.
Her anecdote on nearly marrying ‘a little kike who’d been after me for years’ is also revealing as she presents a very passive idea of female choice in marriage: ‘if I hadn’t met Chester, he’d of got me sure.’ This comment stands in opposition to Catherine’s comment on her sister’s marriage to George Wilson: ‘Nobody forced you to.’
Nick’s first description of Mr McKee notes that he is a ‘pale feminine man from the flat below’. He is married to Lucille McKee and is in the ‘artistic game’, which is revealed as his work as a photographer. He is also asking for Tom’s support to develop his business: ‘All I ask is that they should give me a start.’
As with his relationship with George, Tom seems to mock the attempts to make money by these poorer men, and he deflects Mr McKee’s request by suggesting that Myrtle should help him. Tom’s suggestion insults her too, but this is not noted by anyone, apart from Catherine redirecting attention to the theme of unhappy marriages.
Mr McKee leaves the party with Nick and the brief ensuing episode has gained critical attention as a possible homosexual liaison, although the references are indirect, being based on innuendo. This has prompted some critics to question the representation of sexuality elsewhere in the novel, notably with reference to Nick, Jordan, Catherine and Gatsby.
Klipspringer spends a great deal of time at Gatsby’s house, earning him the nickname ‘the boarder’, although it is implied that he is staying for free and therefore taking advantage of Gatsby’s hospitality. When Gatsby is showing Daisy and Nick around the house, they intrude upon Mr Klipspringer in his pyjamas, ‘doing liver exercises on the floor’. Perhaps as recompense for his generosity, Gatsby requires Klipspringer to perform on the piano, to entertain Daisy on her first visit, and as a celebration of their reunion. Klipspringer ultimately has to, although he is reluctant and negative about his skills as a pianist.
There is clearly no gratitude or reciprocity in Ewing’s relationship with Gatsby. He has simply used him. This is exemplified by his declining of Nick’s invitation to the funeral – Klipspringer is more concerned with recovering his tennis shoes from Gatsby’s house than paying his respects.
Owl Eyes is a minor character, but passes sympathetic judgement on Gatsby at his funeral, uttering the now-famous eulogy, ‘The poor son-of-a-bitch’. He foregrounds the irony of the funeral that no-one attends when ‘hundreds’ would attend Gatsby’s parties.
The naming of this character emphasises the importance of sight and perception in the novel. He is connected, by the symbol of the glasses, with the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, and several other references to characters’ eyes and vision. He cleans his glasses, inside and out, at the funeral, which might suggest clarity of vision as he expresses pity for Gatsby.
Owl Eyes is first introduced attending one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick and Jordan come across someone who has been drunk for ‘about a week now’ and is notable for wearing ‘enormous owl-eyed spectacles’ in Gatsby’s library. He is surprised to find that the books are real rather than empty covers, but (correctly) takes this to indicate that Gatsby is very thorough in his creation of the artifice, rather than that Gatsby is authentic himself. When Daisy is shown this library in Chapter 5, Nick names it ‘the Merton College library’ in recognition of its façade of antiquity and in reference to Gatsby’s claim of an Oxford education. As he does, so he comments that he could almost hear ‘the owl-eyed man break into ghostly laughter’. This imagined response of Owl Eyes suggests a satirical element to the reported tour of Gatsby’s house, whilst also questioning the basis for the happiness experienced by Daisy and Gatsby.
In Chapter 3 Owl Eyes is involved in a car accident that strongly foreshadows the collision which kills Myrtle. He is accused by the crowd of being a poor driver, and eventually it emerges that he wasn’t the driver and therefore cannot be blamed. He is ‘pleasantly puzzled’ by the accident, and the prolonged drunken misunderstanding over the identity of the driver is due to the ambiguity of the language used in this part of the chapter.
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