George Wilson

An enervated life

George Wilson is a struggling car mechanic, living in the Valley of the Ashes. He is known to Tom in business terms, but also because Tom is secretly having an affair with his wife, Myrtle. When we first meet George, he is subservient to Tom and appears to be powerless and dependent:

He was a blond, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes.

Michaelis’ assessment of his neighbour is that Wilson is, ‘his wife’s man and not his own’. It is as if the struggle for existence in a have and have-not society has drained him of all his resources. This lack of vitality is emphasised by Wilson’s association with the drab ashes which envelop him:

[he] went towards the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity – except his wife, who moved close to Tom.

This imagery suggests his hopeless, empty life, the papery remains left over after the ‘hot struggles of the poor’ have burnt out.

Reaction to betrayal

When Wilson discovers that Myrtle has been unfaithful, he reacts with distress, anger and cruelty. He reveals a possessive and manipulative personality, locking his wife in the house and planning to move away with her. Ironically, Nick notes that Tom and George are very similar, in that they are both concerned about losing their women and that both tend towards violence or the use of force in order to control them. 

Wilson’s obsessive nature results in Myrtle’s accidental death, Gatsby’s murder and his own suicide. The final description of him is almost Gothic:

that ashen, fantastic figure gliding towards [Gatsby] through the amorphous trees.

Inhabitant of a hollow world 

George’s business is repairing cars, where the car is a symbol of the increasingly materialistic ‘new world’ and his work identifies him as someone helping to create and maintain that world. However, he does so at the expense of his personal well-being, never gaining enough profit to improve his own life. 

He is a hard worker, according to Michaelis, ‘one of these worn-out men’ striving for wealth but without gaining financial success. Instead he is exploited by customers like Tom, who never make good their promises to provide (a car to trade) and take more than their due (George’s wife). Tom exploits Wilson’s vulnerability even further when he appears to have identified Gatsby to George, thereby ensnaring him in the machinations to remove Tom’s love rival, whilst Tom keeps his hands unsullied.

In many ways, George is a victim of the ‘new world’ which, though materially present, was insubstantial in terms of integrity and depth of feeling, ‘where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted’ (a description that could equally apply to Gatsby after Daisy’s rejection). In response to the corruption and dishonesty of a world he had trusted, Wilson brings about the ‘holocaust’ at the climax of the novel. 

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