Nick meets Tom's mistress, Myrtle, and her sister. Describe each of these characters and comment on their function in the novel.
Myrtle is Mr. Wilson's wife and Tom's mistress. She is described as being sensuous, and as having a soft coarse voice and a large body type, as she has surplus flesh, wide hips and a thickish figure. She often speaks with passion and in a high pitched tone. Her personality and her appearance change once she leaves Wilson's garage and arrives at the apartment. She is initially described as having a perceptible vitality. However, once she arrives at the apartment, her vitality is exchanged for haughtiness and pride and her behaviour becomes violent and obscene. Her laughter is described as pointless and artificial, and she often shouts. She is even said to be expanding. Similarly, her dress progressively becomes more complex in design and lighter in colour.
Catherine, Myrtle's sister, is described as having a small body type, as she is slender. She also has a milky white complexion, red hair, and a blurred air to her face. Myrtle states that her sister is “said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know". Unlike her sister, Catherine doesn't drink alcohol and is for the most part calm.
Myrtle and Catherine have distinct functions within the novel. Myrtle represents excess and recklessness while her sister represents modesty and conservatism. Their large and small body types are indicative of this. Also, as Myrtle moves from the valley of ashes to downtown New York, her dresses gradually become more complicated and lighter, which symbolizes the illustrious and carefree nature of high society. She also spends a lot of money on frivolous things, becomes haughty and proud, and laughs in a pointless and artificial manner, which implies that high society is inane and superficial. Myrtle's character is also heavily sexualized, and she drinks alcohol. On the hand, Catherine is more modest and does not drink. Although Catherine, in contrast to her sister, who possesses "no facet or gleam of beauty", is said to be beautiful, Mr. McKee has no interest in photographing her. However, he does express interest in photographing Myrtle. This represents the popular notion that high society is refined and dignified, and that it is something that should be coveted. In reality, high society is corrupt and insincere.
Tags: Myrtle, Valley of Ashes