A Moment for George Wilson

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“He was a blond, spiritless man, anæmic, and faintly handsome.”

Poor, poor George.

George is a minor character, but he’s one that has continued to fascinate me in the many years since I first read Gatsby. I have been through a number of different theories about him and the only thing that remains constant in my reading of him is that he’s without a doubt one of the most tragic characters in all of literature. He’s poor, his wellbeing depends upon the assholes who pass through his garage, and his wife pretends he doesn’t exist (“walking through her husband as if he were a ghost”). He’s not living any kind of life at all and it’s repeatedly alluded to that he’s a walking dead man.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me empathize with him way more than with any other character. Sure, Gatsby’s a truly pathetic creature and we can feel bad for him because he’s so delusional, but what about George? He has so little hope, and the one moment when he’s so close to moving West and turning his life around, Myrtle is killed. As a human being, I can’t read that and be like “That’s sad. Moving on”. The continual tragedy that is his life should be considered an important element of the novel’s pathos, because while Gatsby was able to die with a dream intact, George dies a shattered man. If great literature does anything, it teaches us how to empathize with others, and more often than any other character, I find myself empathizing with George and his struggle to survive.

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