George Wilson as a Representative of the Lower-Class in The Great Gatsby

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay.*

Ernst Fischer

First published in 1925, F. S. Fitzgerald’s renowned novel The Great Gatsby might come as a twisted love story on the first look. However, on a deeper level, the novel represents the age in which it was written in each of its characters. In this essay, I intend to focus on one of the characters and how that character sheds light on the spirit of the age.

The 1920s are believed to be the beginning of the modern United States because of the deployment of technology in daily life. Coming right after WWI, the 20s had been a period of prosperity with high-levels of social, cultural, and artistic dynamism. With the increasing industrial and economic growth, new lifestyles were directed to the people, and consumerism had its start. With the increase in the production and variety of consumer goods, such as automobiles, radios, cosmetics, vacuums and washing machines, more people than ever had money to spend. New legislation of the period affected the social life and created polarization amongst people. The prohibition law, a ban on alcoholic beverages, brought to increase public morals resulted in increased criminal activity, division among U.S citizens as drinkers and non-drinkers, and increased corruption.

In the novel The Great Gatsby, each character represents this “seem-to-be-roaring” period in a unique way, and George Wilson is one of them. Compared to others, George Wilson might look like a passive, insignificant character but, as it is in every great literary work, his character has a part in the whole and it is not less important than the rest.

George Wilson is the representative of the working class in the novel. He owns his auto-garage, following the American Dream. His wife Myrtle is having an affair with the rich business person, Tom Buchanan. In fact, having the least page time in the novel, to better understand George Wilson, we might begin by comparing him to his opposite; Tom Buchanan.

The separation of the two begins with physical details. F.S. Fitzgerald describes George as:

“…a blonde, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes”1

Whereas Tom Buchanan is described as:

“… a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.”2

The distinction in their physical appearance symbolizes the distinction in every other way. When we take a closer look at George’s character, we see that he is depicted as an unsuccessful and jealous man.

George Wilson, in his conversation with Michaelis, says:

“God sees everything.” 3

Normally, it would make him seem like a religious man, however, in this situation, there is much more in than just religion.

“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window—” With an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it, “—and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me but you can’t fool God!’

Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night.

“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.

“That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. 4

It should not be wrong to assume that George is looking for salvation, comfort, or the American Dream. He is looking for God or just the idea of what God represents, in a place taken over by consumerism.

It’s a fact that the Roaring Twenties had not been so “roaring” for the lower-class while the middle and upper classes had flourished, lower-class had suffered for it. And in the tragic end of the novel, the two lower-class characters pay for the others. George Wilson, dreaming to escape this cruel world to find a better one, almost loses his mind with the loss of his wife and ends up killing Jay and himself.

* The Necessity of Art, Ernst Fischer Verso; New Edition edition

1,2,3,4 The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Scribner, 2004 pg. 28, 9, 170, 170