Gender aspect in the Great Gatsby Essay
‘Fitzgerald’s novel displays an ambiguous attitude towards the 1920’s greater freedom for women’ how far is gender an important aspect of the novelScott Fitzgerald’s novel was set in the 1920’s, where the role women had was moving on to make a drastic change, The Great Gatsby portrays the change in female roles through the two main female characters Daisy and Jordan. Both characters show the different characterises that many of the woman growing up in the 1920’s held, as Daisy is presented as domesticated and somewhat immobile while in contrast Jordan was shown as more independent and emancipated.
Life in the 1920s was important for women, as their image was changing massively as they began to challenge society and government to be free of stereotype and gain independence and respect; however this upset the men as they felt they were losing dominance over women. Typical relationships in the 1920’s were similar to the one Daisy and Tom hold in the novel.Daisy is unhappy and immobile as she doesn’t get a voice in her relationship and is completely dependent on her husband, women were dominated and controlled and often fairly unhappy. Women were seen as objects that were to be domesticated and constantly under control of their husband; because of how poorly they were treated it was around this time that women wanted change, to make a stand to gain power over men. On August 18th 1920 the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, this meant women got the chance to speak out in government, following to the American nation’s first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross who was elected in 1922. Women getting the right to vote gave them a step to emerging from ‘out of the shadows’ of a previously male dominated society, helping them break free from the reign males had over their lives. The context behind the novel makes the women important as they are portraying the freedom and independence of American women in the 1920’s.The women who attended Gatsby’s parties showed the flapper look “verandas are gaudy with primary colours and hair shorn in strange new ways”.
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Before the 1920s women were originally supposed to wear dark colours and conduct themselves in orderly manners, the hemline of dresses were restricted to below the ankle and hair was to be long. At the beginning of the roaring twenties however this all changed, the ‘normal’ look of a female was dresses that came above ankles, bold makeup, hair cut short by the neck and “obscene” behaviour. The flapper was determined to express themselves and break free from old traditions. This side of gender in the novel shows the change and freedom of women from the 1920s in comparison to before. “This was the generation whose girls dramatized themselves as flappers, the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually overreached itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste.” (F Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Echoes of the Jazz Age’ (1931)Daisy’s character is an important part of the novel as she marks the typical 1920’s women breaking free from stereotypes and shows the birth of something entirely new. Fitzgerald uses the themes of love and wealth to best portray his views on women in the 1920s through Daisy.
Women were beginning to think and act for themselves, this is shown by Daisy wanting to drive Gatsby’s car, it was unusual for women to drive cars as it’s seen as a ‘man’s thing to do’ as women were stereotypically seen as ‘bad drivers’ which is shown in the novel as Nick says “you’re a rotten driver!”. Furthermore, Daisy was cheating on Tom with Gatsby; it was usual for men to be dishonest and disloyal to their wives but very strange for women, “dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply”. Along with the role women were breaking free from, also came a new set of morals. Women were publically drinking and smoking which before was perceived as unacceptable behaviour for ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ women, they were changing the way they looked and felt -“Never had a drink before, but oh how I do enjoy it”. Women are no longer being domesticated and under control of their husbands as they fought to break out of old traditions to show they were capable of just as much as men.Daisy was intimate with Gatsby, she cheated on Tom with him “As he left the room she got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down, kissing him in the mouth.”, at this time women were only supposed to be intimate with their husbands, so Daisy the domesticated wife of Tom Buchanan is exhibiting the rebellious behaviour of the ‘flapper woman’ of the 1920’s.
This came about as women wanted the same sexuality rights as men, and wanted to be allowed to do whatever they pleased, just the same as men. Daisy charms people underhandedly into likely her to gain attention, she then manipulates them into listening to her which asserts her power as a married woman – “I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made is no less charming”. Daisy manipulates both Tom and Gatsby as she cheats on them both, yet both men defend her. Gatsby says to Tom in chapter 7 “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved anyone but me” which shows how charmed Gatsby is of Daisy, he’s in awe of her presence which contradicts that men have the most power and influence over women in the 1920s. Tom then argues back to Gatsby that “The trouble is that sometimes she gets foolish ideas in her head and doesn’t know what she’s doing” which shows he’s a dominant husband over Daisy, although she’s manipulated him it shows Tom’s hierarchical role over her as he speaks for her and doesn’t let her say her own opinions.
Daisy’s character also shows the importance of freedom for women as she influences Gatsby’s behaviour as he gets involved in crime to acquire wealth so one day Daisy will love him and want to be with him, he engages in risky behaviour to pleasure her, “ ‘her voice is full of money,’ he said suddenly. That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money – that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it… high in a white palace the kind’s daughter, the golden girl…”, Gatsby had to prove himself in order to get the girl he loved, which meant Daisy held all power over him and his life, yet Tom held power over her too. Critic Bryant Mangum, “The Great Gatsby,” Encyclopedia of the Novel, ed. Paul Schellinger, London and Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn, 1998, pp.
514-515 said “ Daisy Fay, the only “nice” girl he has ever known, if he can but find the currency to buy his way into her life. It is Nick, the middle-class everyman without particular allegiance to either the privileged or working class, who has enough objectivity to comprehend the awful irony that Gatsby’s dream has been futile from the beginning: he will never be accepted into the world of old money that Daisy could never leave” which shows that Daisy’s role in Gatsby’s life if she a ‘gold digger’ who is only really in it for the money. Daisy is also responsible for the death of Myrtle Wilson, yet she blames Gatsby and returns back to the man who doesn’t really love her, this shows that some women in the 1920s only cared about the wealth and less about the marriage itself, Daisy’s character wasn’t presented as being innocent and pure as most women were, instead she’s shown as selfish.Daisy’s character is enhanced by Fitzgerald’s use of the colour white to indicate Daisy’s freshness and innocence. He notes the gleaming white house, the airy, white rooms, and Daisy lounging in a white dress. Fitzgerald refers to the steps to Gatsby’s house as being white and the windows at Daisy’s house are white.
“The windows were ajar and gleaming white.” This tells us that Daisy and Gatsby look innocent from the outside but not from the inside, instead they are corrupted people. Overall Fitzgerald presents Daisy’s character to be more powerful than people would seem, as she has the looks of a charming manor yet she is really the character behind all bad and evil in the novel.Jordan’s character presents the women who were willing to break free of tradition and challenge authority; she wanted to show males that she was in charge of herself and that she won’t be repressed any longer. Jordan was a golf champion, which is a sport women weren’t supposed to play; it also gave Jordan her own independent income. In the 1920s not many women had jobs, and those who did would get salaries ridiculously low at sometimes the rate of a child. This is where the beginning of the “working woman” came into action.
As golf is a sport that included travelling, it shows the independence she had, she didn’t rely on a husband or have any dominant figure in her life, and she could take control and do what she pleased. Jordan represents the new woman who calls herself “Flapper”. Her desire for success and a very arrogant attitude are Jordan’s main characteristics. Nick notices this arrogance as soon as he meets her: “She was … completely motionless .
.. her chin raised a little.
”Myrtle Wilsons character holds an important role in the novel equally as much as Daisy and Jordan. Her character represents overt and unconcealed sexuality. She’s named after a flower, which shows her voluptuous figure and her unplanned future. She is introduced to the novel by a telephone call, which disturbs Daisy’s dinner party which also brings tension between Tom and Daisy. Her social class is implied by Jordan Baker’s critical remark, “Tom’s got some woman in New York”, who hasn’t “the decency no to disturb at dinner”. Myrtle is distinguished from the wealthy class by her grammar and speech; she’s sharp and keeps things straight to the point.
Throughout the novel she dominated people she comes into contact with, she uses energetic and direct language about her own sexual needs, this is how she impressed Nick as he judges people on social superiority. Myrtle holds a great interest in Tom as he is masculine and has a wealthy and grand social style; her sexuality is a counterpart of Gatsby love for Daisy. She’s the only character in the novel that expresses an urgency for sexual needs, the first time she saw Tom she said “All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever’”.Her liveliness of her personality is shown when she’s confronted by her husband in the garage, she shouts “’Beat me’… ‘Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!’” as she’s frustrated and vents her anger and desperation as her fantasy is destroyed.
When Myrtle dies is dramatic and adds a significance of her language “her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her think dark blood with the dust” her body is “wrapped in a blanket, and then in another blanket, as though she suffered from a chill in the hot night”, the irony is her posture, she’s kneeling which is associated with prayer which the narrative style would suggest she’s paying a heavy price for her sexuality and adulterous sexual life. The horrific injuries also carry implications to her sexuality “her left breast was swinging loose like a flap” and “the mouth was wide open and ripped a little at the corners”, in her death Fitzgerald made her pay for being openly sexual, however Tom doesn’t pay for his sexuality towards her, which adds to the hierarchical role men had over women. As Myrtles social status is unworthy of anything more than that, she’s a victim of the rich who at this time hold all economic power.Fitzgerald also perceives gender throughout the novel in different ways; he refers to wealthy, care-free and ditsy ladies as “girls” and in contrast, the poor and more assertive ladies as “women”. This shows that there’s a difference between the two classes that define status and respect.
The wealthier girls are more likely to be dominated by husbands in the future as it’s in their nature to get married to a wealthy man who can support them throughout life. The wealthy females described as “men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the champagne and the stars” which show a clear line between male and females. And in contrast the poorer women are described as “the thickest figure of a women blocked out the light from the office door”, this could be taken as then being more independent as they are more assertive.Fitzgerald also asserts his male dominance in the novel, as the freedom women have is within the boundaries of the men in their country as they rely on them, and men only give women freedom for their own benefits. Tom Buchanan gives himself freedom in his marriage as Daisy is so compliant, he marries a ditsy and irresponsible woman as he knows he will be able to have his love affair with Myrtle Wilson.
Although Tom is attracted to smarter women, he would be incapable of a marriage with them as he is dominant and wants to be in charge to keep them in their place.The boundaries of men’s dominance over women are very different in the 1920s, it’s acceptable for Tom to hit Myrtle, men determined when women leave from Gatsby party and Nick calls Jordan a “rotten driver” implying females are less skilled as men. Furthermore, Daisy kills Myrtle and Gatsby takes the blame shows that women were incapable of taking responsibility for their actions and the men had to solve situations they faced, showing how little independence they held. “The sustained good driver/bad driver metaphor, through which Fitzgerald hints at standards of morality and immorality, is evident at virtually every turn of the novel: Daisy runs over Myrtle and will not stop to accept responsibility; Jordan Baker (whose name combines two brands of automobile from the 1920’s) wears her careless driving as a badge of honor; Owl Eyes, the drunken philosopher in Gatsby’s library who shows up at his funeral to informally eulogize him as “the poor son of a bitch,” is involved in an accident leaving Gatsby’s party.
With these symbols and motifs, Fitzgerald imparted, in the words of his editor, Maxwell Perkins, “a sort of sense of eternity.” (Bryant Mangum, “The Great Gatsby,” Encyclopedia of the Novel, ed. Paul Schellinger, London and Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn, 1998, pp. 514-515).Overall Fitzgerald’s view on women seem somewhat negative, yet he also speaks about their lack of freedom and punishment for doing what men do without criticism, which is emphasised through the character in the novel. Gender is an important aspect of the novel as it helps link it to history of America in the 1920s, and also helps differentiate between the social classes and power between the characters.