The Women of the Great Gatsby


F Scott Fitzgerald was actually quite pro the emancipated women based on an analysis of the characters of women he portrays. Three female archetypes of femininity are given. All three characters of Jordon Baker, Daisy Buchanan, and Myrtle Wilson in varying degrees range from very liberated to oppressed. The Great Gatsby was written during the first wave of feminism. The great achievement of that era was the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the right for women to vote. In retrospect the liberations that took place during this time period pale in comparison with the outcomes of the modern day third wave of feminism. Yet for that time it was radical. With this change the behavior and dress style of women changed as well. The paradigm of thought was that “Women were the guardians of morality; they were made of finer stuff than men and were expected to act accordingly.” (Allen pg.76, 1931) This ideal very much contrasted with the new lewd and wanton archetype of the flapper. “The flappers wore thin dresses, short sleeved and occasionally (in the evening) sleeveless”. (Allen pg.77, 1931) Women emulated the flapper in style, and in some regions of the country in behavior.

Jordon Baker is ultimately Fitzgerald’s golden girl. She is born free with haughty and bratty mannerisms. Within the course of the novel her hands stay clean. She is neither an adulteress, mistress, nor a murderer. Her lifestyle is one of a socialite golfer. She can choose to either be married or stay single. She is not constrained by economic burdens that would push her into matrimony for the sake of economic gain. Thus her life is carefree. She keeps the bourgeois Nick Carraway as a companion even though marriage with him is out of the question. Her body type is that of the flapper, “She was a slender, small breasted girl, with an erect carriage, which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet.” (Fitzgerald, 1925)

Nick picked up on the fact that Jordon’s disposition was masculine and rational; she was a player on and off the golf course. “Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.” (Fitzgerald, 1925)

In comparison to the plight of the other characters she walks away all limbs intact and is not an active participant of any of the tragic events that unfolded. She is the smart and strategic golf player who stays safe. She marries a man that she chooses and is left to be a player with acumen.

Daisy Buchanan was trapped in a marriage to a violent and sexist brute of a man, Tom Buchanan. She is quite a contrast to the bold Jordan Baker. She has an unstable and flighty disposition. Even though Tom is an old money Yale man he is not her true love. She gave up on waiting for her true love Gatsby because he did not come from old money. Daisy tolerates Tom’s philandering ways. She carries on with an open affair with Gatsby to even the score with Tom who carries on an affair with Myrtle Wilson.“It was quite another thing for a man or women in whom the ideal of romantic marriage had been ingrained since early childhood to tolerate infidelities when they actually took place.” (pg.104 Allen, 1931). This quote summarizes why Daisy allowed Tom’s adulterous ways. Despite this being the era in which the first wave of feminism took place, being divorced in high society was not acceptable behavior. Daisy gives in to the paradigms of marriage in 1920’s society. In the midst of this she loses a bit of her sanity and her true love.

Alcoholism plays a part in Daisy’s flighty disposition. She held on to Gatsby in her heart till the very day she stepped to the altar with Tom. “Here deares. She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the strings of pearls.”Take ‘em down-stairs and give ‘em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ‘em Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say; Daisy’s change her mine!” (Fitzgerald, 1925). She wanted to break free, but she did not have the strength or social support to run from the marriage. Jordon is quite cognizant to Daisy’s opposition, yet enables the proceedings of the wedding to take place. Gatsby was no where to be found. She allows herself to be entrapped.

Daisy has no lofty aspirations to be a liberated woman. “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool-that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (pg.85 Fitzgerald, 1925). She still has a very childlike way of approaching life and communicating with her spouse. Gatsby is a catalyst and extracts conflict out of Daisy. Without the conflict she would very gladly go about life in her childish oblivion, with Tom as her keeper.

Myrtle Wilson is the most tragic character of all. She is the most oppressed one. Daisy has economic and social mobility. Myrtle is poor and married to an earnest man, who does love her, yet Tom Buchanan provides her with things her husband can not as his mistress. The double life she leads is not conducive towards her well being. She tolerates abuse from Tom and does not even have the security of being his wife. “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! Shouted Mrs. Wilson. ‘I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai-. Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” In the end Myrtle dies in a strange twist of feet in a vehicular accident with Daisy in the car she was hit by.

“The first requirement of mental health was to have an uninhibited sex life. If you would be well and happy, you must obey your libido.” (Allen,1931). Jordan, Daisy, and Myrtle do just that. Fitzgerald makes Jordon the actual golden girl. She engages in lascivious behavior.

Yet it is how she goes about it is the difference in the quality of her character. This is why Fitzgerald keeps her character out of trouble. Daisy and Myrtle fulfill their libido through adulterous means. Jordon stays single and plays the field. She breaks no marriage vows; she just breaks the mold and sets a new standard in regards to feminine paradigms. Her class and athletic ability allow her to do so. Jordon is ultimately the grounded lady albeit a maverick for her time, she still keeps grace and composure through out the novel. Thus is the difference between her and the other main female characters.

Reference List

1) Fitzgerald, F.Scott (1925). The Great Gatsby. Ney York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
2) Lewis, Frederick (1931). Only Yesterday. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

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