Sunday, 28 February 2016

Women and Liberty in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby plays host to three key female characters: Daisy, Myrtle and Jordan, each portraying what appears to be varying aspects of perceived womanhood in the 1920s.

Daisy longs for the days of her 'white girlhood' because she is unhappy in the marriage she forced herself into with Tom. The system of relationships and affairs between the two is complicated by gender-enforced double-standards. For instance, Tom is unhappy when he believes Daisy and Gatsby are having adulterous relations but fails to see the hypocrisy of this as he completes the same actions, perhaps even to a larger scale. In this regard, Daisy is not free but trapped in what the society of the time believed to be acceptable based on gender. Daisy is also objectified throughout the novel, not by Tom but Gatsby who claims to love her, as he sees her as an achievable goal (often viewed as the American Dream personified). The green light could be seen a siren call to lure Gatsby as the seductive woman she is often portrayed, and as the ultimate desirable woman for men. 'Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget...' Fitzgerald often describes her in a poetic manner so that she fits the image of the siren. Gatsby sees this as a signifier of wealth and social status.

Jordan seems to be the most forward-thinking of the three main female protagonists as she is a golf player which would generally be seen as a male sport. In this manner, she is free from the boundaries of a socially sexist environment. This is a further achievement the fact Fitzgerald often classifies women as 'girls' in the presence of men at Gatsby's parties. Jordan often counterbalances her own good image with her cynicism and her incurable dishonesty. She too is of a higher class than characters like Myrtle which allows her in this context to act like a dominating force.

Myrtle however is of a much lower social class as she lives in the Valley of Ashes and in this time 'once the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, the lines that divided women - class, race, age, ideology became more significant' <>. Being viewed as lower down than women like Daisy and Jordan, Tom's affair with her can be percieved as more scandalous and opens her up to a higher chance of victimisation, such as Tom breaking her nose and simply leaving afterwards. Like Gatsby, Myrtle often tries to rise above her general station as she has grand social aspirations but the class system is great boundary of society, and in particular gender.


This is a video of Emma Watson at the United Nations discussing gender equality and her HeForShe Campaign. She talks about how she questioned 'gender-based assumptions' in a modern society and her theory of stereotypes can be applied to The Great Gatsby with regard to the moral double-standards regarding Tom and Daisy. In a digital age, Watson says that she was 'sexualised by certain elements of the media'. Gatsby obtains elements of these objectifying traits as he simply aims to claim Daisy as his own. As Watson calls for gender equality and the unity of men and women, we see in the novel a clear divide between the sexes and also the individuals of the women. Although some of the men intertwine, work together and go on daytrips to New York together, it is rare for the women to be anything but individual. In the modern world, the audience is able to witness the inequalities that have been faced throughout history, which is inclusive of the female characters in Gatsby.

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