the early 1920’s: lavish parties, intimidating men, beautiful women, and the strive to
capture the “American dream.” The role of women in The Great Gatsby is paradoxical;
although they appear independent, and at times daring in their romantic lives, the women
of The Great Gatsby are vulnerable and driven purely by their economic situations. In the
novel, three seemingly diverse characters, Myrtle, Daisy, and Jordan, each represent
unique female roles. Although presented as dissimilar beings, the women of The
Great Gatsby possess one undeniable connection: the effect of money.
In the first chapter of the novel, the reader is introduced to Daisy Buchanan. A
beautiful yet seemingly mindless creature, Daisy represents the paragon of traditional
femininity and vulnerability. Although Daisy appears superficial and materialistic, the
reader learns that at one point in Daisy’s life, she was driven by love and emotion instead
of by wealth and status. As a young woman, Daisy promised the destitute soldier, Jay
Gatsby, that she would wait for him after the war. However, Daisy grows impatient and
finds affluence and prosperity through her marriage to the violent and misogynistic, Tom
Buchanan. “‘Tom’s getting very profound,’ said Daisy with an expression of
unthoughtful sadness. ‘He reads deep books with long words in them’” (13). Although
Daisy knows that she is not a fool, to her, the ideal woman is unintelligent and
subservient to her male counterpart. While Daisy at times acknowledges the distorted values of her generation, she fails to challenge them, and instead finds herself at the heart
of their error.
Tom’s married mistress, Myrtle, views Tom as her escape from poverty and
mediocrity. Although Myrtle is viewed as selfish and hurtful, she is no worse than Tom
or Gatsby; she is simply trying to capture the American dream of the early 1920’s, and
for many women, the only way to achieve significance and freedom is through
scandalous affairs with wealthy married men.
Carelessly driving with Gatsby, Daisy strikes and kills Myrtle. As Fitzgerald
elaborates: “her left breast was swinging loose like a flap…the mouth was wide open …
as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so
long” (137). Although Myrtle appears to acquire a small amount of freedom, her
actions demonstrate that in order for her to achieve her , she must
surrender both her feminine innocence and her passion for life.
Attractive, yet successful and masculine, Jordan Barker represents the “new
woman” of the 1920’s. Unlike Daisy and Myrtle, Jordan appears self-reliant and
transcends the role society has cast for women of her generation. Jordan is even dominant
in her relationships. She does not fit into the typical female role of subservience as she
rebukes Nick: “Nevertheless you did throw me over. You threw me over on the
telephone. I don’t give a damn about you now, but it was a new experience for me, and I
felt a little dizzy for a while” (177). Although Jordan’s freedom is real, she obtained her
independence through masculinity. A famous golfer, Jordan achieves success by cheating
and lying; Jordan’s actions illustrate to the reader that the only way for a woman to
achieve freedom, is to emulate a man. As Nick articulated: “She wore all her dresses like
sport coats” ( 50), Jordan appears as a woman, yet possesses the essence of a man.
Unlike Myrtle and Daisy, Jordan is not hindered by the fear of destitution and appears
free and competent to the reader.
For the women of The Great Gatsby, freedom is rarely achieved. Although
Fitzgerald at times supplies his female characters with an artificial freedom, the women
of The Great Gatsby are portrayed as...