Paradoxical Role of Women in the Great Gatsby

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The women in The Great Gatsby appear to be free-spirited, scorning norms of what the nineteenth century would have considered proper female behavior; this essay investigates just how independent they really are. Women play a paradoxical role in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel dominated by the eponymous hero and the enigmatic narrator, Nick Carraway. With the background of Gatsby’s continual and lavish parties, women seem to have been transformed into “flappers,” supposedly the incarnation of independence following World War I. After all, Daisy Fay, obviously modeled on Fitzgerald’s free-spirited wife, Zelda Sayre, is hardly portrayed as the proper southern belle. Her friend, Jordan Baker, seems openly sarcastic when speaking of their “white girlhood”—referring to their youth spent in Louisville, Kentucky. As Fitzgerald conveys through a series of flashbacks, Daisy has been flirtatious, even at one point discovered packing her bag to travel alone to New York City in order to say good bye to a sailor. But her rather scandalous behavior does not sully her at all in the eyes of the smitten Gatsby. Indeed, as Nick comments , “It excited him … that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes.” (149; ch. 8) Jordan Baker, whom some critics regard as little more than a device to bring Nick Carraway into the plot, is neither married nor engaged and apparently lives largely on her own except for a shadowy aunt who serves as a titular chaperone. Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, might pontificate that their house guest should have more supervision, but Daisy ridicules her husband’s comment. So on one level, these characters appear to be free-spirited, scorning norms of what the nineteenth century would have considered proper female behavior. It’s worth investigating, however, just how independent they really are. Ultimately, their “place” may be indicated most exactly by using the title from a pioneering book of feminist criticism by Francoise...
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