The Role of Women in the 1920s and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby

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The Roaring Twenties: a time when women broke out of their shells of modesty and were not afraid to bare a little skin or wear a bit of makeup; when women finally gained some control; when jazz music, drinking and partying were what society lived for; when flappers danced the night away. The 1920s was an era of great change in society’s attitude toward many different aspects of life. For instance, what was considered acceptable behavior for women and the way men treated their wives drastically changed. During World War I, women had to take up many responsibilities of the men fighting in war such as earning money for the family, leaving women no choice other than to get a job alongside of single-handedly raising their families. With men being gone and nobody to control their lives, women took advantage of their new-found freedom. Women now became a part of the night scene, partying and drinking more as well as dressing and acting more promiscuously. When the men came back from war, they had the same mindset about women as they did when they left, but were taken by surprise when they saw the drastic changes. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel set in the 1920s that exposes the dark layers of the twenties’ glamour. Throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald depicts the known and hidden lives and roles of women in the 1920s.

Men always expected women to be under their control, doing only what they were told to do. “… [Women] had been expected to remain behind the scenes, caring for homes and children and allowing men to take charge of society.” (Howes 19). In a man’s eyes, the only thing a woman was good for was to be a good house wife. It would be thought of as absurd and socially unacceptable for a woman to go outside of society’s N Selim 2

social norms by disobeying her husband’s word. Even getting a job would be unthinkable, until it was a necessity. Women were estimated to, in essence, worship their husbands. “… [Women] were expected to be the guardians of morality and innocence; they were to obey their husbands, bear and raise children, and run their homes efficiently. Sex was a duty, the price they paid for the privilege of marriage and having babies, not something pleasurable.” (Howes 19). To be married was thought of as an obligation, as opposed to getting married out of love because you wanted to. Along with the obligated marriage, sex was a woman’s duty; that married woman was to give her husband what he wanted and demanded. Essentially, wives were the slaves of their husbands. Women had no say in any major decision, so anything the husband decided would be the final word. In The Great Gatsby, when talking about the birth of her daughter Daisy says, ‘“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” (Fitzgerald 17). Fitzgerald, through Daisy’s sarcasm, is presenting the views of society about women. Daisy realizes that women are oppressed and men had all control. Daisy clearly does not want to have a daughter and would rather have a son. At least in this case, her daughter would not have to suffer, as she and most women of the 1920s have been.

Eventually through time, women changed the way they perceived their own lives. They were becoming less conservative, less modest and more untroubled. “Women broke free of the traditions and restraints of the Victorian era in favor of short dresses, short hairstyles, and carefree ways” (Pendergast 4). Women no longer wanted to dress the way their husbands or society chose for them. They adopted their own sense of style, N Selim 3

which spread like a wild fire. These new trends, though were still thought of as scandalous, were the new rage. Women now began to think for themselves and live their own way. “… young women called flappers wore their hair in short bobs and their hemlines above the knees; they wore makeup and high heels and smoked and drank with...
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