“While working on the Great Gatsby Fitzgerald acknowledged that the women characters are subordinate…” evaluate the importance of women in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.
The 1920’s were the foundation of the dramatic change to society, many people called it ‘The roaring twenties’. During this period many Americans were uneasy about their ‘consumer society’ and the new ‘mass culture’. Women were most affected by the roaring twenties, this new up rising of sexually free women with bobbed cuts and short skirts, drinking and smoking landed them the nickname ‘flappers’. Women had now been given the right to vote and had new high status jobs.
Machinery took over their household work and new birth control methods were inhibiting them to have fewer children. Women were constantly fighting in this age to be noticed and with people like Fitzgerald who created these characters with “no important woman character” (qtd. In Turnbull 197) they had no hope of the freedom and status they wanted.
The faceless women at Jay Gatsby’s parties were the perfect representation of what they call ‘flappers’. These women were at these parties purely because they were free, free from the war “ I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited-they went there.”
This shows how people in this period would just go to any party they could and not one of them were concerned in the slightest about the sources of Gatsby’s wealth. These parties needed women, they required female energy and I am sure that the “number of young Englishmen dotted about;” would have no participation at this party without the women.
The women at these parties were the perfect stereotype of male perspectives “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time.” This shows how women were seen as ‘loose’ and ‘unladylike’ as they would do what they pleased even if it wasn’t the ‘correct’ way to act, they had complete lack of ethical concern.
Although women believed that they were purely independent they clearly weren’t “girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders in a puppyish. Convivial way.” they were utterly unaware of the objectification men had towards them and put on this perception of being entirely free “they are emancipated yet they contribute their share of vulgarity which appalls Daisy.” (Ivan Strba) this shows how Fitzgerald judges these ‘faceless’ women through characters, even through the same gender, which is loaded with irony.
Myrtle Wilson’s inclusion in the novel is to represent the lower class of women who thrived for the freedom and wealth of the upper class and do anything in their power to do so. Myrtle’s constant interference with the marriage of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, “she is introduced into the novel by her telephone call, which disturbs the urbane surface of Daisy’s dinner party”(Ivan Strba) this is the first evidence where she is portrayed as lower class and looked down on by other women characters in the book “Tom’s got some women in New York”.
Who hasn’t “the decency not to disturb at dinner”. This shows how women who were of lower class didn’t know right from wrong and weren’t taught social morals. Nick also judges her for her status “her lower class pretensions appear comical to Nick because he judges them from a position of social superiority, but her overt sexuality impresses him”(Ivan Strba) this also shows how Myrtle doesn’t hide her sexual desire for Tom and is very open in the way she is.
Myrtle is always fighting for her place “Her flower name suggests a fleshy yet beautiful climbing plant vigorously moving upwards.”(Ivan Strba) this is the perfect representation of Myrtle as she is a ‘climbing plant’ doesn’t have the ability to climb, this is a symbolism for her trying to climb ‘vigorously’ up the social ladder to the upper class. There is always something holding her back, which is background, where she lives ‘the valley of ashes’. The valley of ashes is a “gigantic trash burning operation”(Litkicks mystery spot series). It was the road between Great Neck and Manhattan. It is where myrtle’s husband George runs a decrepit auto garage.
This is also where Myrtle is murdered, she is still seen as a sexual object through her injuries “left breast was swinging loose like a flap” “the mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners” it also shows how she never belonged in the higher social class with the imagery “mingled her thick, dark blood with the dust” this implies that is was wrong what she was trying to do with Tom and how it would of always ended badly as she was stuck in this fantasy.
Myrtle always felt like her and Tom were going to end up together “get married to each other right away” where as Tom always thought of her as nothing more than an object “since her social status is simply unworthy of any more profound engagement”(Ivan Strba) even though Myrtle knows this she is still constantly luring him in, even though he has made up a stupid lie that he cannot leave Daisy because she is catholic she still has some sort of hope that one day he will think of her as more than just a mistress.
You could also argue that she is in it purely for the money and has no intention of a relationship with Tom, Ivan Strba touches on this subject “constantly attempts to lure Tom into her womb” this could be a symbolism of pregnancy where Myrtle knows if she were to get pregnant Tom would give all the money he had to make sure that, that baby would have no link back to him, therefore she would get what she wants.
Jordan Baker’s slight masculinity and indifferent personality is the representation of the small percentage of women who were strong enough to stand on their own and didn’t rely on the security of men for wealth and social class. Underneath Jordan’s bitchy hysteria she is extremely vulnerable, she constantly has this front that she doesn’t need anyone to protect her. Jordan barely even acknowledges men, for example the first time she meets Nick she pretends she doesn’t care is “almost imperceptibly” but she does secretly “lips fluttered”.
This is evidence that she doesn’t give much away to people “completely emotionless”, especially men as she doesn’t want to destroy this veneer of survival which has an element of tragedy as you feel sympathy for the character as to what could of made her this way. Jordan is described as self-sufficient “distancing from any emotional entanglement”(Ivan Strba), which reflects her relationship with Nick, or lack of one for that matter as Nick’s opinion of her changes instantly as he finds out she cheated to win a golf tournament “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply—I was casually sorry, and then I forgot.” This is the first of many lies Jordan tells, this portrays that Jordan feels as though she has to lie to ‘play the game’ she cant be seen as a woman who is sweet and innocent or it will ruin this image that she has created for herself.
By playing with Nicks feelings she is showing authority of the character and not letting him take control this is why she is with Nick because he is vulnerable compared to other characters such as; Tom or Gatsby, as he doesn’t have as much money as them, “Nick also judges that she avoids relationships with clever men that might see through her”(Ivan Strba) and has a lower status, therefore she knows he wont have power over her.
Jordan is the perfect example of ‘new women’ and the freedom they claimed after the World War, and with characters like Nick who “simply does not know quite how to handle this cool, unbalanced independent woman of the 1920’s”(Ivan Strba) they allow women to play with their feelings.
Daisy Buchanan is objectified by several men and is not resistant to the objectification. With her lack of personality and beautiful looks, she has lost all identity through the desire for the veneer of glamour and wealth. The character of Daisy is made up of this image that everyone else has of her “exists only as a fragile veneer, a shinning radiance of Gatsby’s construction.
The centerpiece of Tom’s wealth”(Ivan Strba) she is constantly being refereed to objects rather than a person, a ‘center piece’ is the idle way to describe her, as they are pretty to look at, but there is nothing to them, they are simply there to look good. Daisy has no identity and tends to hide behind the men, especially Gatsby and Tom. Daisy’s love for Gatsby is uncertain, this makes her a dislikable character as it creates frustration for the reader, as she doesn’t have nerve or the sprit to pursue it.
You could say that Daisy is scared to be with Gatsby as he is from West Egg, which was seen as the place of ‘new money’ this could bring her doubt as she wouldn’t want to risk the life style she has now as Gatsby’s money is ‘new’, whereas East Egg was almost like certain money, from inheritance etc. Also Tom places doubt in her head about Gatsby’s money “certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he out on her finger”, this could most definitely influence Daisy’s hesitance towards the life with Gatsby as she just wants a life for herself.
The love between The Buchanan’s can be seen as ‘superficial’, “a love that was established for legal means”(Min Jae hogsheadgastby.blogspot) but then turned into something more real between the couple, although adultery appears in both characters, there is something there that I stopping either one from leaving, it could be love or it could be to maintain his veneer of happiness through wealth and social class. They are seen as what society wanted, ‘happily’ married, with money what many people called ‘the American dream’.
Gatsby is the ultimate sacrifice for Daisy, she is the one who causes his death and she doesn’t even have the decency to go to his funeral leaving was Daisy’s ‘scapegoat’, which shows the lack of ‘back bone’ she has, and she just runs away when things get bad “she and Tom had gone away early that afternoon” It’s simply symbolic of the fleetingness of wealth during the time period.
Overall I think that the women are important in the novel, as the men wouldn’t be who they are without the women, they may not be the most important but the novel needed females in order for it to work. It is good representation of the changes in the roles women had in the 1920’s and also the different personalities the women had and Fitzgerald portrayed this well through the female characters.