Paradoxical Role of Women in the Great Gatsby

1320 words 6 pages
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
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Significantly, however, Tom Buchanan walks away unscathed from this affair, while Myrtle dies in the Waste Land, mingling “her thick dark blood with the dust” (137; ch. 7). Myrtle’s executioner is the “careless” Daisy who has been driving Gatsby’s expensive gold car.
With Myrtle’s death her “tremendous vitality” is extinguished. While she differs from both Jordan and Daisy because of her socioeconomic class, this vitality is also a crucial point of difference, for Fitzgerald has pointedly characterized both young women by their profound ennui, their vacillation, and their carelessness. The discussions between Daisy and Jordan parallel passages from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land where the spiritually bankrupt representatives of all social classes wonder forlornly: “‘What shall we do … / What shall we ever do?’” (133-134); Jordan and Daisy, spiritually and physically enervated, differ drastically from Myrtle “straining at the garage pump with panting vitality.” (68; ch. 4)
In their own ways, each woman functions as “proof” of her husband’s or lover’s success. At several points in the novel, Gatsby is described by Nick as a knight. Traditionally, knights go off on a quest; often their “price is the hand of a king’s daughter in marriage. Gatsby’s quest during his life has been to recapture the past, those moments in World War I when it seemed to him that Daisy, the wealthy, sought-after belle of