The Roaring Twenties were a period of enormous social change in America, especially in the area of women’s rights. Women gained voting rights and started drifting from their traditional roles. And as the role of women started to change in society, so did their behavior, with the emergence of a “New Woman”. In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a variety of characters to describe these new women in 1920s America, such as Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson. Each of these women are unique and carry a personality of their own, but Fitzgerald’s overarching portrayal of them is that they are foolish, unflattering, and impulsive. Through their immorality, dependence on men, and preference of money over love, they are rarely shown in a positive light.
From her very first appearance in the novel, Jordan Baker strikes Nick as mysterious and aloof. She has become a famous golfer, and therefore belongs to the upper crust of society. Yet her rise to social eminence has been founded on lies. She spreads gossip and went as far as cheating to win her first major golf tournament. Nick shares his take on Jordan’s social psychology. He observes, “Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to be at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body” (Fitzgerald 57-58). Jordan is dishonest, and according to Nick, the reason she constantly bends the truth is in order to keep an advantage over others. Whatever advantage Jordan has connects to her beauty and popularity, and Nick indicates that she uses this advantage to both satisfy her desires and conceal her insecurities. Jordan’s self-centered and derisive disposition marks her as one of the “new women” of the Roaring Twenties. She bears a close resemblance to women in that time known as “flappers,” who became famous for defying traditional social standards of female behavior. Jordan’s presence in the novel therefore draws attention to the social tension and instability of the era. However, Jordan differs from the other women in the novel, as, despite her aloof nature, she seems very aware of the real world. Nick writes, “There was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age” (135). While she is certainly flighty and superficial like Daisy, not seeming to care about anyone or anything, she has her differences. In contrast to Daisy, who lives on illusions, Jordan leads a life of reality. It can be argued that her cold and detached personality is very practical in 1920s American society, as by avoiding those who have an advantage over her, she avoids being used and persuaded easily like all the other women in the novel. However, this isn’t saying that her cynical view on life is a positive- it causes her to observe her life, without really living in it.
Myrtle, unlike Daisy and Jordan, is not part of the upper class but desperately wants to raise her status. However, she finds herself trapped through her marriage to George Wilson, a downtrodden and uninspiring man who she claims to have mistakenly married. ““I married [George] because I thought he was a gentleman,” she said finally. “I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe” (34). Myrtle’s greed for riches and luxury develops her into a woman who is careless to the people around her, specifically to her husband. She is incorrect in imagining herself as far superior to Mr. Wilson, as they are both in the same class and the same situation. She disregards not only his feelings, but others such as Daisy’s, focusing only on her own personal gain, using her involvement with Tom Buchanan as a means of getting into the upper class. When she goes with Tom, she puts on the appearance of a fine, rich lady, seemingly forgetting about Wilson and the sad realities of her real life. On one of these occasions, she says, ““I told that boy about the ice.” Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. “These people! You have to keep after them all the time” (32). Myrtle is oblivious to the fact that she is, in fact, one of the lower orders she disdains. Her time with Tom is merely a temporary escape before she returns to the Valley of Ashes and her poor, miserable life. She deludes herself into thinking that she really belongs, while in reality, she is nothing more than a toy to Tom, and in the larger picture, to those he represents. Fitzgerald portrays her as a woman who is dependent on men for success, as he does with Daisy as well. She pretends to elevate her status, but the snobbish manner in which she does so just makes her sound more like herself: a haughty, common, cheating woman.
Daisy isn’t indifferent like Jordan or haughty like Myrtle; her major flaw is weakness. She lets others control her life as long as they can entertain her with the lifestyle and material goods she requires. In addition, she leads Gatsby astray, breaking her promise to leave Tom for him. This is devastating for Gatsby. At the Buchanan’s house, Gatsby says to Nick, ““Her voice is full of money.”… That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it” (120). Gatsby had lived his life with the single goal of winning Daisy back. To Gatsby, Daisy represents perfection—she has the aura of charm, wealth, and elegance that he desired as a child in North Dakota. In reality, however, Daisy falls far short of Gatsby’s perception of her. She and her voice may be beautiful and charming on the outside, but on the inside, she’s fickle and oblivious. Unfortunately, her flaws end up causing more pain and tragedy to others rather than herself. Nick writes, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness” (179). Daisy’s obliviousness ends up causing great pain and tragedy. Gatsby is subject to lies and broken promises by Daisy, and even his death is her fault. She allows Gatsby to take the blame for killing Myrtle, which leads to him getting shot by Wilson. Her carelessness makes her like Myrtle, but there’s a distinct difference. She has the ability to cause trouble and simply retreat behind her money, whereas Myrtle does not have that opportunity. And ultimately, Myrtle ends up dead at Daisy’s hand while Daisy walks away, guilty but unscathed.
Women In the 1920’s took a step forward by changing their appearance and behavior in society, but The Great Gatsby manifests that women were still in many ways powerless. They are reckless and irresponsible, manipulating people and ruining dreams. The shortcomings all the women had are accentuated by Fitzgerald
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