Gender Roles in the Great Gatsby

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Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby is notably a self portrait of America during the 1920’s. The story unwinds in Long island and New York City following World War I, and is introduced during the era of prohibition. It is portrayed through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway, in his adventures with the inhabitants that make up East and West egg.

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The 1920’s were undoubtedly a decade of great change for society, politically, socially and economically in America. It was a transitioning period for women in which they transformed the standards of womanhood and became less related to the era of Victorian women. Coming straight out of World War I, women began understanding the importance of their own independence and embraced new freedoms as a symbol of growth. They became less reliant on the stereotypical dominance which men held at that time. 

However, Gatsby does not accurately display these differences in context to changes in men and women’s roles. Fitzgerald chose to characterize female figures with insignificance in which they lacked any ability to speak out.

In Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, he maintains a negative criticism of women in the 1920’s being particularly weak, therefore disregarding any hope for women empowerment. It is evident that we could easily classify him as a misogynist who needs more comprehensive knowledge about history.

He wrote his novel without crediting women with any value other than being inferior to men and carefully crafted the male figures such as Tom and Gatsby, with significant power through their wealth and control over the relationship.

The novel focuses on three main female figures, Daisy Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson and Jordan Baker, all of whom reveal a relentless bias against women. Daisy, married to the very wealthy, Tom Buchanan, has very little control against her husband despite her luxurious life. She is kept from making decisions on her own and therefore she is forcefully inclined to marry her husband after being reluctant. Myrtle Wilson lives in the valley of ashes which belongs to the lower class society.

She has no relations to women of the upper class such as Daisy and Jordan and therefore her lack of wealth contributes to her social outlook. 

Throughout the novel, she was a character seeking the American Dream. Her involvement in having an affair with her current husband does not shed positive light in her direction either. As for the well known Jordan Baker, she ideally represents the modern flapper. She is a professional golfer and considering the new role that women played following the societal transformations, it is the first glance at any sort of hope for accomplishment by the female gender. However, upon learning more about Jordan’s character, a scene during the party at Gatsby’s reveals that her accomplishments derived directly from cheating.

All of these women are characterized by so many flawed behaviors, whether that is being involved in an affair of some sort or cheating your way to success. Especially in today’s society, they still hold negative connotations about them, nevertheless in the 1920’s where such activities occurred less often.

Daisy Buchanan is quick to cling onto the freedoms of wealth, no matter the path that she has to follow. Although originally infatuated by Jay Gatsby at one period of time, she chose to leave him behind and seek a man who was comfortably wealthy, thus falling for Tom Buchanan. She was never fully in love with Tom, as was he in love her.

Often, we see Tom use his power to his advantage and it leads him to lose any respect he has for her. In the very first chapter of the novel, during the dinner party held at the Buchanans, Tom leaves the dinner table to answer a phone call from his presumed mistress in New York City. 

Although Daisy is utterly aware of the affair, she represents nothing other than a helpless gold digger by sitting back and allowing Tom to manipulate her. In Michael Hollister’s, 1925 analysis of The Great Gatsby, he argues Daisy’s lack of dignity for the entire female population. He references the conversation between Nick and Daisy at the dinner table in which Hollister adds that the Buchanan’s daughter is never sincerely talked about in the novel. In response to Nick’s attempt to bring up her daughter, Daisy confesses the truth behind her lack of acknowledgement.

“I hope she’ll be a fool- that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Hollister). Daisy fails to give any sort of recognition to women and abides by the statement that the role of a female is none other than a fool.

The setting of the novel experiences it’s peak for women empowerment yet it is apparent that Daisy is content with having no purpose in life. Her character displays weakness as she has no ability to make her own judgements about gender roles, nor is she bothered by them. To further Hollister’s point, the novel fails to associate success with the female gender. Daisy’s wealth derives directly from her husband Tom and Myrtle does not experience any affluence in her marriage with George. 

The only female character that achieves success without being reliant on a man is Jordan Baker.

She is a young flapper recognized as a publicized tournament golfer, yet Nick reveals early in the novel that she is incredibly dishonest, cheating her way through the competition. “At her very first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers- a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi final round” (Fitzgerald 57). Baker appears to be a strong character through her relentless submission to be controlled by a man. She goes against the typical standards of many women and engages in a male dominated professional sport. By shaping her character as a profound liar, Jordan exemplifies someone who is incapable of achieving success by themselves.

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Gender Roles in The Great Gatsby. (2020, May 14). Retrieved September 29, 2022 , from

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