The Roaring Twenties was a revolutionary period that brought about great cultural and societal changes in American history, including the emergence of the concept of the American dream. The journey to achieve the American dream consists of working hard for this idea of success, which is usually defined by an abundance of materialistic goods, wealth, and high social class. However, this desire to achieve the American dream often comes at a cost.
In the case of the character Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, her desires for wealth undermine the value and substance of her relationships. Daisy belongs to the class of people classified as “old money” due to her inheritance of great wealth. Despite being at the top of the social pyramid, her greed to have everything and more results in an extramarital affair. Through Daisy’s relationships with Tom Buchanan, her husband, and Jay Gatsby, a man outside her marriage, Fitzgerald hints at the internal conflicts that arise from living in a wealth-obsessed society.
In The Great Gatsby, marriages are generally viewed as opportunities to maintain or further one’s social status in the money-centric world. The marriage between Daisy Fay and Tom Buchanan reveals the insecurities and fears that Daisy harbors. It is quite apparent that Daisy had no feelings for Tom when she married him as she attempted to cancel the wedding the moment she received an overseas letter from Jay Gatsby. Her behavior upon receiving his letter suggests that she married Tom to keep herself from loving Gatsby, to whom she had become too enamored with for her own comfort. However, just three months after the wedding, she seemed obsessively fond of her new husband.
Tom’s interest in other women became so routine that Daisy had come to expect it. Tom, being the wealthy man he is, is able to become involved in extramarital affairs without being openly shunned due to his status and the importance of that status in his society. When Tom tells her he wants to eat supper with a group of strangers at Gatsby’s party, rather than with her because he finds one of the men amusing, she immediately realizes her husband is pursuing another woman. Daisy genially replies, “Go ahead… and if you want to take down any addresses here’s my little gold pencil” (Fitzgerald 105). Knowing that Tom’s interest did not focus exclusively on her, Daisy is capable of loving him intensely because he poses no threat to her protective shell. Despite the affairs and drama that ensue, Daisy’s relationship with Tom endures by the conclusion of the novel as it is the only one that reassures her status as old money aristocracy while not requiring her full emotional commitment. Thus, in this case, the marriage between aristocrats realistically wins over other trivial flings because it ensures a guaranteed spot in the world of the wealthy.
Daisy’s painful marriage with Tom Buchanan temporarily comes to an end with a welcome distraction in the form of an affair with the dashing Jay Gatsby. Although this intense affair between Gatsby and Daisy seems to be offered as a counterpoint to the Buchanan’s marriage out of psychological convenience, Daisy actually has no desire for intimacy with Gatsby. This relationship was never meant to be a part of Daisy’s foreseeable future as this affair would not have occurred in the first place had she known that Gatsby did not belong to her social class. Any woman of the upper class in the 1920s would have never sacrificed social status for love. When Daisy meets Gatsby after five years since their first meeting, one of the first things that she comments on is his shirts: “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before” (Fitzgerald 92). She is unable to seriously see Gatsby as a hero who is committed her because she cannot look beyond her materialistic desires. Although she herself does not realize it, Gatsby, in fact, functions as a psychological pawn in her relationship with Tom. Daisy is able to reassure herself that she does not need Tom’s faithful love if she is involved in an affair with Gatsby.
Thus, Daisy’s relationship with Gatsby functions more as a psychological defense, and as such, it highlights the psychological importance of her dysfunctional marriage. As long as she remains psychologically involved with Tom, it is unnecessary for her to fear that she will develop committed feelings for Gatsby. Hence, Daisy’s short-lived reunion with Gatsby reveals Daisy’s tendencies of valuing affluence over an true relationship as well as her emotionally manipulative tendencies. Perhaps most importantly, Daisy’s romantic relationships with both Tom and Gatsby reveal her psychological issues of low self-esteem and fear that stem from her role as wealthy woman in the Roaring Twenties. Her fear of intimacy with both Tom and Gatsby is related to her low self-esteem. Falling in love with a man who is openly unfaithful to her implies and unconscious belief that she does not deserve better. Furthermore, her insecurity and her pressure to display a flashy facade that matches her social status frequently requires ego reinforcement obtained by impressing others, attempts at which that are seen in her many affectations.
When Gatsby visits the Buchanans with Nick and Jordan, Daisy sends Tom out of the room, and then she “got up and went over to Gatsby, and pulled down his face kissing him on the mouth. . . . ‘I don’t care!’ cried Daisy” (Fitzgerald 116). Affectation is often a sign of insecurity, of which Daisy often displays. In addition, an insecure woman like Daisy who falls in love with a man such as Tom most likely fears intimacy herself. If she fears intimacy, nothing can make her feel safer than a man who has desire for it. Fear of intimacy with others stems from the fear of intimacy with oneself. Because interpersonal relationships bring into light the aspect of a person’s identity that he or she may not want to deal with, the best way to avoid painful psychological self-awareness is to avoid close interpersonal relationships, especially romantic ones.
Hence, Daisy, despite being emotionally detached from the two men in her life, chooses to remain in a marriage with Tom for the sake of her social status and self-esteem. Social status and a skewed relationship with herself leads to internal conflict that allude to the issues present in a world that prioritizes the veneer of wealth. Ultimately, Fitzgerald utilizes infidelity and adultery to suggest a larger world of betrayals of faith and psychological issues. It is clear that Daisy’s relationship with her husband, Tom Buchanan underscores the importance of their dysfunctional marriage in the name of social and financial security. Likewise, Daisy’s relationship with Jay Gatsby reinforces her fear of intimacy as she is with Gatsby temporarily to relieve herself from her painful marriage. As a result, Daisy’s involvement in these emotionally draining romances stem from her awareness of her social status and result in the suffering of her mental health. As the novel illustrates, romantic love is the stage on which all of the unresolved psychological conflicts stemming from pressure to portray an image of desired prosperity as per the American Dream are dramatized.
The Great Gatsby provides an explanation as to how effectively romantic relationships can facilitate the repression of people’s psychological wounds and thereby inevitably carry us, as the novel’s closing line neatly states, “ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald 180).
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