Do We Sympathise with Women in the Great Gatsby?
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What do you think About the View that there are No Women in ‘The Great Gatsby’ With Whom the Reader Can Sympathise?
On first looking into the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, anyone who read it shallowly enough would find it near impossible to be able to sympathise with any female character in the book. Fitzgerald’s use of Nick as a narrator could arguably be the main view of negativity upon the women, as his narration warps the reader’s perspective on the characters through his male viewpoint. Also, Fitzgerald’s presentation of women is of very little positivity in general. Fitzgerald appears to have gathered the class types of women in the 1920’s era and conjured a stereotype for each of them. Daisy Buchanan being the typically beautiful, wealthily married woman of whom has men falling at her feet, Myrtle Wilson being the working class, vulgar woman who dreams of more than what she’s worth and Jordan Baker who is portrayed as the strongest female character who works for herself independently and stands on her own feet.
These are the only female characters throughout the novel that are presented in any large detail. In comparison to the male characters, these women have been written in a way almost to highlight the positivity of portrayal within the male characters in the novel. Fitzgerald uses the 1920’s period to enclose smaller details of his female characters, using the era of fads, jazz, parties, revolution, freedom, and independence of women to structure the novel with themes of egotism and materialism. Daisy being the more centrally focused female in the novel examples all of these attributes of the 20’s within her relationships with people, her speech and her decisions during the novel. Wealth and glamour are vital in Daisy’s life evidently following with her marrying a man whose aggression is touched upon, proof of faithlessness and shallow characteristics however with the consistent ability to provide for her with the flamboyant standard of living she requires. Daisy’s appearance is focused upon powerfully by Fitzgerald through Nick immediately highlighting superficial qualities she possesses. Daisy’s voice is described as ‘full of money’ as she expresses her careless love for Gatsby.
It could be argued that Daisy’s love for Gatsby is more for his money, and Gatsby’s perception of Daisy and Daisy’s life being his biggest desire for years. Daisy’s femininity is exposed by her contrasting friend Jordan Baker who’s more of a darker, masculine woman with independence, which could relate to Gatsby’s dream of possessing Daisy, constructing the favoured image of a woman in that time period for the reader. Sexuality is also exaggerated during Daisy’s exposé of beauty, ‘her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.’ However, the reader’s perception of Daisy will alter numerously throughout the novel due to the expectancies of her, the events that occur involving her and the hardship she endures with Gatsby and Tom. Daisy is presented throughout the novel as the image of Gatsby’s dream. His dream of money and ownership of Daisy represents the desires of those of the 1920’s who lived extravagantly night and day flashing about their money, drinking excessively; pursuing the life they so wish to experience without considering the future punishments of the Wall Street Crash, organised crime and prohibition.
This withholds the symbolism of Gatsby wanting to be with Daisy and living the life he has dreamed of for so long that he overlooks the result of his actions. But is it physically possible to compete with any human’s dream-like perception of one’s self? How is she supposed to handle this delicately, without abandoning the safety net provided for her by her dysfunctional husband Tom Buchanan? A lot is expected of Daisy’s character from the reader as a result of Nick’s narration. Nick presents Daisy as a strong woman, who is supposedly very shallow in most situations; however she is proven to not be as strong or shallow as she’s presented. When Gatsby instructs Daisy to tell Tom she never loved Tom (chapter 7) she reluctantly does so, even though this isn’t true. However, Tom is not the innocent part in this love triangle. The reader knows that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, nevertheless Tom is reluctant to let Daisy leave him or show any sign of repellence to him whatsoever.
In this way, we find it possible to sympathise with Daisy as she is being asked a lot of from both men, to leave her content, wealthy, simple life she has with Tom to follow her heart and rekindle her love with Gatsby from five years ago, and to forget the man she fell in love with so passionately 5 years ago for Tom and continue living this despairing life she leads, falsely happy; but persist with her flamboyancy. Daisy is merely a part of the continuum of Nick, Tom and Gatsby’s descriptions. Scenery is a simple yet exquisite way to describe the manner of Myrtle’s living. The Wilson’s live in The Valley of Ashes, which is described as ‘[The Eyes of Dr. J. Eckleburg] brood over a solemn dumping ground.’ This immediately introduces the reader to the class of Myrtle Wilson and her husband George. The valley of ashes is described as the most repugnant location in the novel; the outcome of the waste of all the upper class of New York, making later events even more significant. A certain amount of sympathy is formed for Myrtle by the reader in the occurrence of Tom breaking her nose when she insists on shouting Daisy’s name repeatedly.
The brutality of Tom creates a sense of sympathy for Myrtle because he has caused her physical harm simply at the mention of his wife’s name. This highlights Tom’s favouritism for Daisy over Myrtle in this instance, leaving Myrtle second best. On the other hand, it may be slightly more difficult to sympathise for Myrtle in this case of her insisting on pushing Tom by using Daisy’s name almost disrespectfully even by saying it nearly as blasphemy. This could also force the reader to instantly dislike Myrtle and feel nothing but detestation for her (which could also trigger the reader’s sympathy for Daisy). Yet, there are other factors Myrtle carries within her life which could provoke the reader to sympathise for her. It is known that Myrtle is in love with Tom, and tries to persuade him to leave Daisy for her. Does she love him for him, not for his money? This is arguable. Her desperate attempt to intervene into the upper class world, her inability to live happily with her husband, her infertility; these are all sad attributes of Myrtle’s life.
Her vulgar personality is a huge factor the reader holds as an excuse for their disliking of her as a character, but the fact that Myrtle fails to accept that she will only ever be part of The Valley of Ashes with the other working class people ends within her suffering and finally her death. The final and arguably least significant female character in the novel is Jordan Baker. What comes to mind immediately is that Jordan Baker is (in ways like Daisy) a part of Nick’s life he includes when he feels self conscious about himself and decides to include something to do with his own affairs with love. Jordan never becomes her own character; she stays almost as a second narrative underneath the main narrative of Nick’s description of Gatsby’s events Nick will go back to when he deems it important. Whilst being used minimally by Nick, she also comes second to Daisy. Jordan is not nearly as attractive or wanted by men as Daisy is. She also contrasts Daisy’s personality entirely; with Daisy being caught up within a heart and mind situation, Jordan is in complete power over all her emotions and rarely finds herself in any such situation.
The reader may be able to sympathise with Jordan as Nick almost uses her to fulfil his emptiness when it comes to relationships, ‘I had no girl who’s disembodied floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs, and so I drew up the girl beside me- ’ literally resorting to the nearest girl, although Jordan clearly has feelings for Nick. However it is arguable that the reader should trust Nick’s description of Jordan, as he seems to have a sort of distaste for all women he encounters, eventually Jordan becoming one of them. Jordan also is described by Nick with quite minimal character attributes with the exception of being deceitful and hard. Jordan plays more of a representational character, symbolising other upper class women who supposedly also have sternness about them, rarely turning their emotions to solve any problems they encounter. To conclude, I do not agree with the statement that there are no women in which we can sympathise with throughout the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’. Every woman in the novel has their own back story as to why they do what they do, even if some of their actions are unjustifiable. Also, the narration of Nick is terribly influential to the reader, forcing the view of the men in the novel upon the reader, pushing the negative viewpoint.