ABSTRACT and Daisy 9 5. CONCLUSION. 13

ABSTRACT

 

The
aim of this paper is to prove that Fitzgerald continuously and purposely
portrayed his female characters in “The Great Gatsby” in a
negative and misogynistic manner. Throughout the novel he depicts the females
as decorative figures of seemingly fragile beauty, though in fact they are
often vain, worldly, egoistical, even destructive and ruthless and thus
frequently the survivors.  This is exemplified
by the main female characters of The Great Gatsby; Myrtle, Jordan and
Daisy. A close reading of the novel and an examination of the characters speeches
was carried out to prove this notion that the women of the great Gatsby were indeed
biasedly represented.

 

 

 

Keywords: male dominance; Fitzgerald; ‘new women’; patriarchal; negative portrayal
of women; The Great Gatsby

 

Table of
Contents
 
Front Page
Abstract
Table of Contents
1.        INTRODUCTION.. 4
2.       Fitzgerald’s and Societies Continuous
Belief in Male Dominance and a Patriarchal Society 5
3.    
Fitzgerald’s
the Flapper and “New Women”. 7
4.       Negative Portrayal of Women in
“The Great Gatsby” with Reference to Myrtle, Jordan and Daisy 9
5.      
CONCLUSION. 13
Works Cited. 14
 

1.    
INTRODUCTION

The beginning of the 20th century
signaled a time of utter confusion and increasing tension which ultimately led
to the First World War.  The events of
this era brought with itself new advents, innovations, philosophical ideas and most
importantly a break from most conventional realms particularly with regards to
literary works, hence all these events led to the beginning of what is now
known as Modernism. This period is usually characterized by a reaction to the
scientific, political and economic developments prevalent at the time and the
way society handled those issues. The conflict and unease that were brought
along with these issues were greatly reflected in the art of the time as well;
it influenced music, philosophy, visual art, and most importantly literature.

Writers and authors of this era needed a
literature that would explain what had happened and what was happening to their
society, hence they reflected on these issues by portraying the conflict and
rapid changes that were occurring, leading to the development of a new literary
genre, Modernism (Holt et al., 1996).

The modernist movement undertook issues of
class, gender, the struggle for knowledge, and the irrationality and alienation
of the time. It can be said that modernism was a reflection of a global state
of depression, a feeling of absurdity that nothing was reliable or trustworthy
any longer. There is no doubt that gender issues have always been a focus in
society as well as in literature, and indeed matters of gender became a prime
focus of modernism. Women, their intellect and their opinions have always been
degraded and considered as disdain by a patriarchal society. Women were not
considered as individual human beings; rather they were treated and viewed as simple
belongings to the men in their lives. What is even more astounding is that not
only in society, but women were evidently being portrayed disapprovingly in
literary works as well. Often they were represented as vulnerable, passive and
foolish. These anti-feministic ideas can be found in numerous writings
throughout history but more commonly in modern writing (Parkinson, 1988).

For centuries authors have written with the
misguided perception that women were simply inferior to men. Hence since the
world is male-centered and male-dominated, women are continually being defined
by men and women are accepting it. This was the exact case with modern novelist
and their negative portrayal of women in their novels. One great example is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, where most
of the female characters are described and depicted as absent minded, untrustworthy,
disobedient and deceitful gold-diggers who were heavily dependent on men to run
their lives (Štrba, n.d).  The focus of
this paper will be on the negative
portrayal of women in F. Scott Fitzgerald’ s masterpiece “The Great
Gatsby” first a background of how women were portrayed in writings in general than a prime focus will be on
Fitzgerald’s views and ideas about women and his anti-feministic depictions in “The
Great Gatsby”.

2.    
Fitzgerald’s
and Societies Continuous Belief in Male Dominance and a Patriarchal Society

In previous generations and for centuries, women have continuously been
portrayed as inferior to men; hence they have not been given the respect they
deserve in all aspects of society. These ideas about women have always been
prevalent, even as far back as the ancient Greeks, where they strongly abetted
gender discrimination, for Sophocles, once stated that, “Silence gives the
proper grace to women” (Faktorovich, 2015, p.73). There is no doubt that men have always
been identified as the dominant sex; women were simply stereotyped as belonging
in the kitchen, where they had to perform all the house duties and cater to
their husbands after returning from a long day of work. As stated by feminist
critics, it is apparent that the ideas of prejudice against women have long
been implemented in Western culture. One of the most profound feminists Virginia
Woolf wrote “A Room of One’s Own,” wherein she states that women have for
centuries been treated as inferiors. She continues by declaring that it is
society that considers women to be intellectually inferior to men (Faktorovich,
2015). These misogynistic ideas that women were
nothing more than housewives were dominant in society and literary texts even
until after the First World War. This can clearly be seen through F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s female characters in the “The Great Gatsby”.

At the end of the First World War, women’s roles as nothing more than
housewives changed drastically. After acquiring the right to vote in 1920
women’s perception of life was completely altered. Women’s behavior began to change, all of a suddenly they started smoking, drinking,
engaging in wild and sexual dancing and attending parties often in the company of men and without chaperones. They changed their hair-cuts, the way
they dressed, the way they behaved in public and most importantly their outlook
towards their families shifted. These women came to be known as the
“Flappers” (Samkanashvili, n.d). However, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s didn’t fall for this “new women” in society, and in The
Great Gatsby he continues to demonstrate that women are still in many
aspects weak, powerless and inferior. He highly emphasized the flaws and shortcomings
of these women who become the prime source of most conflicts in “The Great
Gatsby” (Sundari,
n.d.). Despite all that women had achieved, Fitzgerald still had a continuous
belief in male dominance. This was due to his claim that women are
insubordinate to men through their immorality, dependence on men, and choosing
of money over love.

The Roaring
Twenties or more commonly the “Jazz age”, a term invented by
Fitzgerald, saw some tremendous social changes in America, particularly with
regards to women’s rights. This was a time where the “New Woman” emerged
and yet again, as with all eras her emergence aroused a great deal of
negativity from all limbs of society particularly amongst conservatives.
Surprisingly both men and women of this period believed that the rejection of
traditional roles of women would certainly result in the destruction of the
family. Hence society would witness a moral decline in all aspects of life
(Grudzina, n.d.).

  Just as with any period in history, the
ideological conflicts of the society are always reflected in literary works.  Authors, just as any one of us, are also
influenced by the ideological trends that are prevalent at the time, and at
times these ideologies unintentionally creep into their writings (Anon, n.d.).

One of the most
outstanding novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald did an impressive job at perfectly
portraying the new era of women in his renowned novel “The Great Gatsby”.
 Here Fitzgerald refers to his female
characters Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson, as different versions
of the “New Woman” (Samkanashvili, n.d.). The women are the prime
focus in this novel; however, they are not always portrayed in a positive or
ethical way. As a matter of fact the women are usually perceived as negative
entities. Fitzgerald even goes as far as claiming that there “were no important
women in the novel”. It could be argued that Fitzgerald claim is quite true,
because all the female characters are shown to be vulnerable and dependent on
the male characters, thus holding no real importance of their own (Sanderson,
2016). 

3.    
Fitzgerald’s
the “Flapper” and “New Women”

The post war world
of the 1920s signified the rejection of old fashioned beliefs and traditions
and the implementation of new freedoms and outlooks in society. However “The
Great Gatsby” did not really expose any major differences regarding
the roles and expectations of men and women in society (Sanderson, 2006).  There is no denying that in this novel,
females continue to remain prisoners of a patriarchal society. Women are
portrayed as either commodities that are possessed and discarded by ruthless
man like Tom Buchanan or embodiments of an ideal for idealists as in the case
of Jay Gatsby (Štrba, n.d.). Here in both cases, women are denied any sort of integrity or
honor. The Great Gatsby was a period when “Flappers” and the
“New Women” emerged.

 It can be said that both of these new women
signify the sexual and social freedoms defined by two of the novels female
characters Daisy and Jordan. Although these new ideas about women were
prevalent at the time, the female characters cannot help but deny any real
change in gender roles or the outlooks on women, in a patriarchal society
(Sundari, n.d.). This can clearly be been seen through Daisy’s insight as she
states: A woman’s only advantage resides, strategically, in being a beautiful
little fool (Samkanashvili, n.d.). The negative portrayal and dissatisfaction
with the “New Women” are evident throughout the novel. This is
represented through the characterization of the main female characters Daisy Buchanan,
Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson. Regardless of their class, occupation, marital
status, appearance or character, all three women embody the different versions
of the new women (Štrba, n.d.).

Fitzgerald’s
minor female characters are also exposed negatively for they represent the new
women in both appearance and new social freedoms. All these females’
inappropriate dress and activities depicts them as: shallow, exhibitionist,
revolting, and deceitful (Grudzina, n.d.).  There is no doubt that Fitzgerald is biased in
representing female characters. This is evident as the three female characters
are repeatedly shown to defy patriarchal sexual taboos. For example Jordan is
described as being involved in premarital sex, and Daisy and Myrtle are having
adulterous affairs. Despite of this, women continue to be degraded in the novel
as each woman is categorized undesirably. For example Daisy Buchanan is regarded
as a self-centered brat and a merciless killer. Jordan Baker is described as a
liar and a cheat and Myrtle is characterized as an adulterous and superficial
woman (Faktorovich,
2015). Fitzgerald’s positive description of the three male characters
further proves his disregard for women in the novel. The men are portrayed as
powerful beings. Tom for example is described as a high class man who has all
the prosperity and authority. Nick is considered the ethical and moral
character of this novel and finally George Wilson is shown as a humble, hardworking
man, deeply loyal and devoted to his wife (Sundari, n.d.).

4.    
Negative Portrayal of Women in
“The Great Gatsby” with Reference to Myrtle,
Jordan and Daisy

 “The Great Gatsby” proves that even
though women had just attained the right to vote, they were in no way equal to
men in the 1920’s (Sundari, n.d.). Fitzgerald affirms this idea by continuously
representing an unflattering, misogynistic, unsympathetic and stereotypical
view of the various types of women of the 1920’s. Throughout the novel, the female
characters are depicted in a vilifying manner and lacking any depth (Štrba,
n.d.). When Fitzgerald describes these women he simply appeals to their voice:

 “she had a voice full of money”, their looks
“her face was lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes, and a bright
passionate mouth”, and the way
in which they behave, “‘They’re such beautiful shirts’ she sobbed” (Fitzgerald, 1925).

Rather than pertaining to the females
feelings or emotions, for example, Daisy lacks genuine affection, however she
is aimlessly flirtatious.  

The novel portrays all three women in a disapproving
manner. For example, Daisy is described as weak and irresponsible, Jordan is
depicted as being dishonest and conceited, and Myrtle is unfaithful and worldly.
Nick our narrator refers to Jordan as “incurably dishonest” (Sanderson,
2006). This presents the ideology of mistrust in women in the novel. During the
1920’s American women were seen as the inferior sex and often they were stuck
in oppressive marriages with no way out because of their financial dependence
on men. Even in the novel Fitzgerald gives the women a secondary role, showing
their lack of importance (Sundari, n.d.).

Myrtle is first introduced to the novel as
the adulterous mistress of Tom Buchanan. Her decision to become another man’s
lover was due to her desire for materialistic possessions, as was the case when
she first laid eyes on Tom’s “dress suit and patent leather shoes”, she “couldn’t keep my eyes off
him” (Strba, n.d.). Fitzgerald portrays Myrtle
as someone who is mostly driven by consumerism as he states:

“She lets four taxi cabs drive away before
she selects a new one”

Myrtle’s lack of morality is first brought
to attention when the reader is first introduced to her, as she is discussing her
unhappy marriage to her husband:

“‘I knew right away I made a mistake. He
borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never even told me about
it, and the man came after it one day… I gave the suit to him and then I
lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon” (Fitzgerald, 1925). Hence, Tom delivers
the material yearning, which Myrtles husband fails to provide to her.  Myrtle’s desperation to raise her social
status and her desire for materialism, forces her to engage in an adulterous
relationship. It can be said that Myrtle’s character confirms Fitzgerald belief
that women are insignificant and careless other than their concern with
material possessions (Grudzina, n.d.). 
Throughout the novel Myrtle is continuously portrayed negatively as she
is controlled by her husband, George Wilson, who locks her in a room like an
animal after his knowledge of the affair. He has decided to force her to move
so that she will be kept away from her lover Tom Buchanan. At that moment
Myrtle breaks free from her husband’s grip running from him and enjoying only
moments of freedom before she is hit by a car and killed. This scene upholds
Fitzgerald’s implication that it would have been wiser for Myrtle to have
obeyed her husband’s demand to move with him and avoid this ill-timed death.
Fitzgerald wants to send a didactic message to females everywhere, to be
obedient to their husbands (Strba, n.d.). Myrtles quick death also proves that
woman cannot survive without dependence or the assistance of man, as she
quickly falls to her fate when she is out of the reach of male characters,
signifying that she is unable to survive on her own. This again indicates
Fitzgerald’s prejudice outlook.  Consequently, through Myrtle, readers begin to
assimilate the negative characterization of female characters that persist
throughout the entire novel.

 Jordan Baker is another main female character in this
novel. She is believed to embody a strong woman of her day, one with a prosperous
career and the ability to decide her own future without any dependence on males
(Strba, n.d.). However Fitzgerald doesn’t hold back with any of the female
characters and turns this potentially rebellious character into an impulsive
and self-absorbed brat. In one instance when Jordan is driving with Nick, he
rightfully claims her to be terrible driver, but she insists others:

“Will keep out of her way… it
takes two to make an accident” (Fitzgerald, 1925).

This incident implies that Jordan doesn’t consider
the effect that her actions will have on others in the society around her.
Fitzgerald again uses Jordan’s bad driving skills to convince the reader that
women are not only narcissistic, but also a danger to society. Towards the end
of the novel, when Jordan and Nick meet for that last time, Jordan tells Nick
that she is going to marry another man. Nick doesn’t believe her, leaving this
scene to be quite appalling from both sides. If what she says is true and she
will wed another man, then she is doing this irresponsibly and maybe even as
malevolence towards Nick. This conveys that women exploit their freedom when making
decisions and yet again sustaining Fitzgerald’s belief that women should be
restrained by their male counterparts (Sundari, n.d.). Nonetheless, if Jordan
is actually lying about her engagement to a man, then she is considered a
pathetic attention seeker, in her attempt to deceive Nick to pursue her and
fight for her. Here Fitzgerald uses this scenario to make Jordan appear as a
villain from both standpoints

One of Fitzgerald’s
worst depictions of female characters is without a doubt through the
characterization of Daisy. She embodies the immoral characteristics of both of
our other female characters. Like Myrtle she prefers money over love and is
portrayed as beyond materialistic and like Jordan is a self-centered wretch
(Samkanashvili, n.d.). Daisy embodies the true representation of Fitzgerald’s’ negative
perception of women. Daisy’s engagement with money is repeatedly presented, as
she struggles to decide between Tom and Gatsby. Daisy, in her earlier years
left Gatsby for Tom’s money. Many years later, Gatsby has become quite wealthy
and when Daisy sees his new affluent life, through his big mansion, his lavish parties
she turns her attention towards Gatsby again and starts an affair with him,
claiming that it was Gatsby that she had loved all (Strba, n.d.). Once again
Fitzgerald emphasizes women’s desire of money over love. At the same time, he sheds
light on the changeability of a woman’s heart, especially when Daisy heartlessly
turns back to Tom once Gatsby takes responsibility for the death of Myrtle
Wilson (Sanderson, 2006). Moreover, Daisy doesn’t even bother attending
Gatsby’s Funeral, even though Gatsby took responsibility for Myrtles murder, to
protect Daisy. Even though Daisy is the actual killer of Myrtle, George Wilson
kills Gatsby thinking him to be the killer (Strba, n.d.).  Fitzgerald uses this episode to prove that
women are inconsiderate as Daisy is not even considerate enough to attend the
funeral or honor Gatsby’s life in any other way:

 “Nick tried to think about Gatsby then for a moment,
but he was already too far away, and he could only remember… that Daisy
hadn’t sent a message or a flower” (Fitzgerald, 1925).

This incident suggests that
Daisy is not even grateful for Gatsby taking the blame and saving her life,
which is yet again another appalling representation of women by Fitzgerald. Daisy’s
is too self-centered to send any sort of thanks or to realize that if it were
not for her, Gatsby would still be alive (Strba, n.d.).

It can be concluded then that through the
description of our novels narrator Nick Carraway that all three women are
trophy wives, materialistic mistresses, cheats, and fools (Sanderson, 2006).
Referring to her daughter, Daisy states:

 “I
hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a
beautiful little fool….You see, I think everything’s terrible anyhow….And I
know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything (Fitzgerald,
1925).

Jordan is described by Nick as:

“She is as careless as the day is long.
She cheats at golf. Her conversations are full of gossip (Fitzgerald, 1925).

 Nick
says to her: Suppose you met somebody as careless as yourself.

Myrtle cares more about possessions (suits, dog
collars) than about human feelings (Strba, n.d.). She says this of her husband:

 I
thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my
shoe…He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never even told
me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out. „oh, is that
your suit?? I said. „this is the first I ever heard about it.? But I gave it to
him and then I lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon” (Fitzgelad,
1925). Hence, by the three
females favoring money over love and inhibiting the self-centered attitudes,
Fitzgerald believes all women act in such a repulsive manner, and maintains his
firm belief in male dominance.

5.     CONCLUSION

 It can be concluded that Fitzgerald, through
the portrayal of his female characters in The Great Gatsby, continuously
reinforces his belief that males dominate society. Myrtle’s dependence on men
and her concern only with money upholds Fitzgerald notion that women cannot
make successful decisions on their own and only desire superficial items in
life. Moreover Jordan’s carelessness, impulsive decisions and negligence of how
her actions and decisions affect others prevent her from becoming a potential
model for women everywhere. Finally, Daisy’s unchanging desire for wealth and
money as well as her self-centered attitude as the embodiment of the main
female character in the novel, attests Fitzgerald idea that women want only
what is best for them. Fitzgerald’s disfavored opinion of females causes him to
elucidate the flaws of his female characters; Myrtle, Jordan, and Daisy. Although
the 1920’s appeared to be a freer time for the “new women”, the
“flappers” who drank, smoked, danced and voted (Sanderson, 2006), for
Fitzgerald it was a time to lower their standing in society even further by
giving a truthful depiction of women throughout the 1920’s.