“In spite of the wives’ agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were lifted, kicking, into the night”.
The tone of voice here suggests a sort of detached amusement on Nick’s part shown in the ironic word, ‘malevolence’.
The hostile attitude to the ‘new woman’ is not only seen in Nick’s ambivalences of tone and observation but also in Tom Buchanan’s much clearer disapproval.
He shows the old paternalism which condemns women to being objects of male desire and possession and therefore speaks disapprovingly of the ‘new woman’. He believes that Jordan’s family ‘oughtn’t to let her run around the country this way’. This shows Tom’s disapproval of Jordan’s emancipation: she is a single sportswoman who makes her own decisions and controls her own life. Jordan does not rely on men in the same way that Myrtle and Daisy do, and her name immediately links her to cars (put a contextual footnote on the Jordan Baker car) which associate her with the masculine world, rather than the feminine world. Her physical appearance is often described by Nick in masculine terms with ‘a hard, jaunty body’ and she even wears her evening dresses like sports clothes. Jordan is also characterized by her rapid movements and jauntiness which present a contrast to Daisy although at time there is a stillness about her. Some critics claim Jordan ‘manipulates a patriarchal world to her own advantage’. In a way, Jordan does maintain her independence. However, I would argue that Fitzgerald makes this at the cost of ‘being a hard, limited person’ as described by Nick. From ‘fresh and cool’ Jordan’s voice becomes ‘harsh and dry’ strongly contrasting to Daisy’s alluring voice full of femininity. Her “jauntiness” proves to not to be the product of real contentment or fulfilment but a kind of protective pose in the harsh male world in which she lives. In such a world, Nick does allows her to be ‘incurably dishonest’ in order not to be at a ‘disadvantage’. As a result it could be argued that the cost of maintaining her independence is losing her femininity – as she is androgynous. However despite this lack of femininity, and judging her to be “hard limited person” Nick ‘enjoys looking at her’ and a significant moment in their relationship is when he kisses her: ‘who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm’ The ‘circle’ of his arms around her links to the ‘eternal graceless circles’ seen at Gatsby’s parties and suggest a sort of everlasting power over women, despite Jordan’s emancipated attitude and lifestyle. Again, there is an implication that she is being objectified and the ambiguity of Nick’s attitude is revealed as she is both attracted and repelled by her.
Like Gatsby, Nick, at times, is presented as a romantic who likes to ‘walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd’. However, this pleasure is ambiguous just as his relationship and attitude to Jordan is ambiguous. It suggests a fondness for women. However, he more sinisterly ‘follow(s) them to their apartments’, in his mind where they fade into ghostly wraiths of male fantasy. Indeed, some readers have even proposed a homosexual reading of Nick. (You better have a footnote here citing the evidence from the novel that some critics use to support this reading – ask)
Despite the oscillating views towards women in Nick, the ‘love’ story between Gatsby and Daisy can be argued to be very important in representing male attitudes to women at the time.
Fitzgerald uses many conventions of traditional love stories in order to suggest the centrality of Daisy and Gatsby’s “love”. The meeting between these two takes place at the centre of the novel implying the purpose of the novel is to explore their relationship. The language used when they meet is contrasting to the harsh, materialistic realities of the world in which they live. The garden is described using lyrical language ‘with the feudal silhouette against the sky…the sparkling odour of jonquils…and the pale gold odour of kiss-me-at-the-gate’ The use of pathetic fallacy here illustrates Gatsby’s happiness and hope for his relationship with Daisy and the reference to ‘gold’ links to material value. This language, typical of ‘love stories’ is used to represent the strength and power of mutual love between two people, however in this case it is juxtaposed with Gatsby’s idealisation of Daisy. This idealisation is what brings a void into their relationship and this void is due to the ‘colossal vitality of his (Gatsby’s) illusion’. This systematically empties their ‘love’ of any substance. This is not surprising as Daisy is often presented as lacking substance, as we see in her first appearance: ‘their dresses rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house’. The imagery of birds is used here although the women are still presented as weightless and therefore lacking substance. Moreover, Fitzgerald, in a letter to Edmund Wilson said that he ‘gave no account of (and has no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of reunion to catastrophe’ (footnote) .
Fitzgerald likens Daisy to a ‘grail’, a religious image of the grail cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Nick describes the scene of Gatsby patiently waiting as a ‘vigil’ which again suggests that their love is almost transcendent. These religious references elevate Gatsby’s love for Daisy. Gatsby is a faithful lover and devoted lover; he is often associated with Romantic imagery such as moonlight and starlight: ‘across the moonlight…and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars’ This image of Gatsby standing in the moonlight stretching out to the green light presents him as a romantic, yearning for his love. However this is romantic image of him is juxtaposed with the era in which he lives, where such an ideal would be inimical. The extent of Gatsby’s devotion to Daisy is also shown by Wolfensheim: ‘He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife’. This idealisation of Daisy is in fact an act of violence. Equivalent to emotional abuse from a feminist point of view, as it is as if he sees Daisy as a ‘prize’ or something that he is working to possess. Daisy simply becomes a pawn of male fantasy, a fantasy which had ‘gone beyond her, beyond everything’. The illusion of Gatsby’s dream means that Daisy could never live up to Gatsby’s vision of her and implies that his dream is not of Daisy herself.
Furthermore, a certain violence enters the account of the earlier affair. Gatsby’s love of Daisy is inextricably linked with the love of money and glamour, ‘Her voice is full of money’. This quotation, could be interpreted in a variety of ways, it links Daisy to the material world in which she exists and links her to Gatsby’s belief that in order to claim Daisy, he needs money. Throughout the novel, it is suggested that Gatsby is a ‘bootlegger’. The Prohibition Act, (followed by the Volstead act a year earlier) made the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal, and anyone involved in this business despite the fact it was made illegal was referred to as a ‘bootlegger’. Gatsby believed that the only way to acquire Daisy’s love was to work his way up the social ladder by becoming ‘rich’. This raises the question of whether Gatsby fell in love with her position, wealth and status or with the ‘Daisy’ of his imagination. Either way, Gatsby does not show love for Daisy as a person and this is suggested at the moment in the novel that we are told Gatsby ‘took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously...’ A certain violence enters the language at this point, reminiscent of Tom. This in turn undermines Gatsby’s ‘worship’ of Daisy as he is presented very similarly to Tom.
If the “dream of Daisy” can be viewed as a kind of violence, physical violence against women certainly seems to be a running theme and Fitzgerald shows many examples both physical and mental. This, of course, in itself, does not necessarily imply a fundamentally hostility to women but its treatment gives rise to a suspicion of this. Fitzgerald represents Tom as a physically powerful man who has a ‘cruel body’, immediately presents a threat to women as they are described using lyrical, delicate language which suggests their vulnerability. Jordan and Daisy ‘were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering’ The use of the two delicate present participles make the two women seem almost weightless and the ‘white’ has connotations of innocence and purity which presents a strong contrast to the ‘hulking’ Tom. Fitzgerald warns the reader from early on in the novel of the threat Tom poses to these women because as the action of the novel progresses: Tom breaks the chambermaid’s arm in Santa Barabara, bruises Daisy’s finger and punches Myrtle. More importantly, Nick’s tone when witnessing Tom’s violence against Myrtle does not show any disapproval or sympathy for her:
‘Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand’. The use of the monosyllabic, precise combination of adjectives ‘short deft’ imitates the power of the action which Myrtle has been subjected to and well as the silence which followed afterwards. Nick describes the scene he has just witnessed in a rather detached manner; ‘Then there were bloody towels upon the bathroom floor, and women’s voices scolding’. Nick’s cool and detached tone is ambiguous and his coolness could imply amusement, whilst his detachedness could imply shock.
Myrtle’s death which takes place within sight of the symbolic Valley of Ashes is an important image of violence against women: ‘her life violently extinguished’ she kneels ‘in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust’. This symbolic image of her kneeling as if in prayer is ironic and suggests that she has to pay for her adulterous life. Furthermore, it is her lustful desire for Tom and materialistic desires symbolised by the yellow car she is rushing towards, which leads to her death. Reinforcing Nick’s view that women are shallow and materialistic, Myrtle is first attracted to Tom because of his ‘dress suit and patent leather shoes’ which she couldn’t take her eyes off. Myrtle is attracted to his image and wealth, and as she is from a lower social background, Tom becomes even more appealing to her. In pursuit of her material dream Myrtle rushes to the car which symbolises wealth and which ultimately leads to her death. Fitzgerald emphasises Myrtle’s physicality and sensuality continuously: ‘she carried her flesh sensuously...she wet her lips and...spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice’. Even at the time of her violent death, Fitzgerald focuses on her sexuality,
‘her left breast was swinging loose like a flap…as though she has choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long’ These horrific, concrete details of her injuries are linked to her sexuality, and the final sentence emphasises how desperate she was to escape from her life.
Fitzgerald presents a contrast between Daisy and Myrtle in the way they speak, dress and behave. Simultaneously however, there are similarities between them too. They are both victims of physical and emotional abuse, and are unhappy in their marriages. Furthermore, both their names are flower names. ‘Myrtle’ a plump and beautiful plant which grows to five metres tall, however Myrtle is unable to grow as it is her desire to grow which kills her. A ‘Daisy’ on the other hand, is a small delicate flower. Daisy’s voice represents her sexual allure ‘(it was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes’)whilst Myrtle’s is ‘coarse’ which is reflective of their positions in society. Nevertheless, these two women are portrayed as parallels: they are both ‘bought’ by men, Tom buys Myrtle a puppy and goes ‘into the jewellery store to buy a pearl necklace’. This necklace recalls the string of pearls he gave to Daisy when they got married. Although there is strong evidence in the novel showing the materialism of women, Tom is showing a type of hostility to women in that he is abusing their weakness for materialistic objects in order to gain what he wants: to continue his affair and to keep his marriage.
The hidden casualty of this new world of the novel is woman. This is half recognised in Nick’s recurring nightmare at the end of the novel. The portrayal of the woman in Nick’s dream is significant in highlighting male disapproval; ‘...with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the side, sparkles cold with jewels...But no one knows the woman’s name, and no one cares.’ The clothing which people are wearing in his dream is similar to that which people wore at Gatsby’s parties. The drunken, behaviour of the woman is linked with death in the image of women because she is only ‘drunk’ although the stretcher and her anonymity suggest death. There is an implication that her excessive drinking, partying and extravagant clothing have been a factor in her downfall. The reference to the ‘cold’ jewels do not only reinforce the image of death but suggest Nick’s disapproving attitude to materialism; materialism and lack of morality being traits Nick dislikes in women. The anonymous woman is wearing ‘white’, which immediately recalls Daisy who is always described as wearing white throughout the novel, and therefore also points to her downfall, as her lifestyle and affair with Gatsby has only ended in death and murder.
Nick continually emphasises the lack of morals and materialism of women and claims that ‘Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply’. This quotation shows the patronising attitude of men and Nick very well. Men condemn women for being dishonest and expect it however men are not condemned for dishonesty. I think I gave you a photocopied sheet on the nightmare/woman Try and make this section tighter and argue: hostility to women – or, in fitz, if not in Nick, a sense of the pathos of woman, her violation and vulnerability within this world.
This could lead onto final point about I’ve looked through my sheets but cant find anything on this....
It can be seen that Fitzgerald is continually emphasising a relationship between love and money thorough all the characters in the novel. We see this through Myrtle’s relationship with Tom as she is attracted to his image and wealth and also in Tom and Daisy’s relationship. Daisy returns back to Tom, as she was sure of a secure and safe future. Gatsby spends his whole life earning money to acquire a large house and fortune in order to eventually acquire Daisy herself. Nick too, is impressed by Gatsby’s fortune and finds Jordan’s fame appealing. Fitzgerald inextricably links Gatsby and Daisy’s ‘love’ to the love of money and glamour prevalent in the ‘booming 20’s’ which is shown through Gatsby referring to Daisy as though she is an item of ‘value’. It is not only women who are presented as flawed however, men too are presented as imperfect by Fitzgerald; the only difference is that they are not condemned for their flaws as women are. The world of ‘The Great Gatsby’ like the world of ‘The Waste Land’ precludes love. Love cannot exist in such a world of death, represented by the Valley of Ashes. The thirst for love and its impossibility in such a place of death is the anguish of ‘The Waste Land’ where Eliot seems to ‘mourn’ the violation and destruction of women. Fitzgerald seems to take these elements of ‘The Waste Land’ into account although at points of the novel, seems to indulge in them.
Word Count: 2,800
‘The Great Gatsby’ F.Scott Fitzgerald
‘The WasteLand’ T.S. Eliot
York Notes – The Great Gatsby
‘The Great Gatsby’ Penguin Critical Guides – Kathleen Parkinson
Letters, To Maxwell Perkins, p.103, 273