Set prosperous and emancipated, they are only decorative

Set
in the Roaring Twenties, a term coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel The
Great Gatsby revolves around the upper middle class of life Americans after
World War 1 and portrays the new social freedom and sexual promiscuity enjoyed
by women. The radical change in female behavior was a trademark of this new
era. The “New Woman” emerged: frequenting parties without chaperones,
smoking and drinking freely, dancing with bobbed hair and shorter skirts.

Literary works often reflect the ideological tenor of social groups that emerge
during times of cultural change. In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald reveals that
while the women of the 1920s are seemingly prosperous and emancipated, they are
only decorative figures with no true power or freedom to move outside the
social conventions of their class. 

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Although
Jordan Baker is portrayed as the embodiment of the principles of flappers-
arrogant, boyish and self-sufficient- she is ultimately beholden to her old
aunt for money. From the beginning of the novel, narrator Nick Caraway
describes Jordan as unfeminine, pleasantly “hard” and
“jaunty” (86) holding herself like a “young cadet” (16)
rather than a traditional lady. She occupies a secure place in the social
stratum and her cool poise and manner make Nick fell socially gauche: “I
was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her”
(14).  Instead of prescribing to the
societal norms and marrying, Jordan plays golf professionally, Tom Buchannan
commenting that her family “oughtn’t to let her run around the country
this way” (24). Yet, her golf career is later revealed as just a temporary
diversion as she is engaged to a man at the end of the novel. In the process,
she squanders her integrity through deceptively lying and constantly cheating
in tournaments. Jordan remains in control through detachment, avoiding all
emotional entanglement to the point of being “absent of all
desire”(18). Although she appears irresponsible, Jordan carefully
calculates risks in order to maintain her carefree entitled attitude: “It
takes two to make an accident” (65). Moreover, Nick also notes that she
navigates around the patriarchal society through manipulation and
“instinctively avoiding clever, shrewd men” (66). Nevertheless, she
never achieves a permanent independent lifestyle and Nick finally rejects
Jordan due to her moral indifference and cynicism. Ultimately, in pursuit of
the identity of a flapper, Jordan loses her femininity, exhibits only materialistic
desire to have a “good time” and blatantly displays her lack of
concern for Nick’s moral preoccupations.

 

Similarly,
while Daisy Buchannan is tempted to stray from the stable societal role of a
wife in exchange for the spontaneity and frenetic freedom of Gatsby’s world,
Fitzgerald reveals that she is ultimately shackled as a merely a decorative
figure of male desire, a fragile beauty that is fundamentally subordinate and
requires the connivance of Tom. Daisy represents the more traditional prescribed
role of a woman, and she even refers to her youth and past fondly as
“white girlhood” (25). In contrast, when Daisy begs, “Oh, let’s
have fun”, she exemplifies the attitudes of all young women during the
Jazz Age. Daisy also adopts flapper values of irresponsibly especially in
regard to her daughter. Regardless of the internal struggle between being
modern and traditional, Fitzgerald describes Daisy only through the lens or the
reflected image men create for her- Tom’s materialistic judgment of her and Gatsby’s
idealized romantic mirage of her- instead of possessing a personality and human
substance of her own. Her sexuality sublimated into her voice, “a
deathless song”, which is made to represent the haunting quality of her
femininity and charm (104). Daisy is no more than a shining radiant centerpiece
of Tom’s wealth and she is ultimately content with deriving her power and
wealth from her husband. Giving up on her freedom, Daisy retreats into her
“white palace”, into “the wealth that imprisons and preserves
safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor”. In the end, Daisy
chooses safety and established wealth with Tom rather than being fraught with
uncertainties with Gatsby’s passionate romanticism. 

 

In
conclusion, although women in the 20’s changed their hair, threw away the
confining corsets and earned the right to vote, women in The Great Gatsby still
manifest as powerless. Fitzgerald offers no insight into the female character’s
minds, showing only a frivolous, harrowed form of realism. Jordan Baker loses
her morality and integrity in pursuit of independence and success only to
succumb to her great aunt for wealth and a marriage for stability. Daisy
Buchannan abandons her pursuit of freedom and sexual satisfaction for economic
comfort and wealth from her husband, existing only as a radiant trophy instead
of a thinking, sentient woman. It is evident that Fitzgerald was aware of the
shifting female identity but nonetheless portray these upper-class frivolous
women to be decorative figures that bear the flag of moral decadence, whether
or not it was their intention.

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