Feminist Criticism of The Great Gatsby
Feminist criticism focuses on the power relationships between genders and the ways pieces of literature has been shaped according to them. During the 1920’s, many changes had begun to counter the evident inequality between men and women. Views readily changed from politics to social lives as woman’s hemlines were raised and risks were taken. The confusion of this time for most men is seen in The Great Gatsby. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald portrays the new sexual and social freedoms of the 1920’s while maintaining a strong anti-feminism attitude throughout the novel. Fitzgerald portrays woman as a minor role in society that are reliant on men and are seen as nothing more than a status symbol. Nick even emphasizes the lack of definition of the woman characters in saying that Catherine, Myrtle’s sister, has “a blurred air to her face” (34); and all women at Gatsby’s parties look alike. Nick perceives and recognizes woman as intentionally making themselves indistinguishable and unintelligent seeming for men.
Daisy also falls into this same roll as she famously says, “that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (17). She is a product of system that Fitzgerald believes in, one that does not value the intelligence of women. Daisy and Myrtle conform to the social standard of American femininity in the 1920s in order to avoid conflict. Woman are themed as the more freedom they acquire, the more catastrophic and detrimental their lives will become. Myrtle, for instance, is dishonest and unfaithful to her husband and consequently gets run over by her lover’s wife as her “left breast was swinging loose like a flap” (137). Under the left breast lies the heart, in using this hidden symbolism, Fitzgerald implies that because she was consumed with new freedoms, both sexual and social, it ironically killed her.
Although Daisy’s consequence is not as horrific as Myrtle’s, she disobeyed her husband and confessed that she “loved him once – but loved [Gatsby] too” and consequently they live a “[not] happy… yet…[not] unhappy” life, returning to her captive position. All together proving that disobeying social norms set for woman attest to an eternal unhappy life. In The Great Gatsby, Men are depicted as rich, often abusive, possessive breadwinners – products of the older society before the woman’s emancipation. Tom’s has a violent streak that is shown when he breaks Myrtle’s nose with a “short, deft movement” of his open hand. The abrupt language Fitzgerald uses makes it apparent that such violence is normal and means little to Tom and society. Moreover, Jay Gatsby spent the last five years of his life endeavoring to obtain Daisy, like property, it is not enough for her to say she loves Gatsby, but she must also say she “never loved [Tom]”(132). Gatsby subconsciously attempts to create power and dominance over Daisy while dwelling on the past before women gained suffrage.
As women were beginning to break the bondages of male chauvinistic views, Fitzgerald dwelled on women’s role pre-suffrage. Woman in the novel are described as having sadistic love affairs in secret and their husbands’ abruptly putting a stop to them as soon as their unfaithful deceitful behavior was exposed. The Great Gatsby suggests that Fitzgerald sided with the majority at the time as women were portrayed as merely the property of men and the further they fell into freedom, the further they fell into evil.