Fitzgeralds portrayal of the female characters in The Great Gatsby reveals an underlying hatred of women
Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the female characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’ reveals an underlying hatred of women. With reference to appropriately selected parts of the novel, and relevant external contextual information on Fitzgerald’s own experience of, and attitude to women, give your response to the above view. In The Great Gatsby women are often presented in less than positive terms, which doubtlessly reveals that Fitzgerald had an underlying hatred of women.
Even when the book was first published, it was not received well amongst women. In 1925 Fitzgerald wrote to Marya Mannes that, “Women, even intelligent women, haven’t generally cared much for The Great Gatsby. They do not like women to be presented as emotionally passive – as a matter of fact I think most women are. ” In examining how Fitzgerald negatively portrays women, a good place to start is how they are reduced to their appearance.
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Throughout The Great Gatsby men are described based on their wealth or careers, but women are described based primarily on their appearance, such as the sexualised depictions of Myrtle: “She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. “ Additionally, Daisy wishes that her daughter will grow up to be, “a beautiful little fool. ” Both Daisy and Myrtle accept that being physically beautiful is the only way they can survive in the harsh 1920s culture.
Through this portrayal, Fitzgerald suggests that women are little more than dolls that are beautiful on the outside but empty underneath, demonstrating that he had an underlying hatred of women. This reflects 1920s culture; on surface level women were becoming more liberated, however any jobs available to women paid much less than their male counterparts which meant that women had to rely on the financial support of a man. Women were still objectified and were forced to use their bodies and sexuality as a commodity in order to support themselves. We see this evidenced in Fitzgerald’s relationship with his wife, Zelda.
She, much like Daisy, refused to marry him until he could prove that he was able to support her. Their marriage was difficult and strained, which contributed to the underlying negativity throughout the novel. Fitzgerald did not support Zelda’s attempts to earn her own money, revealing an underlying hatred for women. She almost became a professional dancer and published her own novel, but Fitzgerald believed these things were a waste of time for her. Further support for this proposition can be found in how Fitzgerald describes the personalities of his female characters.
A key example would be the women attending Gatsby’s parties: “Lucille said, ‘I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. ’” Again, women are portrayed as shallow and epicurean. It is a woman who starts the rumours about Gatsby: “Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once. ” They are drunk, slanderous and emotional and Fitzgerald clearly disapproves of this behaviour. In 1935 Fitzgerald demonstrated his underlying hatred for women when he told his secretary, Laura Guthrie, “Women are so weak, really – emotionally unstable – and their nerves, when strained, break. It could be argued that Fitzgerald’s mistrust of women stemmed from his first relationship with a woman named Ginevra King. They met when Fitzgerald was at Princeton and she was still at prep school. They exchanged love letters, but the relationship ended when Ginevra’s father bluntly told Fitzgerald that he had no business dating rich girls. This gave him a sense of inferiority and was the cause of his lust for wealth, much like Gatsby. Critics are divided on whether the women of the play are based on Ginevra or Zelda; it is likely he used elements of both as inspiration.
These dysfunction relationships bestowed within Fitzgerald an underlying hatred of women. In light of this, it perplexes me that anyone could claim that he portrays women in a positive light. Finally, Fitzgerald portrays many female characters that are dominated by men. The main dominator is, of course, Tom. He perceives himself to be an alpha-male and dominates not only his wife, but any woman he is acquainted with. For example, he states that Jordan should not, “be allowed to run around. ” However, the best example of his domineering nature is how he ‘picks up’ Myrtle.
They meet on a subway train and she initially, “told him I’d have to call a policeman. ” They end up getting in a taxi together, without even introducing themselves. Tom represents a dying patriarchal society, when women had to be submissive to men. According to his friend Andrew Turnbull, Fitzgerald often said, “this is a man’s world. All wise women conform to the man’s lead. ” Perhaps Fitzgerald, much like Tom, dismayed at the change in women that the 1920s brought. Men were slowly losing their culturally expected role of breadwinner, which left many men without a sense of purpose.
It is feasible that Fitzgerald may have felt his masculinity and power was being usurped by the many powerful women in his life, which led to an underlying hatred of women. Those that oppose my view claim that Fitzgerald did not have an underlying hatred of women. Contrarily, many critics interpret The Great Gatsby as an example of feminist literature. There may be some merit to this opinion, especially if we consider how Fitzgerald portrays some of the more independent female characters, such as Jordan.
Jordan is a star golfer, and Nick states, “almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me. ” He is so used to seeing submissive women like Daisy, so someone independent like Jordan is fascinating. This could be one of the reasons Nick is attracted to her. Women in the 1920s were given more education and employment opportunities than ever before, and they had recently gained the right to vote. This was a realisation of the American Dream, summarised in the Declaration of Independence as, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Likewise, Catherine is clearly an independent female, even in her appearance: “her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle. ” The reader gets the sense that she dresses to please herself, not men. Additionally, Catherine is portrayed as a loyal sister. When she is questioned in the aftermath of Myrtle’s death she doesn’t mention the affair, probably to save her sister’s reputation. Fitzgerald couldn’t have had an underlying hatred of women if he was prepared to write strong female characters such as Jordan and Catherine.
The claim that Fitzgerald hated women could be contested when we consider the sexual freedom that women enjoy in the novel. Women were rejecting the Victorian values of chastity and fidelity; this consequentially led to a rise in adultery and divorce. The obvious example in The Great Gatsby would be Myrtle. Her affair with Tom gives her the power to escape her oppressive life with George. Despite being from the Valley of Ashes she is described richly, clothed in, “an elaborate afternoon dress of cream coloured chiffon. She haughtily makes the dress seem like no big deal, claiming, “I just slip it on sometimes when I don’t care what I look like. ” One of the ‘Four Freedoms’ of the American Dream is ‘freedom from want. ’ Myrtle certainly seems liberated in this way. Additionally, it is heavily implied that Gatsby slept with Daisy despite not being married. Fitzgerald portrays women who are breaking free from the cultural obligations to be a wife and mother and discovering their own sexuality. Fitzgerald wrote during the era of the flappers.
These were women that shirked traditional feminine ideals and behaved similarly to men, such as smoking and drinking. They cut their hair short, wore short skirts and danced provocatively. Fitzgerald described his wife, Zelda, as, “the first American Flapper. ” This would suggest that he approved of her unconventional behaviour and therefore did not have an underlying hatred for women. Finally, it could be argued that Fitzgerald’s underlying hatred wasn’t only directed at women; it was directed at everyone, male and female alike. It could even be said that Nick is more critical of the men than the women.
In chapter one he states he was, “Disgusted with everyone, and everything. Only one man was exempt from my disgust. ” The women aren’t portrayed negatively simply because of their gender, it is because of their frivolous lifestyles and selfish personalities. Fitzgerald was somewhat of a hypocrite; he resented 1920s culture while at the same time embodying everything he despised. His own excessive lifestyle is similar to Gatsby’s. He was part of the ‘lost generation’, the young men who went to war and returned shell-shocked and without vital employment skills.
Thus women are not to blame for his problems, but 1920s society as a whole. To conclude, after careful consideration we determine that Fitzgerald certainly had a disdain for women. It may be exaggerating to call it hatred, but his rough past with women twisted Fitzgerald’s portrayal of them. We see this reflected throughout the novel, and in Fitzgerald’s own quotes. The opposing arguments have some merit but ultimately they fail to realise the true implications and context of The Great Gatsby.