EMANCIPATED WOMEN OF THE GREAT GATSBY
Abstract: In all Fitzgerald’s fiction women characters are decorative figures of seemingly fragile beauty, though in fact they are often vain, egoistical, even destructive and ruthless and thus frequently the survivors. As prime consumers, they are never capable of idealism or intellectual or artistic interests, nor do they experience passion. His last novel, The Last Tycoon, shows some development; for the first time the narrator is a young woman bent on trying to find the truth about the ruthless social and economic complexity of 1920s Hollywood, but she has no adult role to play in its sexual, artistic or political activities. Women characters are marginalized into purely personal areas of experience.
While working on The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald acknowledged that the women characters are subordinate: “…the book contains no important woman character” (qtd. in Turnbull 197). After the novel failed to achieve the commercial success he so much desired he wrote: “Women do not like it. They do not like to be emotionally passive.” (ibid. 507) It is quite hard to disagree with the second statement. In conceding the important role of women readers in deciding the failure or success of a novel, Fitzgerald recognizes that the post-war woman has an economic power and he implicitly connects this with her changing status, that of an emancipated woman.
In the novel Fitzgerald portrays the new social and sexual freedom enjoyed by women through the lives of Daisy, Jordan Baker and Myrtle Wilson, as well as the plentiful of young women who attend Gatsby’s parties. Tom Buchanan on the one hand advocates the old paternalism which subordinates women to the status of decorative objects of male desire, yet on the other hand he is happy to enjoy a sensual affair with Myrtle Wilson. One must condemn his double standards, and Nick, as narrator, requires the reader to do so. However, Nick’s ideals of womanhood seem to differ from Tom’s only in the matter of degree. He rejects Jordan Baker on the grounds of her moral inadequacy and indifference, but his descriptions suggest a concealed source of antagonism: she is ‘unfeminine’, androgynous, more of a boy than a ‘lady’. There is a covert theme in the novel which is never openly raised by Nick as a narrator or Fitzgerald as an author, and that concerns the status and identity of women.
Nick makes a very strange statement at one point regarding the ethical standards of women, which is certainly not the recognized truth he pretends, though it is endorsed by the actions of all the women in the novel. He is referring to Jordan Baker when he slips in this comment, deliberately making the reader an accessory to his way of thinking by the use of the pronoun ‘you’: “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply” (p. 48). Nevertheless he does judge Jordan and throws her over in the end. Daisy, however, is permitted to survive within this ideology – though at the price of...