Feminist Criticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

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Feminist Criticism of The Great Gatsby

The pervasive male bias in American literature leads the reader to equate the experience of being American with the experience of being male. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the background for the experience of disillusionment and betrayal revealed in the novel is the discovery of America. Daisy's failure of Gatsby is symbolic of the failure of America to live up to the expectations in the imagination of the men who "discovered" it. America is female; to be American is male; and the quintessential American experience is betrayal by woman. Fetterley believes that power is the issue in the politics of literature. Powerlessness characterizes woman's experience of reading not only because her experience is not articulated, clarified and legitimized in art, but more significantly because to be universal in American literature is to be not female.

The Great Gatsby is an American "love" story centered in hostility to women. The vision of love is played out as a struggle for power in an elaborate pattern of advantage and disadvantage in which romance is but a strategy for male victory. Gatsby's imaginative investment in Daisy is evident in his description of her as the first 'nice' girl he had ever known. The quotation marks around "nice" indicate that the word is being used not as a reference to personality but as an index to social status and that Jay Gatsby's interest in Daisy Fay lies in what she represents rather than in what she is. She is for him symbolic rather than personal: he later remarks to Nick that Daisy's relation to Tom was just personal.

Gatsby thinks of Daisy in relation to the objects that surround her. He cannot separate his vision of her from his vision...

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... Gatsby, in the eyes of a feminist critic, is based on a lie of a double standard that makes female characters in classic literature not persons but symbols. It makes women's experience no part of that literature's concern. The male romantic imagination wants women to remain outsiders so that they can be forever available as occasions for the heroic gestures of men and as scapegoats for the failure of men's dreams.

Works Cited

Feminist Criticism. http://www.cumber.edu/engl230/femcrit.htm

Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Lee, Elizabeth. Feminist Theory - An Overview.


Meese, Elizabeth A. Crossing the Double-Cross. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

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