Gender Roles in The Great Gatsby

Gender Roles in The Great Gatsby

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Gender Roles: In some respects, Fitzgerald writes about gender roles in a quite conservative manner. In his novel, men work to earn money for the maintenance of the women. Men are dominant over women, especially in the case of Tom, who asserts his physical strength to subdue them. The only hint of a role reversal is in the pair of Nick and Jordan. Jordan's androgynous name and cool, collected style masculinize her more than any other female character. However, in the end, Nick does exert his dominance over her by ending the relationship. The women in the novel are an interesting group, because they do not divide into the traditional groups of Mary Magdalene and Madonna figures, instead, none of them are pure. Myrtle is the most obviously sensual, but the fact that Jordan and Daisy wear white dresses only highlights their corruption.

 What’s Fitzgerald’s implicit views of modern women in this novel? Daisy and Jordan dress the part of flappers, yet Daisy also plays the role of the Louisville rich girl debutante. A good question to ask is perhaps just how much Daisy realizes this is a “role,” and whether her recognition of that would in any sense make her a modern woman character.
 How significant is Nick’s final repudiation of Jordan Baker to the novel’s larger critique of modernity?
 Why is the novel so intrigued by Myrtle Wilson’s “immediately perceptible vitality” (30), on the one hand, yet almost viciously cruel in its mockery of her upper class pretension on the other hand? (see for example, pp.29-35 where Nick contrasts Myrtle’s “intense vitality” with her and her sister Catherine’s laughable attempts to posture themselves as modern society women. Indeed, Nick twice remarks Catherine’s plucked and redrawn eyebrows as affronts to her “nature” (see p.34, and again at the very end on pp.171-172). What’s up with that?)

Even if they disagree about other issues, all feminists believe patriarchal ideology works to keep men and women confined to traditional gender roles so male dominance may be maintained. Utilizing the precepts of Feminist criticism, it could be argued “The Great Gatsby” promotes a thinly veiled patriarchal agenda. Through Fitzgerald’s treatment of the three women in “Gatsby”, as well as masking the possible homosexuality of a central character, the novel seems to promote only the traditional gender roles, swaying uncomfortably from any possible variance.

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This hidden agenda may be uncovered using common tools of Feminist criticism, primarily through the use of psychoanalytic theory, but with elements of Marxist theory and deconstructionism as well.
Psychologically, Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle are obviously quite different from each other. In fact, it could be said they are like three corners of a triangle, supporting each others’ role in the story but entirely separate at the same time. Daisy is portrayed as a classic beauty who uses an innate sex appeal to gather some amount of control over her surroundings. As an athlete Jordan might carry the greatest potential to stray from a typical gender role; she could easily have been characterized as a lesbian because of her detachment from men, her self-centered lifestyle, and her unexplained connection to Daisy. Myrtle seems to be a more earthy woman, possibly possessing a raw sexual energy, but Fitzgerald stops short of portraying her as an independent, sexual being, empowered to pursue her own sexual experiences. In many respects these characters could have been deeper had Fitzgerald felt free to expound upon these possibilities; it seems the story would only have been enriched if he had explored these women deeper. However, the fact that Fitzgerald was not willing to fill out these women to their potential could indicate a desire, either of his own or one he felt society had placed upon him, to keep them within the expected stereotypes of their gender.
A similar opportunity showed itself within the characterization of his narrator, Nick. Nick’s reluctance to enter into a relationship with Jordan was not sufficiently justified by the ol’ “girl back home” routine. No attempt at all was made to explain why Nick found himself at the bedside of an effeminate man, who was in his underwear. Nor did Fitzgerald explore Nick’s admiration for Gatsby on what seemed to be a more physical basis than of friendship; Nick made frequent schoolgirl-like references to Gatsby, but there didn’t seem to be much reason for a friendship. Gatsby’s motivation was clearly to make contact with Daisy, but why did Nick want to be close to Gatsby? These issues could have easily led to some discussion or admittance that Nick might have been gay or at least questioning his gender role. But the author’s unwillingness to breach these subjects seems to indicate he had made himself subject to the established patriarchy. By not saying anything against it, Fitzgerald inadvertently spoke in favor of the established order.
From a purely economic standpoint, the patriarchal agenda is evident in how all three of the major female characters are dependent to varied degrees upon the men in their lives. Even Jordan has some need for a man. Daisy and Myrtle are more obviously and traditionally dependent. The patriarchal agenda is also supported in the way men do “business” and women sit around and gossip. Even Nick, who in some ways is portrayed in a traditionally feminine role because of his financial dependence upon his family, is given a nice “man’s” job in the stock market to remove any anti-patriarchal doubts. Simultaneously, a deconstructionistic dichotomy exists within the novel; the characters live in the decadent and supposedly “free” Jazz age, but at the same time seem unwilling or unable to free themselves from the patriarchal elements of society.
Overall, a Feminist criticism of this novel allows the reader to understand how subtle and pervasive the patriarchal influences are within our society. Through the questions Feminists ask of the text we are able to see a possibility for deeper characterization and a more enriched human experience without the shackles of patriarchal tyranny.

Jordan Baker: The name Jordan is a non-gender specific name. Jordan is a woman who defies the image of the typical woman of the 1920s. An athlete who excels in golf and a woman who does more or less as she pleases, her characteristics lead her name to suit her beautifully. The name Jordan Baker also implies reference to two types of dominant vehicles at the time, as the explanatory notes of the novel names, "the sporty Jordan and the conservative Baker electric."
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Great Gatsby", characterizes society in America in the 1920's by looking at the lives of key residents of suburban New York and how they relate to one another. The paper shows that Nick Carraway, the novel's narrator, is an important character in the book, since the reader sees everyone else through his biased eye, but he is not a man of great means or any particularly special quality. In this paper, the author looks at issues related to the gender roles in the novel, and how they reflect the patriarchal society set forth in the novel. The paper also focuses on issues of narrator reliability as they relate to gender and the patriarchy.

From the Paper
"The "single girls" in this scene are wild and uninhibited. They are the type of women who entertain the men at the party; however, women are also portrayed as small and insignificant. Later at the same party, two women, described as "highly indignant", are carried off by their husbands, kicking the whole way (Fitzgerald 56). This type of treatment shows that despite the allowances women are given to act independently at the party, they are still under men's control when all is said and done."

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, Scott F. The Great Gatsby. Simon and Schuster, New York. 1925.
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