As always, thank you to the lovely Danielle @ Life of a Literary Nerd for the tag!!
Today’s quote is about the defining novel of the Roaring Twenties, the epitome of English-class-worthy symbolism and metaphorical prose, the subject of the Leonardo-Di-Caprio-didn’t-get-an-Oscar-for-this-HAHA film adaption: The Great Gatsby.
If you’ve ever attended a high school English class in the US, you’ve probably read and annotated this to death. (Literally, my book was made about two pounds heavier with all the sticky notes.) You’ve probably also written at least five different papers on the *exaggerated air quotes* DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM—bonus points if you mention materialism and the stratification of social classes!—which, I’m sure, was every teacher’s favorite essay topic.
Also, in case you haven’t already realized from the title, yes, I’m going to be THAT PERSON who snidely sits in the back of the classroom, disagreeing with everyone’s opinions whilst sipping on boba and wearing a fedora (just because).
To be real, though, this is a subject I am startlingly and probably unnecessarily passionate about. At least in my English class, I quite literally felt like the only human being in the entire world who had so much as an inkling of empathy for poor Daisy. Which I get, because at the end of the novel—spoiler alert!—she isn’t exactly the most likable person ever. She grows up cocooned in privilege, she chooses safety and security over possible romance, she leaves the pining Gatsby high and dry and is whisked off to lord-knows-where by Tom Buchanan.
Then again, all of the characters are basically terrible people sooooo
BUT. But but but. First of all, we have to remember that the ENTIRE NOVEL is told from the POV of an extremely unreliable narrator, the self-professed rock of morality, Honesty-Is-One-Of-My-Defining-Qualities Nick. Who is inarguably biased in Gatsby’s favor.
And after reading over the book a couple of times, you can’t help but question Gatsby’s motivations. Is it really love? (Again, spoiler alert: It’s not.)
Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor. (8.157)
This quote, and others, are quite telling of what Daisy truly represents to Gatsby: an acquisition, perhaps even a conquest. He was infatuated by the idea of her, constructing an impossibly idealized vision of the “golden girl” who embodied all of the glittering wealth and comfort of the elite classes that lived “safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor“.
**Okay, I’m not even going to lie, I feel like in the 21st century, Gatsby’s antics would have gotten him a restraining order or something. What normal person buys a HOUSE to get close to an ex-lover?
Here’s another quote that made me raise my eyebrows, to say the least:
There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year’s shining motor cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. It excited him too that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes. (8.156)
You really have to stop and think about why Fitzgerald places such a heavy emphasis on Daisy’s wealth and purity when describing how Gatsby’s infatuation with her. Gatsby associates Daisy with “motor cars” and “dances” and “beautiful bedrooms”, all glamorous, upper-class characteristics that describe the sort of life Gatsby aspires to lead one day. (And he eventually does, but that “American Dream” is not complete without the presence/adoration of—you guessed it—little old Daisy.)
This is not to say I do not empathize with Gatsby at all. I do, definitely. He is an incredibly tragic, though justifiably flawed, figure—I just think of him trembling, embracing that just-out-of-reach green light, and I cry a little bit inside.
All in all, I want to point out that Daisy is deserving of empathy too. Think about it—she’s a woman living in the 1920s. And despite all of the flapper era/19th amendment/etc shenanigans going on at this time, you can’t deny that the 20th century wasn’t an overall amazing time for women’s rights. Just look at the nonsense that Tom Buchanan, resident villain of The Great Gatsby (and NO ONE CAN ARGUE WITH ME ON THIS) spouts about “family values” and “women running around”. I’m sure that what he said was generally representative of how a good majority of Americans viewed women’s roles in society. With this in mind, can you really blame Daisy for choosing safety and financial security over Gatsby’s questionable bootlegging activities?
I have no idea how this tag turned into a full-fledged discussion on The Great Gatsby? My English teacher would be proud of me. What is my life. :”)
ALSO for a much more entertaining, much more thoughtful discussion of Daisy Buchanan’s merits, I strongly encourage you to scroll on over to Emma’s wonderful post describing why Daisy is the best character in The Great Gatsby, period! (I STILL distinctly remember reading her thinkpiece/review because yes, it is that good.)
IN CONCLUSION: I am ready and willing to defend Daisy Buchanan to the death. TRY ME, FOLKS.*
*just kidding plz don’t, i am a small, delicate and non-confrontational soul and will probably cry if you call me names
Have you read The Great Gatsby? What were your opinions of it—too prose-heavy, or perfectly representative of that era? Which character did you empathize the most with? Did you love or hate Daisy Buchanan? I’d love discussion!
lots of love,