Feminism and The Great Gatsby
Fundamentally, Feminist Criticism studies how literature analyzes the “oppression of women” in all its myriad forms. This criticism examines how the values of patriarchy govern the characters, thereby showing the values of the author and the times.
Traditionally, these values show men in dominant roles and women in submissive roles. When women try to move into more dominant, or clearly less submissive, roles, this struggle tends to become a focal point of the literature. A man playing less dominant roles in literature is also a concentrating point of the author. Both of these transmutations of gender roles act as the catalyst to the interaction of the characters in a literary work.
Personally, I found the supposition on the Cinderella mystique extremely interesting. Having two daughters, I do not want them growing up where they believe that some man is going to rescue them and provide for them forever. I want them to do what Cinderella never did, stand up on their own two feet and take care of themselves first and foremost. Also, being a man, I grew up with anxiety over the fact that I may not have been the greatest catch for women financially or physically. I always wondered how I would be able to rescue the damsel in distress because that was what I was told to do after reading Cinderella.
Also, feminists have to concern themselves with looking at a text from a multicultural feminist perspective. Dominated mainly by middle class white women, Feminist Criticism first started just examining the female perspective. What Feminist Critics are doing now is showing how female roles within multicultural roles influence a text as well.
While looking at The Great Gatsby, some of the characters typify some of the suppositions made under Feminist Criticism.
Tom Buchanan clearly plays the role of dominant male. He was a prominent college football player, a very manly role. He uses his physique to bully and intimidate other men (George Wilson) and women (Daisy, Myrtle). He slaps women around when it suits him. It is all right for him to see other women, playing rooster in the henhouse, but when he discovers his wife’s infidelity, he is outraged. When Daisy does not declare her love for Gatsby after a small and brief plea from Tom, Tom realizes he is still in control. He feels so in control that he allows Daisy to drive home with Gatsby.
Daisy Buchanan’s role evidences the discomfort of the modern woman in the 1920s. She is seen as heartless in dealings with her daughter. She parties hard and has an extramarital affair. She allows her nurse to watch over her daughter almost exclusively, and in fact, her daughter is seen as an annoyance to Daisy. Even when she does play a feminine role of the time, it is seen as bad to her character. She waits like Cinderella for a man to rescue her from her small home in Kentucky. When her love of Gatsby doesn’t rescue her, she allows her second choice to.
Jordan Baker plays such a woman that is completely against the norms of the submissive woman. She is a liar, improving her ball’s lie (!) in a golf tournament, showing that is supposedly hardened enough like a man to do whatever it takes to win. She is a party-goer, smoking, drinking, and having premarital sex. Feminists point out her lack of family to show how is she is the new modern woman, with a masculine name and profession.