Question Rebecca Art, Media & Literature

Compare the ways in which gender roles and relationships are presented in The Great Gatsby and Death of a Salesman.

Compare the ways in which gender roles and relationships are presented in both The great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

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Answer Internal Staff

While Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) have disparate subject matter, they have some similarities in the ways that gender is portrayed. Traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles are rigidly enforced, even where it is clear that characters long to break out of them. Willy is preoccupied with becoming a ‘great man’, something which he measures in terms of wealth and popularity. Gatsby, too, is fixated on becoming the kind of man he thinks he ought to be, primarily in order to achieve his goal of winning Daisy’s love. In order to do this, both men fixate on something particular: Gatsby on reinventing himself, Willy on recreating his son as a more successful version of himself despite Biff’s unwillingness. Women, however, are portrayed as generally helpless; they primarily serve as foil for the men. Women in The Great Gatsby are not expected to be intelligent or independent; on the contrary, these traits are considered to be dangerous, as echoed in Daisy’s wish for her newborn daughter to be ‘a beautiful little fool’ (Fitzgerald, 1925, n.p.). Upper class women are referred to as ‘girls’ throughout the novel, a diminutive term which further emphasizes their lack of agency: the word ‘woman’ is reserved for lower class women and servants. Gatsby’s steadfast defence of Daisy demonstrates the extent of the vulnerability he perceives in her – even when commits manslaughter, he feels that she cannot take the blame. Similarly, Willy’s wife, Linda, is passive and docile, despite arguably being the character who sees the events most clearly. Willy does not value her opinion and repeatedly ignores her sage advice – as a woman, she is deemed unable to understand the demands placed on men. Gender roles, then, can be argued to shape the trajectories of characters in both texts.

References

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.
Miller, A. (1949). Death of a Salesman. London: Penguin Classics.