In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway’s second cousin, Daisy Buchanan, comments on her newborn daughter saying, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool-that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”(22)
Daisy echoes this sentiment as a mother trying to shield her child from heartache in a cold, hard world. As a woman who is aware of the fact that her husband is having an affair, Daisy is left bitter and scorned when his mistress calls him at dinner time. By wishing that her daughter will be a “fool”, Daisy is essentially wishing that she is kept blissfully ignorant from the cruel, callous and blatant disrespect that she will face as a woman, in a male dominated world.Â She believes that living in oblivion will ultimately mean living a happier life.
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Daisy is a fool because it is subtle throughout the first chapter that she knows that her husband is cheating on her, but goes to painful lengths to prove otherwise. In the book, Nick explains Daisy’s reaction to Tom leaving the table to pick up a phone call from his mistress, saying, “As if his absence quickened something within her, Daisy leaned forward again, her voice glowing and singing.”(19) After she and Tom return to the table following the confrontation in the house, she chirps, “I looked outdoors for a minute, and it’s very romantic outdoors. There’s a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line. He’s singing away-it’s romantic isn’t it Tom?”(20). Furthermore, after following her to the front porch, Daisy confides in Nick, saying, “You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow, everybody thinks so-the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything. Sophisticated-God, I’m sophisticated!” (22). Though she is deeply hurting on the inside, Daisy tries very hard to appear cheerful and unaffected on the outside, almost to an annoyingly creepy extent-as if she is overcompensating for her negative emotions to the point that she needs to exude fake happiness to feel better. This needless behaviour is in fact foolish, because it changes absolutely nothing. Putting on a happy front and pretending that her husband isn’t unfaithful will probably only make her feel worse, because it requires her to reject a reality that deep down she knows deep down is true. Daisy is inherently not a fool as she is knowledgeable about worldly things, yet willingly plays the part of the fool, to her husband’s benefit.
This manner of thinking stems from the fact that prior to the 1920’s, women were taught that a good woman was a good wife-docile, submissive and completely devoted to their husband. The 20’s however, was an era based on superficiality and artificial happiness. It was all about keeping up unrealistic appearances of being happy, rich and carefree, even if that weren’t the case. Women were lead to believe that they had to act like fools to be happy because the 20’s were a time where men thought little about women in terms of equality. Women were expected to be slender and beautiful, and obedient, humble wives to their husbands, despite their gross indiscretions. Back then, women were taught that their worth as a female lay in their physical appeal and carefree attitude, rather than what knowledge they possessed. Society put more emphasis on beauty than brains, which unfortunately led women to stay in abusive relationships, because they believed that that was the best they could hope for and that it would make them happy.
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I don’t agree with Daisy’s sentiment that women should be beautiful little fools for men, because I believe that a woman’s intelligence is by far her greatest asset. She should be judged based not on her physical attractiveness, but on her ideas and intellectual capacity. If a man is disloyal to his wife, the fault lies not with the woman, but with the unfaithful man. And for a self-proclaimed “sophisticated” woman like Daisy to stay oblivious to her husband’s infidelity on the basis that she will be happier, is doing a great disservice to herself, because she deserves so much better. I believe that we should start teaching our young women and daughters the importance of value and self-worth; that they are not extensions of their husbands, but are individuals capable of intelligent thought and deserving of love and respect and nothing less.
Throughout the first three chapters of The Great Gatsby, women are continuously portrayed as fools obsessed with ostentatious material objects and excessive glamour. This one- dimensional portrayal of women in the book provides a very limited view of what women were really like in the 1920’s. It reduces their characters to merely carefree and indulgent individuals, concerned more about their looks and perception in society, meanwhile lacking intellectual substance and thinking capacity. Today, the perception of women in society has changed greatly. Women have destroyed the idea that they are weak, unintelligent individuals, incapable of doing anything but to look pretty and obey their husbands. They now occupy every single sector of society and have continuously broken down barriers to equality. With the rise of progressive feminism, women are slowly challenging the patriarchal society, while simultaneously promoting the gain of women’s rights. Furthermore, the role of women has changed drastically. Women are no longer trapped within the confines of their roles as homemakers and sentenced to a life of cooking, cleaning and raising children. Though women still have a long way to go in their road to equality, they have made great strides in regards to education, civil rights and the workforce.
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