Feminism in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:01 Historical Context
  • 0:53 Gender-Based Stereotypes
  • 1:42 Daisy Buchanan
  • 2:57 Myrtle Wilson
  • 4:12 Jordan Baker
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

'Feminism' refers to the belief that women should have the right to do anything that men can do. This lesson examines the role of feminism in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel 'The Great Gatsby.'

Historical Context

Feminism, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is 'the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.' The acceptance of feminist ideals in modern America is obvious: working mothers, female CEOs, and even female presidential candidates are no longer unusual.

In the 21st century, it may be difficult to imagine a time when women were not even allowed to vote. However, prior to 1920, when the U.S. Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, female American citizens did not enjoy this right. The Great Gatsby takes place just two years after the ratification of this amendment during the Jazz Age. The Jazz Age, also known as the Roaring Twenties, was a time of dramatic cultural, economic, and social change in America, where not only men, but also women, drank and engaged in extramarital sex.

Gender-Based Stereotypes

The men in The Great Gatsby are described in terms of where they live - cottages, garage apartments, and mansions - and what they do - like establishing a career in finance, running a gas station, or playing polo. This is what readers learn about the men in the story.

Women, on the other hand, are described by the way they look, what they wear, and their relationships to the men in their lives; they are 'girls' and property. Sexual attractiveness is key, which is based on appearance and charm. The women in The Great Gatsby reflect the flapper culture of the 1920s in that they are somewhat hedonistic and unconventional people who like to enjoy themselves. And while they may have the right to vote, the women's suffrage movement has not empowered them enough to cross the class and economic lines emphasized in the novel.

Daisy Buchanan

'The Tom Buchanans' is the destination for Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, in Chapter One. This is the way he refers to the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan; did you notice how Nick uses only Tom's, but not Daisy's, first name in this statement, even though she's his second cousin?

From a feminist perspective, Daisy allows herself to be bought - like a piece of property in an economic transaction. She chooses to marry Tom Buchanan, a misogynist and patriarch, and share in his wealth and status rather than wait for Jay Gatsby, her true, but formerly poor love. After becoming quite wealthy, Gatsby, a suspected bootlegger, moves to Long Island in an effort to buy Daisy back with his abundant wealth. This whole scenario runs contrary to the feminist ideal of women being able to provide for themselves.

Like the character we'll meet next, Daisy relies on men for her happiness and material success, as evidenced by the fact that she's married to one wealthy man while being courted by another. However, she is not really oblivious to her marital and social situation. In reference to her young daughter, she tells her cousin: '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.'

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan's mistress, is another example of females as property in The Great Gatsby. Tom even refers to Myrtle as 'his girl' when he talks about her to others. However, Myrtle is also her husband's, George Wilson's, girl, an auto mechanic who does not provide her with the lifestyle she desires. As a means of escape from her economically and emotionally unhappy marriage, Myrtle looks to another man to satisfy her needs.

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