Women in The Great Gatsby & Their Impact on the Storyline

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

Many people see Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby as a story about betrayal, whether it’s Tom Buchanan betraying Daisy, Daisy betraying Tom, or Jay Gatsby betraying everyone with his lies.

The Great Gatsby Women - Jordan, Myrtle, and Daisy

However, that’s not all that this story shows. The women of this era were subjected to patriarchal dominance, despite earning the right to vote and the ability to hold a job outside of the home.

Women are often portrayed in literature as being shallow and not as intelligent as men, and The Great Gatsby really isn’t any different.

Women and the depiction of feminism is easily found in the pages of The Great Gatsby.

Who Are the Three Main Female Characters in The Great Gatsby?

The three major female characters are Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson. ( See all Great Gatsby Characters )

Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby wearing a fascinator

While the reader is told that Tom is heir to one of the wealthiest families in America, no mention is made of Daisy’s wealth or what part she might play in the family finances.

Daisy appears to be fully dependent on Tom for almost everything. When Daisy discovers Tom is having an affair (again), she is expected to be quiet and not make a scene. When Tom discovers that Daisy is having an affair with Jay Gatsby, he certainly makes a scene. Why the hypocrisy and double standard?

Daisy is portrayed as shallow. After giving birth to a girl, Daisy tells Nick Carraway,

“I’m glad it’s a girl, and I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl in this world can be. A beautiful little fool.

Even at this stage of her life, Daisy knows that smart women aren’t valued so she hopes her daughter isn’t smart.

For Daisy, being innocent, or at least playing the part, is more important than being intelligent or competent at some type of work.

Daisy Buchanan: An Iconic Flapper, Prominent Socialite, and Gatsby’s Beloved

This goes right along with the demands of a patriarchal society- that women be seen but not heard.

Tom acted very possessive of Daisy when he learned about her affair with Gatsby. However, after he and Gatsby have their argument, Tom feels secure that Daisy won’t leave him. He then dismisses her as if she were an unimportant part of his life and just lets her leave with Gatsby.

Jordan Baker

Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker in the 2013 movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby

Jordan is at least her own woman, but only to a point. She no longer has any real family to answer to so she is free to stay where she likes, go where she likes, and play golf.

However, Tom’s disapproval shows when he tells Nick and Daisy that “They (meaning her family) shouldn’t let her run around like that.”

Male characters Tom, Nick, and Gatsby “run around like that”, which is acceptable in a patriarchal society, but a female character is expected to stay home and learn domestic skills.

Jordan Baker: The Great Gatsby’s Ambiguous Confidante

She seems to have control over her own life, but Even Jordan isn’t all that comfortable being without a man. She actively seeks out possible men for marriage and, at the end of the novel, tells Nick that she’s angry because he didn’t pay her enough attention so she’s marrying someone else.

This is said a few days after the death of Myrtle Wilson. Baker is seen as an arrogant, selfish woman who doesn’t care that someone was murdered. All she cares about is that she gets all the attention she feels she deserves.

Myrtle Wilson

Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson in the 2013 movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby

Author Scott Fitzgerald portrayed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, as shallow and only interested in money, something her husband George Wilson lacks but Tom has.

Myrtle’s big ambition in life appears to be trying to find a rich man to replace her husband, who is an honest man but is quite poor.

The life that Myrtle wants with Tom is an illusion as Tom would never divorce his socialite wife Daisy to marry a low-class woman like Myrtle ( read more on why Daisy married Tom ). However, Myrtle is only too happy to sell her pride and dignity and settle into an affair with a married man.

Tom drops by unexpectedly and unannounced and expects Myrtle to drop everything to meet him at the apartment he keeps for their trysts. This shows that Tom objectifies Myrtle, seeing her not as a human being with needs but as a “thing” that will satisfy his needs.

When Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose, she can’t even complain about it! To do so might mean that Tom and her illusion of a better life could disappear. Myrtle is willing to sell herself to an abusive man for some pretty dresses and a pet dog.

The Great Gatsby is filled with examples of how women were oppressed during the Jazz Age.

Why Is Gatsby Contemptuous of Most Women?

the great gatsby - jay gatsby and daisy buchanan dancing at a party

Gatsby may be obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, but he doesn’t seem to hold other women in high esteem.

In Chapter 6, Nick Carraway tells us that-

“He (Gatsby) knew women early, and since they spoiled him he became contemptuous of them, of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in his overwhelming self-absorption he took for granted.”

Gatsby grew up in poverty, and he often felt like he had to use his charm and good looks to get what he wanted from women. He often felt like he was being used by women, and this led to a deep-seated resentment.

At the same time, Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, and he sees her as the ultimate prize. He believes that if he can win her over, it will prove that he has made it in life. This obsession leads him to objectify Daisy and see her as nothing more than a trophy, not an actual person.

In Chapter 7, Gatsby sees Daisy’s young daughter Pammy for the first time. Gatsby seems paralyzed by the girl. This is because he imagines that Daisy is still the virginal, innocent young woman he met five years before, not a mother, objectifying Daisy even further.

While Gatsby appears to have respect for Daisy and talks to her sweetly, he insinuates that she’s not very bright.

In Chapter 6, Gatsby tells Nick:

“And she doesn’t understand,” he said. “She used to be able to understand. We’d sit for hours ——”

What Gatsby actually means is that he can’t get Daisy to do exactly as he tells her. He wants her to say and do a certain thing, but she “doesn’t understand”, insinuating that she isn’t intelligent enough to understand what he wants.

Gatsby’s contempt for women is a complex issue with many contributing factors. It is a flaw in his character, but it is also a reflection of the time period and male-dominated society in which he lived.

Who Is the Femme Fatale in The Great Gatsby?

Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby

Although some people believe the femme fatale to be Myrtle Wilson, it’s actually Daisy.

Nick describes Daisy Buchanan in the first chapter as “The Golden Girl”. She is the girl that everyone admires, respects, and strives to be like. Daisy enjoys that thought and is happy when Nick tells her that at least a half dozen people from Chicago sent their regards and said that they missed having Daisy Buchanan in their lives.

However, Daisy isn’t everything she appears to be. She is portrayed as fickle, wishy-washy, and unable to make any decision without her husband.

A femme fatale is an attractive and seductive woman who brings disaster into the lives of men.

While Daisy didn’t bring destruction into Tom’s life, she did consider it and she does, ultimately, bring destruction to Gatsby’s life.

Daisy may come across as the obedient, beautiful wife, but she doesn’t think twice about starting an affair with Gatsby nor does she seem concerned that Nick may talk about it.

This “golden girl” may come across as light and pure (always wearing white dresses), but in her heart, she is careless about other people’s emotions and even their lives.

Final Thoughts on The Great Gatsby Women

The reader should keep in mind that Fitzgerald was simply writing about the times he was living in. Women were, and in some cases still are, objectified and oppressed in certain aspects of their lives.

The women in The Great Gatsby are complex and multifaceted characters. They are not simply symbols; they represent real people who are struggling to find their place in the world. They are all victims of the American dream, and they all pay a price for their dreams.

Women in The Great Gatsby & Their Impact on the Storyline
Women in The Great Gatsby & Their Impact on the Storyline
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