Women’s intentions towards men in The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. In The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, women’s intentions towards men play a significant role in the development of the novel. While Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker are the archetypal temptresses who use sex to indiscriminately destroy the men who step into their lives, Myrtle sees men as a means to quench her thirst for sex and social ambition. Daisy and Jordan use sexuality to lure the men, Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, away from their lives of productivity and prosperity.
Under their hypnotic spell, both men begin to unravel and disorder creeps into their lives. Because the women do not let themselves get emotionally and sentimentally attached throughout the novel, they become superior to the men, who, sick with love, are left acutely vulnerable and pitifully weak. Fitzgerald’s vivid portrayal suggests that there is something malicious in a woman’s nature that forces them to consume consciously or unconsciously the men in their lives, while simultaneously and paradoxically allowing them to thrive.
Women use their attributes to control men in the novel. At first sight women in The Great Gatsby may seem overwhelmingly dominated by men. But on closer inspection, women in fact slyly control men in order to get as many advantages as they can from them. Daisy, who is often described as a passive woman, a trophy to be won by her suitors, wields in fact tremendous power over men and aspires to manipulate and dominate them as much as she can. Glenn Settle’s essay, ‘Fitzgerald’s Daisy: The Siren Voice’, appeared in the American Literature in March 1985.
In this highly feminist and interpretative article, Settle’s vivid language portrays Daisy as a powerful character. Drawing on Greek mythology, Settle compares Daisy to a classical Siren . Sirens were dangerous creatures, portrayed as seductresses who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island Sirenum scopuli . Glenn describes how many critics have insisted on the fact that Daisy’s voice is ‘full of money’ and have argued that this is an essential element in her physical and moral characterisation.
Settle believes Daisy’s alluring and attractive voice illustrates her classical role and shows how Nick Carraway’s narrative presents Jay Gatsby, as Odysseus, an epic hero on a quest thereby fueling Daisy as siren. Settle further argues Daisy as classical Siren by demonstrating her relationship to the archetypal femme fatale. An interesting argument that bears out the femme fatale theory stems from Daisy’s voice. It is described as persuasive, performed, enchanting, romantic, and beautiful. In particular, Settle stresses the persuasive quality of Daisy’s ‘performed’ speeches hinting at her role as actress.
Daisy performs each speech, Nick suggests in his commentary, ‘as creative musical production, arranging, composing her inspiration in such a way that one has the feeling, in listening, of being an audience of one, spellbound in a performance that shall never be heard again’  […] later within the scene Nick also says ‘her voice compelled me forward’ and again, it ‘led my attention’ Daisy’s voice and mannerisms demonstrate how each action she undertakes was precisely performed and well-thought-out for a particular audience.
Using the sensuality and even the sexuality of her voice, Daisy aspires to wield considerable influence over men. Her voice embodies her material wealth and all that allegedly comes with it, class, beauty, assurance, comfort and power. Daisy’s powerful role within the text is suggested through her sexuality and involvement in dangerous acts. Daisy as sexual female is first defined by her voice.
Daisy’s voice not only illustrates her energy, but also suggests her involvement in ‘exciting things’: ‘but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour’. This quote suggests that Daisy can be read as dangerous and sexual, because her voice possesses the power to enchant and control men, by making them ‘Listen’.
Fitzgerald’s use of the word ‘exciting things’ suggests Daisy’s interest in thrilling events, which can slide from the sexual to the dangerous. In a different way, Jordan Baker’s wish to dominate men and the patriarchal system is reflected in her masculine physical description and even in her name. Jordan is described as a ‘slender, small breasted girl with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. ’ Later on, she is seen reading the Saturday Evening Post, and turning the pages with a ‘flutter of slender muscles in her arms’.
Her name associates her with cars, the Jordan sports car and the Baker. Moreover, throughout the novel, many elements are provided to prove that Jordan has lost a part of her femininity. Her pronounced masculinity might explain why Jordan is willing to scorn the men she meets. On her first encounter with Nick, she remarks contemptuously ‘You live in the West Egg’. Jordan is obviously looking down upon Nick because he lives in the West Egg which is for the so-called ‘new money. ’ The same day, Jordan gives a remark that makes the reader infer that Jordan is too good to date Nick.
She declares ‘I haven’t heard a word’. Jordan gave this comment to Daisy after Daisy implied that Jordan and Nick should date. Jordan obviously thought of herself as having much more grace and dignity than Nick and also as being superior to him. Her masculine figure and her masculine activities (reading the newspaper, being a golf champion) reinforce her will to exert a strong domination over men. She avoids meeting clever men ‘Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men’ because she wants her domination to be without limits.
Nevertheless she needs attention from the men surrounding her. Jordan basically just plays with men’s feelings and is not really interested in a long-term relationship. At the end of the novel, Jordan calls Nick and tells him that she just couldn’t do it anymore and that she had recently been engaged. What strikes in The Great Gatsby is the way Daisy wants to please men by playing stereotypical roles in order to get a multitude of advantages in return. Daisy understands the role society and mostly men want her to play.
Not only does she wholeheartedly embrace this role, but she also cleverly uses it to her own advantage. Daisy understands all this and can to a certain extent make it work for her. She thinks that if women are expected to play-act for a good life, then perhaps they should become what they enact . And this essentially is what Daisy does throughout the novel. Daisy is a shrewd actress posing, performing and playing an array of roles for her own advantage; she manipulates the patriarchal system and the men who compose it by brilliantly playing numerous stereotypical female roles.
Fitzgerald designed his female to be seen as dynamic woman skilled in playing an extensive range of roles. She not only plays the role of a mother and wife, but also the movie-star, the blonde, the southern belle, the virgin, the vixen and the baby. These binary opposites are found within their characters through the following illustrations: aggressive and passive, intelligent and foolish, sexual and reserved, powerful and powerless. Several contradictory symbolic stereotypes they exhibit include goddess yet ice-queen, vixen yet virgin, good girl and bad girl .
By proudly playing all these roles, Fitzgerald’s character becomes astonishingly dangerous for men and appealing at the same time. Her ability to modify her personality may be seen as a sign of insecurity. However, this is not the case, her acting or role-playing is not insincere, but instead a sign of her power over the other characters, especially men. Daisy is also highly intelligent. She perfectly knows how men see women. For example, she knows a woman is meant to be beautiful, bubbly and charming. Because she knows this information, she craftily alters herself to fit this pre-designed mould.
For example, Fitzgerald’s Daisy hopes her daughter will grow to be a ‘fool’: ‘I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right’, I said, I said, ‘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. ’ Daisy tells her daughter she hopes she will be a fool, because, she realizes that by playing the fool, Daisy has snatched many advantages from men.
While Daisy can be perceived at first sight as weak, naive and dependent on Tom Buchanan, it may be all an act on her part. Daisy may be just pretending to be the fool in the story. Even if Daisy’s remarks may seem brutal and inappropriate towards her daughter, Daisy believed she was providing her daughter with the soundest advice or better yet, true words of wisdom! She knows men expect her to be beautiful and devoid of intelligence and this is what she willingly gives them. She adapts to men’s needs. She never lets them realize her intelligence, because she does not believe this is what men want.
Interestingly, by playing the fool, Daisy controls the men that surround her. Ultimately, it is Fitzgerald’s male characters that are exposed as fools. Women’s intentions towards men in The Great Gatsby go beyond a mere psychological domination. Women do not hesitate to hurt men’s feelings in order to satisfy their own desires. Daisy is having an affair with Gatsby, while she is married to Tom Buchanan. Daisy does not shy away from the idea of being with a man other than her husband, even if that would hurt Tom.
She, instead, risks the consequences of engaging in an extramarital affair, just because she enjoys it. Fitzgerald also demonstrates Daisy as dangerous female, by suggesting that she engaged in sexual relations with Gatsby before marriage, ‘He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously — eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand’. Fitzgerald’s inclusion of Daisy’s promiscuous, sexual and dangerous past is further suggested when Gatsby mentions how he is ‘excited too that many men had already loved Daisy’.
Daisy is the only woman who has the power to brighten up Gatsby’s life; she has the power to make him the happiest man on earth just by saying that she loves him, him and only him. Daisy can simply materialise Gatsby’s greatest hope, to be loved alone. But she does not do it. Fitzgerald demonstrates the power behind Daisy’s words: ‘I did love him once- but I love you too’. Even while trembling and sobbing, Daisy’s words hold much power, because they blight Gatsby’s hope- that she can love him alone.
In short, Gatsby’s idealistic vision of Daisy is false; she cannot change the past or say that she only loved him. Daisy is only human and it is her humanity which ends up killing Gatsby. Daisy does not care enough for Gatsby to tell him that she only loves him. In a similar way, Myrtle Wilson cheats on her husband George and does not display any kind of remorse, as though she would like to make him suffer for his lack of social status, for his inability to provide her with the social status she aspires to attain.
More generally, women in the novel use men to fulfill their intense desire for a good time, material possessions as well as protection. The personality of Myrtle Wilson intertwines all these preoccupations. Myrtle represents overt, unadorned and raw sexuality. Her flower name suggests a fleshy yet beautiful climbing plant vigorously moving upwards, but her dream remains impossible to materialise. Her body is voluptuous, and she emphasizes this by wearing her dress tight over her broad hips. By grammar and speech, as well as taste, Myrtle does not belong to Tom Buchanan’s elite world.
Her manner is rather sharp and affectations are almost funny. Yet despite her affectations and her ambition to move up in the world and climb up the social ladder, she is not ridiculous. Her vitality is evident, as she dominates the people with whom she interacts in the novel. The level of language she uses is energetic and straightforward about her own sexual needs. Her lower-class pretensions appear funny to Nick because he assesses them from a position of social superiority, but her overt and raw sexuality overawe him.
She desires Tom because of his massive masculinity and his social status and in a way her sexuality is a counterpart of Gatsby’s romantic passion for Daisy. No other character in the novel expresses such an urgent desire as when she, for example, describes her first encounter with Tom: ‘All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever’’. Myrtle is a voluptuous and sensual woman, though the vitality and liveliness of her personality is demonstrated even when being confronted with her husband in the garage, shouting “‘Beat me! he heard her cry. ‘Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward! ’” .
Although, to some extent, Fitzgerald pays tribute to her courage to be at ease with her sexuality, it seems however that Fitzgerald in the end makes Myrtle pay heavily for her egoistic and self-centred intentions. Myrtle Wilson could become nothing more than Tom’s ‘woman’ or ‘mistress’, since her social status is simply unworthy of any more profound engagement. The idea that they ought to ‘get married to each other right away’ is obviously a wild fantasy.
However, Myrtle, being aware of this as much as of her sexual attraction for Tom, permanently tries to lure Tom into her bed and tempts in a way to balance the unfair scales of life. Dead, Myrtle Wilson is a victim of the heartless rich who monopolise the social and economic power as much as she is a victim of her own corruptness and overweening ambitions. She has tried to use men to achieve the American Dream, which is in fact corrupted for both, the rich and the less rich, since it is not only nobility that rots on the inside but also the lower class that harms itself in attempt to reach the highest stratum of society.
Unlike Myrtle, Jordan Baker maintains a deliberate detachment towards men which conceals a determination to come out on the top. Occupying a secure place in a socially influential stratum, she also tries to manipulate a patriarchal world to her own advantage. Nick finds her sexually attractive but morally suspect, as he decides that she is pathologically dishonest, since she would do anything, even lie or cheat in order to maintain the power (advantage over others) that her personality desires.
Jordan has achieved sexual freedom by means of lying or concealment. Nick also thinks that she avoids relationships with clever men who might see through her, preferring instead the company of men who would never imagine a woman – that is, a lady – breaking the codes of her class. Their conversation about careless driving is precisely about personal ethics in any relationship. Jordan desires both the traditional protection offered to a lady by her man and the emancipation of the modern woman, aimlessly wandering between a man and another.
She wants the best of both worlds. Nick’s strong awareness of her lack of ethical concern puts into question the basis of his own relationship with women ‘I was casually sorry and then I forgot. ’ In essence, Fitzgerald is hostile to her as a ‘new woman’, who claims all the advantages of an emancipated lifestyle yet will use any stratagem to capture the traditional advantages granted to a ‘lady’. He seems to be implying that women’s status and sexual image is at a point of crisis in the post-war world.
Nick simply does not know quite how to handle this cool, balanced, independent woman of the 1920s who lays down the terms of the relationship from the start and distorts them to her own advantage . No woman character in The Great Gatsby tries to understand or even cares about either Nick’s moral concerns or his desire to understand experience or Gatsby’s intense devotion to a dream which transcends his own person. True, none of the other male characters pretends an interest in an inner life either, and of course Nick and Gatsby dominate this preoccupation throughout the novel.
The intentions of women towards men are centred on the fulfillment of their own material and sexual needs. It is quite safe to say that any interest other than a preoccupation with their own needs is beyond the women characters in The Great Gatsby.