Foolishness and The Great Gatsby Essay
Daisy’s quote regarding the daughter being a fool was not just poignant and relevant to herself and the women in this novel, but to everybody in the novel, except for Nick Carroway, the narrator. Nick was the only character that was not foolish in some way. Certainly, the women in the novel did not get very good treatment by Fitzgerald, for every woman in the novel was either selfish, cruel, clueless, vain, dishonest, or all of the above. That said, the men in the novel were not treated much better, save for “Owl eyes,” and it was made clear that “Owl eyes” was not one of the idle rich who were excoriated throughout the novel. It seemed that Fitzgerald set out to criticize the very rich, in general, in this novel, for, if nothing else could be said about the characters in this novel, they were all immoral and foolish, although Daisy could perhaps be said to be amoral and foolish. Of course, the irony is that being foolish did not turn out to be a good thing in this novel, because being foolish is what caused all the disasters to happen. Therefore, the line about being foolish being the best thing to be in that world turned out to be not true at all.
Foolishness and The Great Gatsby Discussion
Every character in this novel, except for Nick, is foolish. Even poor Gatsby’s father, who we only met at the very end of the novel. Daisy Buchanan, the woman who made the comment about her own daughter, is one of the fools of the novel. When we first meet Daisy we find out that her husband, Tom, is having an affair with a dowdy and penniless woman who is married to an auto mechanic. Daisy, of course, knows about this, although this is not made immediately clear. In fact, it is not clear that Daisy knows about the affair until towards the end of the book where Tom is on the phone, ironically with his mistress’ husband, as the husband wanted Tom to sell him a car so that he, the husband, could get out of town. As Tom is yelling on the phone about not selling the car, Daisy says “holding down the receiver.” (p. 103). This implies that Daisy knows about Tom’s affair – that Tom was only pretending to conduct a business transaction over the phone, so he was really calling his mistress, then made it seem like it was all a business transaction by yelling on the phone about not selling a car while holding down the receiver.
While it is clear that Daisy knows about the affair towards the end of the book, there is even more indication that Daisy, if she did not know about the affair, was willfully blind, which makes her foolish. Everybody knew about the affair. Tom didn’t even try to hide it. In fact, he seemed rather proud of it, taking Nick to meet her. Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, told Nick about the affair early on in the book, when the woman, Myrtle, called the house during dinner time. Still, there are subtle clues that Daisy, too, knew about the affair. For instance, when Myrtle rang during dinner, and Tom was summoned to the telephone by the butler, Daisy started speaking quickly, and rather incoherently, saying that Nick was like a “rose” (p. 18). And Daisy shook her head at Tom when the phone rang again a few minutes later (p. 19). Daisy probably did know about the affair, although this was not completely clear, but, if she did not, then she was closing her eyes, and this is why she was foolish.
What is also implied is that Daisy was foolish for putting up with the affair in the first place, assuming that she knew about it all along. But this is something that is probably expected of her as a woman during the 1920s. Especially a woman of means. Daisy came from money, that much was made clear, so it is doubtful that she would be left penniless if she divorced Tom. Still, as a woman, it seemed that she would be expected to stay with her husband. She probably would lose face in society if she was no longer married to Tom, and that seemed important to Daisy. It is made clear throughout the book that Tom was really a despicable man – he was not even present for the birth of their only child, as Daisy said that Tom was “God knows where” at the time that the daughter, who was nameless, was born (p. 20). Daisy put up with it without a word, like it was her lot in life to turn her head about Tom’s mistreatment. It is difficult to know, exactly, why Daisy put up with Tom’s obvious disdain for her, but, one thing is true – the less Daisy cares about how Tom treats her, the better off she is, if she is to stay with him over the long haul. And, if Daisy is going to make sure that she doesn’t care how her husband treats her, then it is better for her that she is foolish, not smart, because if she were smart, she would divorce him.
Daisy could also be seen as the embodiment of the generation of which Fitzgerald writes. This is a generation of fools, essentially. According to Person (1978), the world about which Fitzgerald writes is a world that had a “romantic vision” for America, and that the individuals in society threw over this vision, essentially, for materialism (p. 251). Because of this focus on materialism, the men and women of that era became disassociated from the American dream, the romantic vision of America, and became the cynical people who are inhabited in Fitzgerald’s novel. The implication is that, if the characters were not so focused on issues of materiality, and instead were focused on issues of morality and goodness, the characters would never have gotten themselves into the dilemmas that they faced. While it is not entirely clear why Daisy stays with Tom, one good guess is that she stayed with him because of his money and status, so Daisy was focused upon materialism at the expense of finding somebody who was truly good. If, in turn, Daisy would have left Tom, then she would not have been driving the car that killed Myrtle Wilson, and the fateful event could have been avoided. Since it was foolish for Daisy to stay with Tom, even after it becomes clear that she knows about his affair, one could say that Daisy’s foolishness is what led to her ultimate fate of being a hit and run driver, although she did not ever seem to be punished for her misdeed. And, if Daisy only stayed with Tom because he was rich, then her foolishness is heightened all the more.
Person (1978) further states that Daisy had to make herself willfully blind to even marry Tom at all. It was Gatsby that Daisy really loved, according to Person (1978), noting that there was a scene in the novel where this is made clear. This scene is where Jordan is recounting how Daisy got married to Tom, and Tom had given Daisy a string of pearls worth some $350,000. This would be an enormous amount in today’s dollars, and, in 1925 dollars, the pearls were evidently worth millions of today’s dollars. Yet Daisy threw the pearls in the trash and wanted to give them away, and was ready to not marry Tom at all, because she received a letter from Gatsby. Yet, she took a bath and squeezed the letter into a wet ball, dissolving it. This was symbolic for what she was going to have to do to marry Tom – forget Gatsby, essentially put his memory into a wet ball in her mind and dissolve it, and marry Tom. This, according to Person (1978), is the event to which Daisy was thinking when she made the “fool” comment about her daughter – that you have to fool yourself to have what you want in life, and Daisy had to fool herself to marry Tom. Fool herself that she could be happy with Tom, when she loved another. Fool herself into staying with a man who was cheating on her essentially from the start – Jordan states that she saw Daisy and Tom together a week after they got back from their honeymoon, and a week after that, Tom was in an accident with another woman in his car. Therefore, Daisy had to become foolish to live the lie that her life had become – the lie that she could be happy with a man who didn’t love her, and the lie that she did not want to be with Gatsby.
Daisy is the only woman who is given a fleshed-out character in the novel, but Fitzgerald made all the women in the novel look corrupt or foolish. Or both. Jordan, for instance, who is kind of Nick’s girlfriend throughout the novel, was described by Nick as being “incurably dishonest” (p.55). There was word that Jordan had cheated during at least one golf tournament, as she moved her ball from a bad lie in the semifinal round. The implications is that this was true, as she was a dishonest woman. Although she was never portrayed as foolish – she was the one, after all, who first clued Nick into Tom’s affair, and she never acted with silly and clueless disregard for others, as did Daisy, Jordan was, nevertheless, foolish in her way. Nick surmised that Jordan didn’t like to be around smart men, because this would put her at a disadvantage. Nick also stated that Jordan’s dishonesty was a kind of mask to protect herself – “she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world, and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body” (p. 55). In other words, Jordan was foolish in that she was, essentially, fooling herself. She had armor to protect herself, so she was fooling herself about the world.
Gordon-Froehlich (2010) offers another explanation of why Jordan was foolish, or was fooling herself – Jordan was, according to Gordon-Froehlich (2010), a closet lesbian. After all, there were hints throughout the novel that this might be true – Jordan was described as masculine and angular, as far as her body goes. She is also described as athletic, confident and self-sufficient. And, she was involved in a man’s world, that of participating in athletics, namely golf. And Gordon-Froehlich (2010) states that there never was any indication that Jordan had any kind of erotic interest in men. Thus, Jordan was foolish, in that she was fooling herself by dating Tom, and, at the end of the novel, states that she is engaged to another man, because Tom dismissed her over the phone. Instead of living her true, authentic self, Jordan chose to keep trying to pass as a straight woman, and being able to fool herself is the only way that she could do this. And,Levitt (2011) implies that Jordan’s “passing” as a straight person benefits her financially, as Jordan does not have visible means of staying rich. Rather, according to Levitt (2011), Jordan, in addition to having a “well-off aunt,” also lives “parasitically off of any man who will keep her” (p. 261). Thus, her fooling herself by denying her real sexuality made her a fool in another way, and that was that she, like the other characters in the novel, chased financial security as if it is the key to happiness.
Myrtle is the other woman who was in the book, and she, perhaps, was the most foolish of all. Myrtle is a difficult character to discern. It is unclear what kind of background she has – since Tom is enamored of her, despite her overall frumpy appearance, she must have had some kind of breeding in her background before marrying the penniless auto mechanic George Wilson. In fact, she expressed that she never would have married George if she would have known that he was a coarse man with no money – she protested that she married him because she “thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe” (p. 35). This, of course, makes her foolish – she stated that she was fooled by George because he appeared to have money because he wore a good suit for his wedding. It turns out that the suit was borrowed from somebody else, though – and, the day after the wedding, the person from whom George borrowed the suit came after it. Myrtle stated that this was the first that she heard that the suit was borrowed, and she cried “to beat the band all afternoon” (p. 35).
Myrtle was also foolish because she could never have Tom, not really, because Tom was perfectly content with his life of cheating on Daisy, yet staying married to Daisy. There was never a hint that Tom would leave Daisy for Myrtle. Therefore, because Tom was somebody that she could never really have, and George was somebody who she could have, that she chose Tom over George made her foolish. In fact, there was an indication that Myrtle knew that Daisy would always be Tom’s wife, as she confronted him with it when Tom broke her nose – she apparently wouldn’t stop saying Daisy’s name, which is what caused Tom to slap her so hard that her nose was broken (p. 37). Therefore, the implication is that Myrtle knew her situation – she knew that Tom wasn’t going to leave Daisy. Moreover, there was even the implication that the violence that happened between Tom and Myrtle was rather commonplace – after Tom slapped Myrtle and broke her nose, Mr. McKee, who was a guest of Tom and Myrtle, simply looked at the bleeding Myrtle, then turned and left (p. 37). Because McKee was not startled by the scene, the implication was that violence between the two was a common matter. Therefore, since Myrtle was with a man who was never going to leave his wife, and was apparently violent with her on a regular basis, Myrtle was a very foolish woman. Yet, her foolishness is what allowed her to carry on the affair, and turn a blind eye to the reality of her situation – married to a man she didn’t love, and lusting after a married man who beats her. One could say that Myrtle’s foolishness is what got her killed in the end, however, so her foolishness did not serve her well.
While it is certainly true that, in Fitzgerald’s novel, everybody was foolish, except for Nick – Tom was foolish because he was living a lie, in that he was married to Daisy, but clearly didn’t love her; Gatsby was foolish, because he believed that if he only amassed wealth that he could have Daisy – it was the women who were the most foolish. Daisy was foolish for marrying a lout like Tom, then more foolish for staying married. Myrtle was foolish for sticking with Tom, despite the fact that he physically abused her and would never leave Daisy. And Jordan was foolish for apparently living a lie, in that she was, by some readings, a closet lesbian. At any rate, Jordan did have something to hide, and this was made clear by Nick’s words. Every woman in this novel are fooling themselves, in one way or another. And, at the end of the day, the foolishness of the female characters is what led to the ultimate downfall of Daisy and Myrtle, and by extension, George and Gatsby.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925. Print.
- Gordon-Froehlich, Maggie. “Jordan Baker, gender dissent and homosexual passing in the The Great Gatsby.” The Space Between, VI (2010): 81-98. Online.
- Levitt, Paul. “The Great Gatsby and revolution, in theme and style.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 1.17(2011): 260-293.
- Person, Leland. “’Herstory’ and Daisy Buchanan.” American Literature, 50.2 (1978): 250-257. Online.