The summer of “Gatsby” is finally over.
At least, the sheer amount of “OMG reading Gatsby and I LOVE IT!!!!!1!!” social media posts have waned, following the May release of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s famed novel.
Pushing my bah-humbug feelings about people who only read books after they’ve seen the movie versions aside, I was deeply troubled by the number of females I saw on various social media sites discussing Daisy Buchanan. They weren’t discussing her in the way she should be discussed: as a one-dimensional, selfish, tragic character. Instead, they idolized her in ways I couldn’t understand.
Well, actually, I guess I can understand. I first read “The Great Gatsby” when I was 16 years old, and I found myself among these girls fawning over Fitzgerald’s flowery language and grand romantic gestures. I fell in love. With Jay Gatsby, the man with the impossible smile, who loved a woman so much he made his millions just for her. And with Daisy Buchanan, the beautiful, floaty, carefree woman—mysterious and funny, bubbly and sensual, attainable but somehow still out of reach.
After reading and highlighting and re-reading and re-highlighting I finally figured out that the novel wasn’t as romantic as I originally thought. I got caught up in the poetry of it all and I didn’t see the story for what it was: a tragedy.
It’s easy to get caught up in Fitzgerald’s language, in the lavishness of Gatsby’s parties, and the allure of the Roaring ’20s. But beyond the beauty of the whole ordeal—the parties and the rich, beautiful people—lies the saddest truth of the novel: that these characters are all unbelievably static.
I’ll just barely touch on Gatsby, because he’s a problem all on his own, but these women who idolize Daisy, as I did, are falling in love with a person who might quite literally be the worst role model in American literature.
Gatsby the man is shallow, and the woman he loves is shallow, but the problem here is that he imagines her to be so much more—he’s not in love with Daisy, the woman, he’s in love with her illusion. Fitzgerald even says it himself:
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
This isn’t entirely Daisy’s fault, but it is something that must be remembered when reading the novel. Gatsby is, of course, the focus of the novel, and his opinions of Daisy rub off on very impressionable readers due to the way his character is written.
That aside, Daisy’s a big problem. As I’ve said, she’s as shallow as a puddle. She’s quirky, girlish and expects all men to fall in love with her—even her cousin, Nick Carraway. She finds her identity in men, from Jay Gatsby to her husband, Tom Buchanan (don’t get me started on this guy, either). Daisy is thrilling, intoxicating, the enchanting siren with whom every man falls in love, yet she’s pathologically selfish. But this is what the men love: Her true affections can never be pinned down. She’s flighty to a fault. She plays with their hearts and leads each man into thinking he’s the one— yet she has no intention of following through with any of these illusions she’s created. This is exactly what she does to Gatsby. She tells him she’ll run away with him, then shatters his heart (and leaves him looking down the barrel of a gun).
Let me pull another feather from my literature hat: author John Green wrote in his novel “Paper Towns,” “What a treacherous thing to believe, that a person is more than a person.”
Green’s no stranger to the Daisy Buchanan character—in fact, he’s written a character just like her in all five of his novels. But the lesson behind his character creation goes back to that one line in “Paper Towns”—we’re so good at turning people into larger-than-life ideas but so, so bad at imagining them complexly and critically and seeing them for what we really are.
Ladies, hear this: women like Daisy Buchanan (or Alaska or Margo or any of the Katherines or even dudes like Augustus Waters, John Green fans) are not the type of women we real-life women should admire. They are everything wrong about the way women are viewed in society. These women are manipulative, one-dimensional, shallow and selfish. They define their identities by the men who love them, and, consequently, how many men’s lives they can royally screw up. They never let anyone get to know who they really are because they are terrified of who they really are. They are glorified and reimagined novel after novel, film after film, yet they always end up alone, and often dead. Why would any woman ever want that for her life? We deserve more. We are more than this Manic Pixie Dream Girl character.
This is not what you want. Don’t turn into the woman who is turned into an idea rather than seen as a person. Imagine everyone in your life complexly, as a person with various intricate cogs and wheels making their whole bodies tick, but do not imagine them as more than that, because that is all they are, and They. Will. Disappoint. You.
The whole point of this beautiful novel isn’t that we should fall in love with these 1920s characters living the so-called American dream—it’s that we shouldn’t. It’s that we shouldn’t expect people to give us more than we can.
Who are your female role models? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @litdarling.
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