Why Doesn’t Daisy Get a Say? On Power in “The Great Gatsby”

By Greg Lewis

When I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel “The Great Gatsby,” I remember rooting for Daisy to leave Tom and embrace the man who truly loves her. C’mon, Daisy, I thought, Can’t you see it’s Gatsby you’re supposed to be with? After all, Gatsby did it all for her, right? He dreamed the American dream, schmoozed with the right people, climbed the social ladder and acquired the money, manners, and massive mansion necessary to win Daisy over.

So why doesn’t Daisy run off with the man who (clearly) wants her so bad?

I meant to re-read “Gatsby” before I saw the movie but didn’t get a chance. So I didn’t consider Daisy’s fateful decision until close to the end of the Luhrmann’s glitzy adaptation. That’s when it hit me – why doesn’t Daisy get a say in all of this?

Throughout the fateful scene after Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby arrive at their posh hotel room for a hot afternoon in the city, Daisy is overshadowed by the dominant, privileged personas of both Tom and Gatsby. Daisy cowers while Tom and Gatsby hurl veiled insults at each other using posh 20s mannerisms. She sits quietly as the pair vehemently argue about who Daisy loves more.

Because let’s face it – the battle between Tom and Gatsby isn’t about Daisy. Gatsby’s materialistic attempts to win Daisy’s affection aren’t about Daisy as a person at all. The battle is all about what Daisy represents: she’s another item to possess; the two mens’ pride and image depend on her choice between two presumably different suitors.

But the two men aren’t that different at all. Beneath the old money vs. new money surface, both men possess the same entitled view of relationships – whoever exerts the most force and puffs out his chest will win Daisy’s affection.

Faced with this choice, it’s no wonder Daisy isn’t eager to speak up.

When Gatsby snaps and lashes out physically at Tom, Daisy’s decision is made up. Why leave her husband for a replica of what she already has? It’s not worth the effort. Gatsby is the same as Tom – he doesn’t offer Daisy any agency of her own.

For Daisy, the worst part is that she knows she’s being objectified. As Daisy says about her daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

In the scene where our narrator Nick sees Tom and Daisy plotting at the dining room table about how they could escape the hit-and-run situation they experienced with reputations intact, we begin to see an inkling of why Daisy stayed with Tom. In that one moment, at least, she is his equal.

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