In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby we are told the story of the lives of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and their relationship through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway. Gatsby was once in love with Daisy, but after they became separated Daisy meets and marries Tom, a wealthy stockbroker from West Egg who is placed highly in society. Gatsby spends the next five years forever dreaming of the day when he would once again meet up with Daisy and rekindle his relationship with her.
However, his dream is not to play out the way he intends it to, with Daisy finally choosing Tom over him, and leading to Gatsby’s death. In ‘The Great Gatsby’ Daisy is arguably the most controversial character in the book and her character can be interpreted in a variety of ways. On the one hand it can be said that Daisy Buchanan is the charming, sweet and innocent victim of the novel, and on the other it can be argued that Daisy is a reckless, manipulative character, who is the prime cause of the tragedy.
The name Daisy is symbolic. We often associate daisies with childhood and delicacy, and the colour of their petals, white, makes us think of innocence and purity, whilst the appearance of them is pretty. The yellow centre of a daisy could also be used to represent the golden heart of Daisy’s character. However, the only thing flower-like about Daisy is her pretty looks, which are deceptive in making people believe she has these flower-like qualities about her.
The name Daisy is ironic for her character, instead of delicate she is destructive, instead of innocent she is guilty and instead of pure she is ‘the first notable anti-virgin of our (American) fiction’ as described by Leslie A. Fiedler. The reader’s views on the character and personality of Daisy are likely to change throughout the novel as we are initially presented with a woman who, although shown to be slightly manipulative, is not significantly heartless in any way.
However, as the novel goes on Daisy’s other traits are exposed, with her shallow and self-concerned attitude being shown fully when she accidentally kills Myrtle and leaves Gatsby to take the blame for it. Daisy’s first appearance in the novel is when the narrator, Nick, goes to visit her. Our first impression of her is that she is pure, as she is wearing white, and that she is very delicate, as she is referred to as being like a balloon, ‘the two young women (Daisy and Jordan) ballooned slowly to the floor’.
However, instead of delicate, this idea of weightlessness can be seen as an early representation of the emptiness of her character. F. Scott Fitzgerald here only really gives us an idea of how Daisy presents herself to the world and what she wants people to think of her, and the reader has to judge whether Nick’s perception is correct of how she truly is. When Daisy meets Nick she laughs twice for no reason, ‘as if she had said something very witty’, which gives the reader the impression that she uses her laugh to hide behind.
Daisy also speaks very quietly to Nick, which he says is ‘only to make people lean towards her’. Even though it is presented as endearing, with Nick saying that even though her murmur was to make people lean towards her it ‘made it no less charming’, is does alert the reader to think that she could only do this as part of her allure, to make herself appear more charming and popular. We also see how she makes Nick feel so welcomed by her ‘(Daisy) looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see’.
This shows to the reader how she can easily charm people and cast a spell over them. It also partly explains why later on Gatsby is so in love with her, as he too has been made to believe that in Daisy’s eyes there is no one in the world that she would rather be with than him. This is an example of the duality of her character, as noted by the critic Daniel Burke who writes that Daisy ‘is never the poor little innocent victim so many people believe her to be, but is a manipulative woman who knowingly uses her looks to achieve what she wants’.
Leslie A. Fiedler also focuses on how she uses her appearance to her advantage, and goes further, linking Daisy’s manipulative powers with witchcraft, saying that ‘her fairy glamour is illusory, and once approached the White Maiden is revealed as a White Witch, the golden girl as a golden idol’. If we look through the novel we can see how Daisy uses her ‘fairy glamour’ to allow her to deceive people. She deceives Tom in going behind his back to see Gatsby, and deceives Gatsby in leading him to believe that she will give up her life with Tom to be with him.
By the end of the novel Daisy is no longer the sweet and innocent girl she might be seen as presenting herself at the start, and the last we hear of her is when she leaves Gatsby for Tom, leaving Gatsby to take the blame for the killing of Myrtle, which in turn leads to the killing of Gatsby. Nick’s opinion of her has changed, and he no longer considers her charming, but instead say’s ‘they were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess they had made’.
The emphasis on her reliance on money to allow her to do what she wants, shown in Nicks final opinion of her, backs up a point made by critic Louis Orwell, who says ‘without money Daisy would be nothing, she relies solely on it, and without it she would be unable to live out her reckless and destructive lifestyle’. Another critic, Daniel Burke, writes that Daisy’s careless attitude is due to the fact that ‘She has become very much wrapped up in herself. Part of this is due to the fact that she had been spoiled all her life… so she has learned to think only of herself without regard for the people it may hurt’.
This is very obvious in the text, as we know that Daisy has been indulged in her life, coming from a rich background where her looks made her very popular, and having an endless assortment of men who would continue to spoil her. This uncomplicated background has caused her to grow up to become the selfish and shallow character she is. We can also think of how she only thinks of herself, without regard for others, when she leads Gatsby on and makes him believe they have a future together, only to leave him and selfishly let him take the blame for the death of Myrtle, whom she killed.
Leland J Person, however, defends Daisy in stating that, ‘Daisy, in fact, is more victim than victimizer; she is victim first of Tom Buchanan’s ‘cruel’ power, but then of Gatsby’s increasingly depersonalised vision of her’. I consider this to be an interesting point, as Tom doesn’t always treat Daisy the way he should and often has an aggressive attitude towards her, shouting at her and ordering her around. He is also having an affair with Myrtle, and although Daisy knows about it she, at times, pretends that there’s nothing going on, as she can’t do anything about it, which makes us feel sympathy for her in her powerlessness.
Daisy is also, in a way, a victim of Gatsby’s increasingly depersonalised view of her, as the Daisy that Gatsby loves is the Daisy he met and fell in love with five years ago, and even then it was perhaps an ideal dream-like Daisy who he loved, and not the real flesh and blood Daisy. We can see this when he is describing to Nick his first kiss with Daisy, where he presents it like a romanticised dream, ‘the leaves were falling’, ‘the sidewalk was white with moonlight’ and ‘then he kissed her. At his lips touched she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete’.
Gatsby has been dreaming of meeting up with Daisy again for five years, in which time Daisy has become less of a person to him, but more of a desired object, which he wants more than anything else. Gatsby has dreamt about Daisy so much that he has made himself believe that she is something that she isn’t, causing Daisy to become a victim as in reality she could never live up to Daisy’s expectations. Leslie A. Fiedler, however, dismisses the idea that Daisy is passive and writes that Daisy is ‘no longer the abused woman… but the abusing woman’.
This can be seen in several ways in the book, and the most outstanding is when Daisy kills Myrtle and then drives off, allowing people to believe that it was Gatsby who killed her. Also, after letting Gatsby believe that something could happen between the two of them, and that they could start new lives together, she carelessly leaves Gatsby for Tom and does not even show up to Gatsby’s funeral, apparently dismissing the fact that it was through Gatsby taking the blame that he was killed. Henry T Rennison writes that ‘Daisy falls into a familiar pattern of Fitzgerald women.
These women are lovely, delicate, and “romantic” – but essentially parasitic, and emotionally frigid’. If we compare Daisy with Fitzgerald’s own love we can see that Daisy is representative of Fitzgerald’s own wife, Zelda, and several parallels between the two characters can be drawn. Fitzgerald’s love, Zelda, had refused to marry him, as he was too poor for her and she wanted financial stability. Similarly, Daisy had refused to marry Gatsby as she had said ‘Rich girls don’t marry poor boys’. The fact that Daisy would not marry Gatsby, as he was too poor, shows how she obviously values money more than love.
Daisy is made to appear both ‘lovely’ and ‘delicate’ in the text, with her being said to be like a butterfly, but is also ‘parasitic’ in the fact that she lives off her husband Tom’s money and in a way drains Gatsby’s whole life, as his whole life is wasted trying to make himself good enough for her, but in the end never truly reaches his goal. Rennison goes on to say; ‘Daisy is a trapped woman. She’s trapped in a marriage that she is unhappy in and trapped in a world where she has no chance to be free or independent. She is at the mercy of her husband, a man who takes her for granted’.
This is only partly true, as although she is in a marriage where she is unhappy, knowing that her husband is having an affair, she is not necessarily trapped as Gatsby offers her the chance of leaving Tom, and going with him. Daisy is very much taken for granted by Tom and he often treats her more like a possession than a person, which he only realises when there is the threat of her leaving him and he admits ‘once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time’.
He then says to Daisy ‘I’m going to take better care of you from now on’, showing that he knows he has mistreated her in the past. Daisy realises that she has no chance to be ‘free or independent’, as she is a woman, and makes this clear when talking about her daughter, saying “that’s the best a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”. F. Scott Fitzgerald depicts Daisy as a weak mother figure, revealing yet another flaw in her character.
She treats her child as more of an accessory that she uses to show off to her friends when they come round, as when Nick first meets Daisy in the novel she says ‘irrelevantly’; “You ought to see the baby”. Later on in the novel she also shows that she only brings her child out to treat like a prized possession by saying to her child “that’s because your mother wanted to show you off”. Daisy has also paid for a nurse to look after her child, showing that Daisy doesn’t want the fuss of looking after the child herself, but only the joy of bringing it out when it suits her, to amuse herself.
Nick is also told by Daisy that when her child was born she said ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool’. These bitter words alert the reader to the possibility that Daisy recognises that a girl born into a wealthy, privileged family will need to be foolish and ignorant, and content with what she has, if she is to be happy. Leslie A. Fiedler places the story within a mythic framework and says that to Gatsby ‘His reward is, just as in the fairy tales, the golden girl in the white palace; but quite differently from the fairy tales, this is not a happy ending at all… he golden girl becomes the dark destroyer’.
It is true that we can see how Daisy’s appearance in the novel can represent both ‘the golden girl’ and the ‘dark destroyer’ that Fiedler writes about. Daisy is often wearing white in the novel, similar to that of a princess in a fairy tale. Fitzgerald’s description of Daisy’s appearance in the novel also changes slightly, revealing different sides of her character. In some parts of the novel she is described as having blonde hair when she says to her child “Did mother get powder on your old yellowy hair… She looks like me.
She’s got my hair”. However, in other parts of the novel we see her as having much darker hair, ‘a damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek’. This contrast between her hair colours could be seen as representative of two different sides of her personality; her blonde hair could show her as angelic and innocent, while her ‘blue’ hair could be seen as the darker, more aggressive side of her. On several occasions in the novel F. Scott Fitzgerald uses Daisy’s character to represent the era that she lives in, the 1920’s, known as the ‘Jazz Age’.
Her lack of direction and motivation in life, ‘What’ll we do today, and tomorrow and the next thirty years’, can be seen as representative of the dominant attitude of people at the time, and can be seen in two ways by the reader. It can be seen in a sympathetic manner, where it is not Daisy’s fault she has no direction, but it is the era that she lives in fault, as it has taught her nothing of value, causing her to suffer from an empty, meaningless existence rather than to make the most of it.
However, it can be seen unsympathetically, where her lack of motivation and direction can only be blamed on herself, with her undereducated and spoilt childhood, her over indulgent lifestyle, and her idle attitude causing her to be directionless by her own decision. The ‘American Dream’ was also a dominant idea during the 1920’s, with people wanting to go to America and live out the dream of making plenty of money for themselves and living a life of luxury and indulgence.
Daisy is representative of one aspect of this ‘American Dream’ as her character is one that is living it out, with her rich, carefree and luxurious lifestyle. However, by showing Daisy as a character living out the American Dream, F. Scott Fitzgerald is representing that the American Dream is not necessarily the ‘dream’ people believed it to be. We can see during the novel that Daisy is not always happy with the life she leads, with her husband having an affair, and Daisy is by no means the perfect character herself, with her shallow attitude and directionless, careless and reckless lifestyle.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is showing that the pursuit of wealth and personal happiness is causing people to become less concerned with the well being of others, and more interested in living out care-free lifestyles where their money will pay for their recklessness, which is leading to the destruction of society. Leland J Person sums up the way in which Daisy represents the American Dream by saying that she ‘stands for the corruption of the American Dream’. Gatsby pursues Daisy as the essential part of his American Dream, and feels that he needs Daisy to be with him in order for him to fulfil his hopes.
He has the money, but crucially he needs the girl to go with it. And symbolically failing to get the girl and therefore being unable to fulfil the American dream leads to his death. Fitzgerald is suggesting that a blind faith in the American Dream of materialism is leading to the destruction of society, and is not necessarily within anyone’s reach. We could also see Daisy as being the entire American Dream in Gatsby eyes, and not just a part of it, since the reason why Gatsby changed his name, made his large amount of money and created a new life for himself was all to get Daisy.
However, Gatsby finds that money cannot buy him everything when he fails to get Daisy, even though the American Dream suggests that it could. Daisy’s voice can also be seen as representing the promise of the American Dream, and in places in the novel Fitzgerald presents aspects of Daisy’s character through her voice. Her voice is shown to be enthralling and seductive, similar to the promise of the American Dream, and also similar to a mythical Greek siren, enticing men to their death.
The narrator, Nick, notes the tantalising musicality of Daisy’s voice, saying that it is ‘the kind of voice the ear follows up and down, as if the speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played’, ‘I had followed the sound of it for a moment, up and down with my ear alone, before any words came through’. This suggests that there is a magical quality to her voice, making people want to listen, but that there is no real content in the sound she makes or the things she says.
Nick describes her voice as having ‘a clear artificial note’ which reveals and represents all the artificiality of her character, and suggests that the things she says aren’t necessarily the truth, but what she wants people to believe of her. Nick also memorably says that Daisy has ‘a voice full of money’. This shows to the reader that Daisy appears to have everything and it shows in her character. However, it also could show to the reader how money plays a large part in her life, with her constantly talking about it to show off, and how she uses it to get whatever she wants.