The Great Gatsby Essay Example: The Hidden Power of Women in Objectification



The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the story, as narrated by Nick, of the fabulous and dramatic lives of New York’s elite, specifically Jay Gatsby and Daisy. In this novel, Fitzgerald portrays a hierarchy based on race and gender, which influences characters’ behaviors towards one another. Specifically, the men in The Great Gatsby often treat women like desirable objects based on qualities such as their status and sensuality. Understanding their circumstances as women in this hierarchy, Myrtle and Daisy know that they must rely on appreciation in the form of objectification from men like Nick, Tom, and Gatsby to improve their lives.

Tom and Nick find Myrtle to be sensual, so Myrtle complies with her role as a sexual object in order to associate with Tom’s status; she is then able to elevate herself in society. Gatsby woos Daisy because he thinks of her as a status symbol due to her wealth and privileges, so Daisy continues her romantic relationship with him to escape her dysfunctional marriage with Tom and find some joy in her life. In this way, female characters like Myrtle and Daisy are able to exert power over men in a patriarchal society by complying with men’s objectification and manipulating them to achieve certain goals that improve their lives. 

Daisy and Myrtle Depiction

By including the characters of Daisy and Myrtle, Fitzgerald expresses that all women should have the freedom to fulfill their own desires uninhibited by societal restrictions.  Toward the beginning of the novel, in one of Daisy and Nick’s first interactions, Daisy mentions “‘that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’” (17).  Using the word “best” and “fool,” Daisy refers to the fact that girls would live better lives if others perceive them to be beautiful and simpleminded. Then, these falsified images that women purport allow them to take advantage of any objectification or patriarchal behavior that men attempt to control them with. Thus, women can stay in an objectified role without shame or a feeling of entrapment and, at the same time, have the freedom to benefit themselves by any means taking advantage of the situation. Myrtle and Daisy are two characters who manipulate men’s perceptions of them in order to fix the wrongs done to them by men in the first place, including a lowered status and physical mistreatment.

How Tom and Nick View Myrtle

Men like Tom and Nick view Myrtle as a sensual object, but Myrtle takes advantage of this objectification to gain their approval and improve her social status. When Nick first meets Myrtle, he observes that she “carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can” (25). The use of the word “sensuously” underscores Myrtle’s appeal to men and suggests that she deliberately uses her body to attract men. Additionally, with the use of the phrase “surplus flesh,” Nick suggests that Myrtle’s body is the prominent feature of her persona. However, Myrtle’s goal to achieve a higher status derives from her disapproval of her husband, Wilson. Myrtle believes that Wilson’s mannerisms and behavior belong to a lower class, as he is not “‘fit to lick [her] shoe’” (34). Her dissatisfaction with his status entices her to pursue a relationship with Tom, who belongs to a higher class; in doing so, she elevates her own status. During a party at Tom’s apartment, Nick notices that Myrtle’s behavior changes from “intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage … into impressive hauteur.

Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions become more violently affected moment by moment… ” (31). Myrtle’s “impressive hauteur” affects her behavior “moment by moment,” suggesting that she alters her behavior to adapt to the higher-class people around her. In this process, she elevates her status and becomes a higher-class woman. In this way, Myrtle exploits Nick’s and Tom’s objectification of her to benefit her standing, which had been otherwise damaged by her lower-class husband. Moreover, by letting herself be subject to objectification by Tom specifically, she actually exerts power over him and exploits him to elevate her societal status. Daisy, on the other hand, already belongs to a higher class. She, unlike Myrtle, utilizes her “old money” background to become a status symbol for Gatsby and takes advantage of his infatuation with her to escape from Tom.

What Daisy Means to Gatsby

Daisy’s “old money” upbringing and her high status position her as a status symbol in Gatsby’s eyes, but she uses Gatsby’s objectification of her to emotionally escape from her marriage with Tom. For Gatsby, Daisy’s voice is a symbol of the money, status and class he yearns for. When Gatsby tells Nick the story of how he fell in love with Daisy, he mentions that her voice “is full of money” (120). In making this comparison, Gatsby alludes to her excessive wealth and suggests the alluring effect of her wealth on her appeal. Nick then adds on to Gatsby’s description of Daisy’s voice by referring to the “the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it” (120). By utilizing phrases like “jingle,” and “cymbals’ song,” Nick again emphasizes Daisy’s wealth by referring to the sounds that money makes. (Music point here) Nick and Gatsby view Daisy’s voice as representative of wealth and a higher social status, explaining Gatsby’s perception of her as a status symbol and belief that he needs her to improve his own social standing.

However, Daisy, upset with her husband Tom, exploits Gatsby’s enamored perception of her to escape from her marriage. Daisy thinks of Tom as “a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen” (12), suggesting possible physical abuse in their relationship and underscoring Daisy’s disgust with him. Gatsby, on the other hand, is more romantic and wants to share his material wealth with her.  When Gatsby shows Daisy his expensive shirts, she begins to cry with “her voice muffled in the pink folds” and claims that she has “‘never seen such – such beautiful shirts before’” (12). Here, Daisy expresses her approval of Gatsby by reacting in an emotional way to his “beautiful” shirts. 

For Gatsby, Daisy’s poignant reaction to his shirts serves as an endorsement of his higher societal status, as she expresses her approval of his material wealth. Daisy, in this way, is able to exert power over Gatsby and almost entrance him by expressing her approval of his wealth and status. Readers also note that Daisy’s way of exerting power over Gatsby is much more subtle than Myrtle’s, because she utilizes qualities like her voice and emotion instead of her sensuality. Societal standings explain the difference in how these two women captivate men. Daisy, being a woman of a higher social class and coming from “old money,” must adhere to formal conventions and as a result, must show her appeal to men in a subtle way. Her way of exerting power is more restrictive and disembodied than Myrtle, which highlights how society placed more limitations on women of higher classes during the Jazz Era in terms of gender-based interactions.

Final Word

As shown in this essay, two important female characters - Daisy and Myrtle - exert power over men and accomplish their goals by, ironically, staying in their objectified roles and gaining the favor of male characters. Myrtle accomplishes social mobility by displaying her sensuality to Tom; in this way, she is able to escape from her husband, who, according to her, is from a lower class. Similarly, Daisy is able to use her “old money” standing to escape from her marriage with Tom. She becomes a status symbol for Gatsby and expresses her approval of him to seduce him, just like Myrtle.

Nonetheless, men objectify Daisy and Myrtle in different ways, and for this reason, they must act in different ways to exert their power over men. Daisy accomplishes seducing Gatsby subtly with her charm and emotion, becoming reminders of her social standing and reinforces her role as a status symbol. Myrtle, on the other hand, is more bold and seductive. By making these contrasts between these two women, Fitzgerald highlights how women of higher classes are more restricted in their expressions of desires. Nonetheless, by giving hints about the captivating power of female characters in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald suggests that male characters like Tom, Nick, and Gatsby are the real objects, as women like Daisy and Myrtle exploit them for personal gain.