Sexism In The Great Gatsby Analysis


The Great Gatsby is one of the most well-known American novels. It tells the story of Jay Gatsby pining for Daisy Buchanan through the eyes of Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor and Daisy’s cousin. The novel is set in 1920’s New York and a majority of the characters live lavishly and seem to take their wealth for granted. The novel also completely overlooks the sexism and racism of the era and romanticizes the 20s. The female characters are degraded and portrayed in a negative light and the novel determines a like or dislike of a woman based on her looks and wealth. Ultimately The Great Gatsby looks down upon women because it portrays women’s roles in a sexist way by using their physical attributes and socioeconomic status to determine their worth and uses them as a way to further a man’s agenda and story. 

Throughout the novel, women’s physical appearances are described in greater detail than the men’s, and their appearances are used to determine their worth. For example, Myrtle is described in great detail and from the moment she is introduced, Nick does not like her. The first description of Myrtle in the book describes her weight. When she entered the room Nick said, “the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door”(Fitzgerald 25). Before learning anything about her he commented on her appearance. In the 1920s, a woman’s place was in the home and men believed themselves to be superior to women. He also says that her face “contained no gleam or facet of beauty”(25). Nick’s belief that societal beauty standards determine a woman’s worth stops him from ever truly getting to know Myrtle. He did not feel she was worth getting to know as a result of how she looked. Additionally, Nick’s attraction to Miss Baker causes him to trust and like her. He says that he, “enjoyed looking at her,” and that she, “was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage”(11). Before speaking more than a few words to her, Nick commented on her body, and before discussing anything else about her, he describes her ‘attractive’ features and how much he likes them. Furthermore, for male characters, Nick describes them quite differently. An example of this was when Tom Buchanan was described as having a powerful body. Nick believes that because he is a man, he is powerful. He also spent much less time describing Tom’s appearance than he did for the women’s appearances in the novel. The women’s long descriptions of their looks and the short descriptions of their personalities tell the reader that Nick only cared about a woman’s attractiveness and determined how likable she was based on that. The novel enforces the idea that men are superior to women and that it is okay and acceptable for a man to decide someone’s worth based on her appearance. The patriarchal society in the novel determines a woman’s worth based on her looks and Nick never challenges that belief. The differences in the way Nick describes female and male characters shows his sexist beliefs and that he saw nothing wrong with them.

Nick uses a woman’s socioeconomic status to determine his feelings about them rather than determine his feelings about them based on their personality. Nick thinks highly of Daisy because of her wealth and place in society, not because he likes her as a person. Knowing how wealthy she is, he doesn’t say a bad word about her when she is introduced in the novel. He says that she has a “charming little laugh,” and that she has, “an excitement in her voice”(9). She has a carefree attitude due to her wealth and her Nick finds that extremely appealing about her. Her exuberant amount of money causes her to act in a more carefree manner because she does not have to spend her time working. The societal standards of the time did not want women to be serious, and Daisy’s wealth allows for her to be more charming. Less wealthy women did not have that opportunity. Another example of her carefree attitude is when Daisy arrives for tea with Nick and she has a “bright ecstatic smile”(85). Her cheery temper makes Nick enjoy her presence more. Daisy’s whole personality revolves around her being charming and pleasing to the men in her life. Nick is dazzled by her wealth and her agreeable attitude. Furthermore, Nick sees Daisy in a positive light because of her wealth and the way that her wealth lets her act. She never has a fully developed character simply because Nick never saw her as a three-dimensional person. He only saw her as a charming woman with a large amount of money. He was in awe of her wealth and had a positive view of her because of it, but never developed her character any further than that. Nick never took the time to get to know Daisy. He felt that he did not need to because she was a woman and they are lesser than men. The ideology that a woman’s worth is determined by the amount of money she has is present in the novel and no one ever contradicts that belief. 

It is also shown that sexism is prevalent in the novel because all of the female characters are one-dimensional and are only used to further a male character’s agenda and story. None of the female characters have any development or complex personalities. Jordan Baker, for example, is only part of the story to explain Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship to Nick. Jordan explains to Nick how Daisy and Gatsby met on pages seventy-five to eighty. Up until that point, Jordan was a background character and the reader did not learn much about her. After this point in the book, she goes back to being a background character and the reader never learns anything about her. The whole point of her character was to help Nick understand what was going on between Daisy and Gatsby. Another example of a female character being used to further a man’s story is Myrtle. Myrtle is the woman Tom has an affair with and is another one-dimensional female character. Her character is used as the main thing that strains Daisy and Tom’s marriage and the reader never learns much about her besides the fact that she was dating Tom while being married to Daisy. While Nick is at the Buchanan’s for dinner Jordan Baker tells him that Tom has, “‘got some woman in New York”(15). By saying ‘some woman’ Jordan degrades Myrtle and shows the normalized sexism in the novel. As Tom leaves to talk to Myrtle on the phone, “Daisy shook her head decisively”(15). Her action of shaking her head shows the strain that Myrtle and Tom’s relationship has on Daisy and Tom’s marriage. Daisy had every right to be upset but the novel never gives Myrtle any characterization besides the fact that Tom cheated on Daisy with her despite Myrtle being in many scenes. Daisy’s character is also quite one-dimensional. Her carefree attitude is all the reader ever learns about her. The book never reveals her intentions with Gatsby or any of her thoughts at all. Also, when the reader first met Daisy she, “cried ecstatically”(9). The novel uses words such as this one to tell the reader about Daisy’s personality but never goes deeper than that. The reader never learns anything about the women in the novel that is not surface level. However, the men in the novel are discussed in great depth and the reader knows much more about them than they do the women. The novel uses women to further the men’s stories but never gives the women any characterization.

The Great Gatsby, a classic piece of American literature, uses its female characters to help the men in the book and to display sexist ideals. None of the women have any character development and are only apart of the novel to further the men’s stories. Also, the sexism in the book is never addressed and it is normalized throughout the novel. The novel plays into all the sexist ideals of the 1920s and fully embraces them in a harmful way. The worth of female characters in the novel is determined by their looks and socioeconomic status. The novel The Great Gatsby undermines women and embraces sexist ideals all while using the female characters to further the men’s stories.

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