Daisy as a negative allegory for american society

Daisy is a pivotal character in The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald’s interpretation of an old money princess is oft regarded as one of the most selfish fictional characters to exist throughout literary history, perhaps the epitome of a ‘ Femme Fatale’. While it is true that aspects of her character are repulsively vulgar, there are examples that point to the contrary. It is true that overall the more blatant aspects of her character directly link towards her being allegorical to Fitzgerald’s distaste for American society, and this is the main point her character serves towards his wider purpose of highlighting the moral decay in the American Dream. However, there are aspects of her character that do demonstrate opposing opinions. To fully grasp her character and what it connotes for The Great Gatsby, further exploration of her character is required. Perhaps the most blatant of all aspects of her character is the fact she is Old Money; having “ been everywhere and done everything,” it is clear she is of the belief that the world is her oyster, and she will take what she can get if it is presented to her. Something that demonstrates her wealth more than anything else is the $350, 000 string of pearls that Tom purchases for her – which she quickly dismisses when the whereabouts of necklace come into question. To her, such an ostentatious article of jewellery is something that can be thrown to the side if it is not absolutely perfect. Within this, Fitzgerald demonstrates his repugnance towards the upper class of America in a swift and succinct manner, criticising the wastefulness and pretentious attitude that is held by the higher ranking in society, all through the allegory of Daisy, and the fact she is Old Money. Fitzgerald also questions the morals of the Old Money society through Daisy via her moral actions through her wealth. When it is brought up why Daisy married Tom in the first place, it is described as “ of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality”, suggesting that while a healthy and loving relationship is important in the Buchannan’s marriage, it was down to sheer pragmatism in the end that they got married. Fitzgerald wants to portray that in Daisy’s world, the end justifies the means – because Tom was the logical choice for her marriage, she “(married Tom) without so much as a shiver” – claiming to Gatsby later on that she “ never loved him”. Going through life without so much as a plan for the future (“ what do people plan?”), and without consideration to others is a key aspect to Daisy’s character and personality, and it is obvious that these are traits Fitzgerald was looking to portray in a negative light, in order to make sure Daisy was seen as allegorical; in further support, indecisive and rich characters that have little interest in their life plan are common in literature that offer critique of the American Dream, and the reason for this is simple – it is a very tactless method of getting across ideas. In the works of Salinger (Catcher), Plath (Bell Jar) and Miller (Salesman), Old Money people exist in order to characterise the moral injustice and distaste for these sorts of people that exists within the real world at the time. Daisy is one such of these characters, perhaps the epitome of an Old Money princess, perfectly allegorical to Fitzgerald’s distaste to American Society. Daisy’s gender and the implications that come with being female is another method used in order to portray Fitzgerald’s ideals in the novel. Commonly portrayed as ‘ the weaker gender’, Daisy could be said to invert this trope, being rather headstrong, thrilling, and possibly reckless. However, this is not to say that she is shown positively because of these traits. It is clear that Fitzgerald means to show how dangerous Daisy can be by utilising her gender, either unknowingly or through her own thoughts. Nick observes she has a habit of mumbling when she speaks, in order to make people “ lean towards her”, a gesture that comes off to many as flirtatious. In “ Of Mice and Men”, the character of Curley’s wife is also utilised as a metaphor for her whole gender, being the only real significant female character in the entire book. Dressed entirely in red, and nameless, she is known for seducing the other man on the ranch – and not much else. However, it is revealed shortly before her death that there is more to her character than is first obvious, expressing dreams that she wished to be an actress once. Daisy is similar in this aspect: while her gender in the context immediately sets her up as a seductress, there is more to her than just this aspect – for one, she is often associated with the colour white (“ our white girlhood was passed together”), a colour largely associated with purity. She also seems to view her own sophistication with “ thrilling scorn”, implying that there is more to her beneath the veneer of polish she has built up for the world, a real person. One could argue this expresses Fitzgerald’s wishes to demonstrate something other than his distaste for American society through Daisy. It is in the very beginning of Chapter 1 we can see how Daisy views her own gender through other characters. She still refers to her 3 year-old daughter as a “ baby”, something that needs protection from the world. Her best hopes for the child is that it will be a “ beautiful little fool”, for that is what she believes the “ best thing a girl can be in this world”. We can assume that Daisy feels the same way about herself, perhaps acting as a fool as her cynical nature dictates this is the best she can hope for herself. When she begins to falter from Tom, she seems to be totally willing to leave her old life, instructing everyone to “ tell ‘ em all Daisy’s change her mine’”, the accent implied by the incorrect pronunciation possibly hinting towards a dropping of false pretences, that she is no longer acting out the ‘ beautiful little fool’ act for everyone, existing only to please, even telling Gatsby that she “ never loved him (Tom)”, which is just what he wanted to hear. It is highly possible that everything Daisy does is simply her acting for the sake of it, to come across as exciting, “ a wild tonic in the rain”, her voice “ full of money”. Fitzgerald seems to have written Daisy as a character that is putting on an act for the world; for her belief is that this is the best a woman can do – and Fitzgerald’s views could possibly be reflected in this. With no positive female character in the entire novel (Jordan is known as a cheat in golf, Myrtle is morally askew as per her affair with Tom) Fitzgerald could be arguing that because of American society, women are forced to act like “ beautiful little fools” in order to have any modicum of respect from others, and even then, they can be interpreted as flirtatious – there is no way to win for a woman – or man – in the context of the American dream, which is exactly what Fitzgerald’s wider message was, to criticize the impossibility of such a goal. From these conclusions we can draw that Daisy is indeed allegorical for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s critique of American Society, but perhaps not in a way one would expect. Caught up in her own cynicism, Daisy is forced to act in order to get anywhere, never faltering for fear of disgrace – all because of how American society is laid out, with no option other than to become a “ beautiful little fool” – there are certainly hints towards Daisy’s innocence in the novel, which backs up this viewpoint. Salinger chooses to represent innocence more directly in his novel, through the character of Caroline – whose simplicity when it comes to life is what breaks Holden out of his depression, expressing the opinion that American society has yet to influence the lives of some young children, and there is hope for the future, in both Holden’s life, and the future of America. Fitzgerald would share the same opinion, that innocence in character is what will save America from the inevitable downfall if the American Dream continues to taunt the populace. Daisy’s innocence is a characteristic that is often ignored when observing her, but it’s all there in the small details that point towards her fragility. For instance, the ways she expresses herself as times are in no way sexual, which sets her apart from Myrtle, who seems to “ smoulder”, a description that brings to mind a more mature and sophisticated woman. Throughout the novel, Daisy struggles to actually use the phrase ‘ I love you’ – even with her own child (“ come to your own mother that loves you”), and even with Gatsby in Chapter 7 she can only formulate her thoughts for him as “ you always look so cool” – a rather innocent phrase, as if she is shy of her own romantic thoughts. Her childlike tendencies come across through her language more often than her actions. Wishing to put Gatsby in a “ little pink cloud… and push you around in it” is a very immature and innocent way of looking at someone that you admire. Fitzgerald has made it so there is nothing mature at all about Daisy, nor is there anything promiscuous in the actions she takes. Her strength seems more often than not to come from her wealth rather than her actual self, even to people she knows, money is a key descriptor in her actions and attitudes, Gatsby claiming that “ her voice is full of money”, perhaps a way of Fitzgerald suggesting that when she speaks, there seems to be no backing behind her words other than the Old Money she originates from. When she is put into a situation without the right sort of money, Daisy seems out of place, perhaps because she feels her security blanket of East Egg has gone. For example, at Gatsby’s party she is said to be “ appalled by its raw vigour”, implying that she has an extreme distaste for anything other than what she knows. How this links into her weakness, and why this is not linked to Fitzgerald’s distaste, is that money can change how a person behaves, making all of their decisions and actions morally unjust (in the case of Tom, his affair, while Daisy becomes obsessed with the wealth aspect). Fitzgerald, while wanting to portray Daisy as selfish and vulgar at times, does make a point of her only being able to access her emotions through material objects – she tells Gatsby she “ reminds him of the man from the advertisement” – perhaps suggesting that consumerism and capitalism has affected her so much she can’t be honest anymore. This allows the critiquing of the American Dream and American society to occur for Fitzgerald in one fell swoop. So rather than Daisy being allegorical for the American society he dislikes, another argument could be that she is a victim of the system, forced to make decisions based upon money rather than substance. So perhaps in a way it is her fragility and weakness that Fitzgerald wants to highlight – while not excusing her for her selfish behaviour, he does want to demonstrate that the impossibility of the American Dream can affect society on every level, even those who seem to have it all. Plath explores this concept in The Bell Jar, the character of Esther so obsessed with being perfect on every level – academic success, an immaculate boyfriend, perfect family life – that she becomes obsessed over these details and the stress she suffers causes her to fall into depression, forming a protective barrier around herself in order to cope. Both Plath and Fitzgerald have made the connection that even behind what appears to be a strong character, there can be weakness underneath that is part of a larger system. Daisy’s innocence could be part of her true character showing through – while her snobbery is something that may be the by-product of carrying the burden of being “ the golden girl”. The fact she is described as “ the king’s daughter” further supports the idea that she is innocent in her actions, being swept along with the movements of the world. Rather than being described as a Queen, or even a Princess – someone who seems more in control, Fitzgerald has chosen to use something with suggests that her position is something that has been thrusted upon her without her own choices being taken into consideration – being born into responsibility under “ the king”. To further explore being put into a situation in which you have no control, you can observe the character of Sunny in Catcher in the Rye, the prostitute who clearly wants to be somewhere else, but still wants to get on with her job. Holden comments on how depressed she makes him, discussing the idea that she bought her dress like any other girl would – no one knowing she would wear it for prostitution. This links to Daisy as her marriage to Tom occurred without “ so much as a shiver”, putting her in an auspicious position in which she has little control. Fitzgerald uses these techniques to suggest to the reader that not everyone is born inherently a part of the unfair American society, but rather that it is forced upon them at times, and they must adapt in order to survive – Fitzgerald even acknowledging that at one point she “ was feeling the pressure of the world outside”, affirming that even at the top level of society, there is stress to be yet better, yet richer (just as Esther endured in The Bell Jar), which overall serves as his distaste for American society in general, rather than just pointing the finger at Daisy for being the main figurehead of the evils of American society. However, there is no doubt in affirming that Daisy is a character that Fitzgerald means for us to have distaste towards. Her shallow and materialistic beliefs, coupled with an extremely selfish attitude, sets her up as perhaps even the ultimate ‘ villain’ in the story, if there were one to be had in the first place. Linking back to her ‘ acting’ as a “ beautiful little fool”, the times she acts in a positive way seem to be oozing with sheer fakery. Her first line is pivotal especially, being “ paralyzed with happiness” is such an over-exaggeration of the event that even Nick doubts the sincerity of her words, leading the reader to believe that beneath the veneer of her well-acted performance, there is a truly spiteful person. It is later on in the very first chapter that Nick further discovers aspects to Daisy that point towards her putting on a show, saying that “ the instant her voice broke off… I felt the basic insincerity of what had been said,” which shows that her charm only carries her so far, with glimpses of her unsightly nature coming through here and there – making her allegorical for Fitzgerald’s distaste for American society as the fakery is damaging the people beneath her in society. Her speech patterns and actions are especially dramatic also, pointing towards Fitzgerald directing us to the conclusion she is acting excellently. Starting with her speech, she has a quite romanticised view on things, often over complimenting others – calling Nick an “ absolute rose” for no clear reason at all, Nick not having done anything especially rose-worthy the entire evening. Overly sweet and insincere comments are all too common, “ you absolute little dream” being used rather flippantly. Fitzgerald also portrays this through her actions, most noticeably in chapter 1 in which she “ snaps out the candles with her fingers” in objection to them being used, then calling for attention when her fingers are damaged from doing so. Fitzgerald then decides to make Daisy completely change the subject, talking about her child all of a sudden, before anyone can react. It is as if she feels she must be constantly taking action. That her life, to her at least, is so incredibly boring that she can’t sit still for a moment, acting in an apparently generous and giving manner, but underneath it all being rather pompous. Throughout the novel she constantly uses other characters to her advantage in order just to gain a thrill or some excitement – Nick says that she wanted “ her life shaped now”, indicating she doesn’t want to do anything for herself, but it is also clear that she doesn’t even know what she wants herself – not fully committing to anything. Of course, this is most blatant in her half-baked affair with Gatsby, which is the central point of the novel. The line she feeds Gatsby, that Daisy “ never loved him (Tom)”, is perfect for her to act out. It tells Gatsby exactly what he wants to hear, yet does not admit that she loves Gatsby, either; Gatsby only believing this since it has been his ambition for 5 years. Suckering others into “ her artificial world”, Daisy manages to never fully give herself to an idea, in case she changes her mind later on, as she does not know what she wants herself – acting selfishly and only for her own materialistic good, what would put her in the highest position (explaining why marrying Tom was partly due to “ unquestionable practicality), not caring about who she damages along the way. Of course, the prime example of this is the bleeding heart that is Gatsby, enduring a love so painful that will never come to bear fruit. Selfish characters that care more about their own future and success than others have been explored in literature throughout time, and are not limited to novels that are critiquing American society and the American dream. Catherine in Wuthering Heights, is immortalised as a woman who chooses wealth and success over a difficult life that is humbling and selfless, not choosing to marry Heathcliff due to his background and the difficulty that would come from this, mirroring that of Daisy not marrying Gatsby. However there is a key difference in that it is possible Daisy never loved Gatsby, her personality being very flippant and effervescent, while Gatsby clings onto the past as if his life depends upon it (building his entire persona around the hope the past can be recreated, which of course, it cannot). This can be summed up quite well within Chapter 7, after the death of Myrtle at the hand of Daisy. Gatsby takes the bullet for her very admirably, but also very foolishly. Daisy is quite nonplussed by the whole affair, having “ turned away… then turned back” at the incident, letting an innocent man suffer simply because he will, and she knows that he will. It is when we see this despicably vulgar side of Daisy that it becomes clear Fitzgerald wanted her to represent a distaste of something – and it is even clearer that this something is American society. Epitomising the uncaring upper class, Daisy moves through life taking advantage of people, acting dramatic simply for the sake of it, and being wasteful all for the benefit of self-preservation and happiness for herself, using her position to intimidate others as well as attract them to her. Daisy is allegorical of Fitzgerald’s distaste because gullible characters such as Gatsby easily fall for her façade, aiming to become everything she wants, when all she wants is what will benefit her the most – making it impossible in the process. It is the extremely selfish nature of Daisy, and the rest of the upper-class society in general that Fitzgerald aims to highlight in this novel, that their unfairness is causing the slow death of honesty and sincerity in the world. He also criticises the romanticised viewpoint the lower classes have of this society, attempting to imitate a high-class lifestyle (evident in the New-Yorkers such as Myrtle) that doesn’t exist. Fitzgerald wants to make clear that no one should aspire to be like Daisy, as she is wholly selfish and repugnant – making her the perfect allegory for his distaste, Daisy being everything that he finds wrong in society. Daisy appears at first a confusing character, able to change from coy, coquettish flirtation and stereotypically weak behaviour to sheer scorn at the flick of a switch. However, upon closer inspection it is obvious that neither of these is her true character, and that her self-spun web of deceit and lies only placed to further herself in society and better her own lifestyle require her to become an actress, please the right people, and equally destroy them at the most minor disturbance, or the most major, with no discern between the two – rejecting Gatsby once because he lacks the riches, and twice because she selfishly allows him to take the blame for the death of Myrtle, an act that sums up her character very succinctly. Fitzgerald has a clear distaste for American society, believing that it sets up the practice of the idealisation of a society which is fabricated by the upper class, the lower classes only fuelling this fabrication by working harder for those above them – believing that it will get them closer to the perfect life, when in actual fact all it does is supply those above them. Daisy serves as an allegory for this distaste: she dramatically goes around life, believing everything to be an “ absolute dream”, wanting her life “ shaped for her”, with no clear direction in what exactly she wants to be shaped at all, not even knowing how to do so (“ what do people plan?”). People such as Gatsby work constantly in order to achieve this life, hoping for some facet of happiness or fulfilment – only to be shot down, as the life they strive so hard for doesn’t even really exist, and that accessing the thing closest to it is nigh impossible. Daisy shows signs of being weak and fragile behind her highly practiced act, it is probably her own self-destruction that has caused this – she can hardly believe her own lifestyle (“ sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated!”), which has damaged her own beliefs in herself and those around her, taking on a very selfish and cynical viewpoint of the world. However it can be said with clear diction that her main purpose in The Great Gatsby is to demonstrate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s distaste for American society – pulling down those around her in order to fulfil her selfish needs, no matter the cost to others, Daisy is succinctly allegorical of Fitzgerald’s wider purpose of serving as a warning to those not in a high position like she is; the American dream is ultimately futile, and accessing it is impossible because those that are believed to have it don’t even have it, but only their created “ artificial world”, used to make those below them work harder to fuel their own selfish desires, so the rich get richer, forcing people such as Gatsby to aimlessley chase Daisy’s green light, “ the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us”, those like Daisy making sure “ tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther”, just like “ boats against the current” – the last few lines of the book summing up the intense venom Fitzgerald feels towards society, being epitomised by Daisy – everything about her gives off this vibe, and through literary analysis it is clear that her character symbolizes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s distaste for American society.