What is the role of women in 'The Great Gatsby'?

Several copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby,’ featuring characters from a film adaptation on the book’s cover.

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Key Question

What is the role of women in The Great Gatsby? Below, we’ll review the role of women in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and introduce three of the novel’s main female characters: Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle.

Historical Context

The Great Gatsby is filled with characters who appear to be larger-than-life, living the American Dream in the Jazz Age of the 1920s. The 1920s was also a period of increased freedom for women, as young women of this generation distanced themselves from more traditional values. However, in the novel, we don’t hear from the female characters themselves—instead, we primarily learn about the women from how they are described by the two main male characters, Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway. Read on to learn about the main female characters in The Great Gatsby. 

Daisy Buchanan

The female character we usually think of in The Great Gatsby is Daisy. Daisy, Nick’s cousin, lives in affluent East Egg with her husband, Tom, and their young daughter. Daisy is mentioned by Nick here: "Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and I'd known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago." Daisy appears almost removed, as an after-thought, of an importance only as the wife to Tom. Later, we learn that Daisy was previously in a romantic relationship with Jay Gatsby, and that many of Gatsby’s actions have been designed as a strategy to win over Daisy.

In the novel, the male characters find Daisy’s voice to be one of her most remarkable and notable features. According to Nick: "I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered 'Listen,' a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour."

As the novel progresses we learn that Daisy is the reason that Jay Gatsby has built up his opulent, lavish lifestyle. She's the reason, the hope-for-a-future that makes him dare to dream, and even dare to reinvent himself (from the small-town farm boy to the successful Jay Gatsby).

Jordan Baker

Jordan Baker is a close friend of Daisy from childhood. We learn that Jordan is a relatively well-known golfer, as Nick recalls having seen her picture and having heard of her before meeting her: “I knew now why her face was familiar—its pleasing contemptuous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. I had heard some story of her too, a critical, unpleasant story, but what it was I had forgotten long ago.”

Jordan and Nick meet at a dinner at the Buchanans’ house. When the two meet, Daisy speaks of setting up a relationship between the two of them, and later they do indeed begin dating.

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle Wilson is Tom Buchanan’s mistress, who Nick describes as vibrant and charismatic. When Nick first meets her, he describes her as follows: “Her face… contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering.” Myrtle is married to George Wilson, who runs an auto shop in a working-class area outside of New York City.

Narration in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is told from the perspective of Nick, whom many scholars have considered to be an unreliable narrator. In other words, Nick’s way of reporting on people and events in the novel may be biased, and an “objective” reporting of what really happened in the novel (or an objective description of the female characters in the novel) could potentially look different from how Nick has described the situation.

Study Guide

For more resources on The Great Gatsby, review our study guide below:

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Your Citation
Lombardi, Esther. "What is the role of women in 'The Great Gatsby'?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/women-in-the-great-gatsby-739958. Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 28). What is the role of women in 'The Great Gatsby'? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-in-the-great-gatsby-739958 Lombardi, Esther. "What is the role of women in 'The Great Gatsby'?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-in-the-great-gatsby-739958 (accessed March 23, 2023).