FemaleAntagonists in theGreat Gatsbyand aThousand Splendid Suns
“ByGod, I may be old-fashionedin my ideasbutwomenrunaroundtoomuchthesedaysto suitme” Discuss thisstatementwith referenceto thepresentationof themainfemaleprotagonistsin your coretext,theGreat Gatsby,andconsiderto whatextentthisviewcould similarlybeappliedto your partnertext,aThousand Splendid Suns.
Femaleantagonists in theGreat Gatsbyand aThousand Splendid Suns
Awoman’sbehavioranda man’sperceptionof ithavealwaysbeenan importantandprominentpartof society,buthavealsobeendefinedby thesocialexpectations of thatsociety.Scott Fitzgerald (2004) exploresthedifferenttypesof womenof the1920’sthrough his mainfemaleprotagonistsin his compelling novel,The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald makeswomen`sinferiorityof theperiodevident,through themainmaleantagonist’sopinionsof womenbeingtooindependent‘to suit’them. Thislanguageconveystheself-appointedpositionof ultimateauthorityof his household.ThiswasPost-World War I, whenpeoplewereembracinglife,anditbecameknownas ‘theroaring twenties Jazz Age’. During thistime,womenbecamemorepromiscuous,their hairanddressesgotshorter,andworefashionsthat promotedmorevisibleflesh.Theywerestartedrebellingagainst their parentsby choosingtheir ownspousesanddatingmenfreelyandindiscriminately. Womenstartedbreakingfreefrom domesticity, becamestrongerandmoreindependent.In Scott womenweretakingmorefreedomto ‘runaround’, typifiedin thecharactersof Jordan Baker andMyrtle Wilson.
Thesocialenvironmentis differentin Khaled Hosseini’s novelA Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini’s novelis setin Afghanistan, whensocietywasunder theharshandauthoritarianruleof theTaliban. Therolesandbehaviourof womenaredefinedthrough Islamic lawsandculturalcustoms.However,theyare obligatedto comply without resistance,similarto womenin the1920’s as presentedby Fitzgerald (2004). Womenin bothculturalsettingsarestillvictimizedby thepowerof their societyandthesocial-hierarchal positionof theman.Themainfemaleprotagonists’lifestyles wererestrictedby socialexpectation.
DaisyBuchanan, one of thecharactersin theGreat Gatsby, is innocentandchildlike,yet verymanipulative. Her voiceisoftendescribedas her wayof luringpeople.Fitzgerald (2004) presentsDaisy through Nick’s narration.Fitzgerald statesthatan excitementin Daisy’s voicemakesitdifficultto forget.Nickalsodescribeditas a ‘singingcompulsion’,knownfordrawingsailorsin, whoconsequently losetheir lives.Sheis portrayedalmostlike a mythicalcreaturewith a siren,luringpeoplein onlyto causeharm.During thechangeof theJazz Age, Nick believesthatwomenare as magneticas theyare selfish.Shehas an artificialhappinessandshetakesout her frustrationon her husbandTom by mockingandmakingimmaturecomments.ThisisconfirmedwhensheprovokesTom after heclearlystateshis dislikeforthewordhulking.Daisy provokeshim through her incessantuseof theword‘hulking’as soonas heexplicitly statesthathedislikestheword.Thisportraysher attentionseekingmanner,immaturenature,her lackof fulfillment,andboredom.
ItisimpliedthatDaisy onlymarriedTom forpracticality’s sakeandsocialexpectations. Fitzgerald (2004) hintsat Daisy’s indifferencetowards her marriageto Tom through Jordan Baker’s descriptionof her being‘as drunkas a monkey’at her wedding.ThisisfurtherfueledwhenJordan explainsthatDaisy would not letgoof theletterfrom Gatsby and‘squeezeditup in a wetball’.Daisy’s strengthis apparentwhenshemarriesTom Buchanan. Daisy representstheold-fashion women,whoare constrainedby traditionalpractices.Thisisconfirmedby thefactthatDaisy has noauthorityto questionthemisconductof her husband,unlike thetransformed womenof the1920s.
UponNick’s reunionwith his cousinandfirstencounterwith Jordan Baker, Daisy’s innocenceis portrayedthrough his descriptionof thepair‘in white andtheir dressesripplingandfluttering’.Fitzgerald intimatesthateachtimeshetriedto floattowards betterthings,her anchor,Tom, bringsher backdown.Weseethisthrough Fitzgerald repetitionof theimplicationsof Daisy beingweigheddown.Fitzgerald statesthatthetwo youngwomenarebeingbuoyed up as thoughtheyareupon an anchored balloon.Daisy isdescribedas beingdelicateandfragile,which coincideswith her name.
Daisyhas noindependenceanddoesnot getaffectionfrom her husband.Thisleadsher toa manipulative behavioras sheconstantlylongsfortheaffectionsheisdeprivedof.ThisbecomesapparentwhensheasksNick, ‘dotheymissme?’Daisy masksherself superficiallyfrom her husband’sunfaithfulbehavior.Thisissuggestedbythedescriptionof her face,which was‘sadandlovelywith brightthingsin it’.Thisoxymoron that Fitzgerald has presentedimpliesthatthere is somelightnessanda sparkto Daisybuther lifestyle restrictsher. Thisideais alsoreinforcedthrough Nick’s descriptionof Daisy, statingthather voiceis fullof money.Daisy’sactof maskingherself indicatethatsheis not satisfiedwith thekindof lifethat sheis leading,andthecustomsheldby her societyforceher to persevereandcondoneher husbandwithout rebukinghim.
Daisyadmiresthefreedomof Jordan Baker, who,in Fitzgerald’s novelrepresentsthechangingstyleandbehaviourof womenof thetime,andwhowere‘as magneticas theywereselfish’.Sheis an unmarried,financially independentsportswoman,with a nonchalantattitudeanda senseof self-importance. Sheis dishonestas wefindout whenNick statesthatsheis ‘incurably dishonest’,intimatingthather golfing successmay be a falserepresentationof her talent.
Duringtheir initialmeeting,Nick noticesJordan has ‘her chinraiseda little’.Thissuggestsher superiorityandcontrol.Fitzgerald presentsher intimidating exteriorthrough Nick describinghis feelingsof beingalmostsurprisedinto apologizing forhavinginterruptedherby comingin.Her independencesupportsthegrowingperceptionof thetimethatwomen’sbehaviorwasnot ‘suiting’the‘old-fashionedideas’of their malecounterpartsandoldergenerations.Moreevidenceisfoundin anotherlessercharacter,Myrtle, a womanwhois boldenoughto involveherselfwith a marriedmanabove her socialstanding.Thisagaintypifiestheemergenceof a moreindependentfemale,makingchoicesthat werebecomingmorecharacteristicof thetime.
Thesocialevolutionevidentin the1920’s settingof The Great Gatsby didnot happenpeacefully.Menandoldergenerationsfeltthatitwasprovocativeandinappropriateforwomento be dancingfreelyandindependentlywithout theapprovalandthecompanyof their husbands.Thisis wherethemanof thehousewould usehis powerover his wifeto controlher. Forexample,Daisy andTom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby whereDaisy hasnopowertoconfronther husbandandcondemnhis misconducts.Tom andDaisy’s marriageis an unhappyone.Tom Buchanan is a hedonistwith nomorals. Tom isa manwhoreachessuch an acuteexcellenceat twenty-one thateverything afterwardsavoursof anti-climax. Tom leadsan unfulfilled andemptylife,tryingto findexcitementandpleasure.Thisconsequently leadshim towards his mistress,Myrtle, his marriedmiddle-classmistress,andbeingunfaithfulto his wife.
Certainsimilaritiesare evidentamong womenrepresentedin theGreat Gatsby andMariam’s mother,Nana in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Nana is an unmarriedmother,raisingher daughterMariam to remainindependentfrom allmenanddiscouragingher closerelationshipwith her fatherJalil.Nana doesthiswith theobjectiveof helpingher daughteravoidbeingletdown andhurtby her father’smanipulative anddeceiving ways.Her independenceof thoughtis not at alltypicalof womenof her culture.There is noobviousperceptionthatthefemalerolein societyis changingin anyway,butindependentthoughtfrom maleoppressionare demonstratedby thisimportantfemalecharacter.
Thesocialexpectation of a manof Tom’s standingin thesocialhierarchyof the1920’s is to leavehis wifeto her domesticresponsibilities,whilehegoesout to rebelagainst prohibitionby gamblinganddrinking.Tom liveshis lifeaccordinglyandbelieveshis masculinepresenceanddominance, both physicallyandpsychologically, to be a rightof passageto be an aggressive,violent,andcontrollinghusband.Itis evidentthatTom ‘resortsto childishpetulanceandprimal violenceto expresshis frustration’whenhelashesout at his mistress,Myrtle andbreaksher noseas a resultof his viciousoutburstof uncontrolledanger.Theantagonistsof bothnovels,Rasheed andTom Buchanan, both takeout their angerandplaceblameon thewomenin their lives.Itis apparentthatin bothculturesandtimeperiods,like theneedle of acompassthat pointsnorth,a man’sfingerwillalwaysfindawoman’.
Similarto antagonistin The Great Gatsby, thenovelA Thousand Splendid Suns presentsRasheed as a manwhouseshis positionin societyto controlandintimidatehis wives,Mariam andLaila. Heabusesthem physically,verbally,andtakesadvantageof their vulnerability. Mariam as a childis similarto Daisy. Sheis naïve, innocent,andeasilyinfluencedby thosewhocontrolher, butstillhas her opinionthather Nana is wrong.In thesamewaythat Daisy followsTom obediently,yetsilentlyhas her repressed opinionsandideas.Daisy is enviousof Jordan Baker andher freedombecausesheistrappedin her hollowandunfulfilling lifestyle. Similarly,Mariam andLaila, in A Thousand Splendid Suns, ‘cannotescapetheir circumstances’andhave‘their humanityoverlooked’,yet displaysilentstrengthof character.Thethree womenhaveenduredpainandheartache,buthavelearnedto perseverethrough it,by pullingtogetherthestrengthto carryon silently.
Someof thefemalecharactersin Fitzgerald’s novel,The Great Gatsby andHosseini’s novel,A Thousand Splendid Suns displayovertbehaviourandcharacteristicsthat are typicalof thetime.Their malecounterpartswould findthesebehaviorsto be challenging andwould not ‘suit’them. Thisis moreobviousin The Great Gatsby, as typifiedby Myrtle Baker andher ‘runningaround’,than in A Thousand Splendid Suns, wheretheindependentthinkingof Nana is presentbutnot openlyobvious,andnot an overtthreatto maleoppression.Thecharactersof Mariam, Laila, andDaisy, stillexhibitsubmissivebehaviortypicalof their societies,butinwardlyandsilentlyyearnformore,in thehopethattheywill not remain‘victimsof thepowergamesof men’.
Fitzgerald,S. (2004). TheGreat Gatsby.New York, NY: Scribner.
Hosseini,K. (2008). AThousand Splendid Suns.New York, NY: Riverhead Books.