In The Great Gatsby, the character Jay Gatsby’s only real goal in life is to win back the only girl he ever loved, Daisy. He and Daisy had been involved with each other when they were younger, but she was a wealthy child of privilege and he was an uneducated son of a poor man. Jay went off to make his fortune to make Daisy love him and eventually went off to fight in the war. Although Daisy had indicated she would wait for him, she is already married to Tom Buchanan when Gatsby returns from the war and is enjoying being the wife of a very wealthy man. Because she has always been a child of privilege, Gatsby reasons that the best way to win her back is to be rich and to have flashier things than those of her husband. She lives across the bay from Gatsby in a largely white mansion that is relatively quiet most of the time as compared to the wild parties Gatsby throws each weekend. She is thus the driving force of the action as everything Gatsby does is an effort to get her attention and everything that happens in the novel is centered upon what she likes or what she does.
The relationship Daisy shares with Jay Gatsby, as discussed above, is perhaps the most complicated relationship in the story, having a past as well as a present. Although he is unsuccessful in working up her curiosity enough to come over, he is fortunate enough to meet his new neighbor, Nick, who is Daisy’s cousin and who brings the two back into contact. Daisy flirts with the idea of returning to Gatsby, especially considering that her husband, Tom, seems to have found another woman to love, but quickly returns to Tom when she realizes he’s the only one that can save her from the murder charges she’d likely face without his interference. While she puts on a great show of loving her daughter, she shares a very distant relationship with the child. There are hints that this is because of the heartbreak she experiences every time she realizes the position in society that her daughter will grow to inherit – a pampered bird in an expensive cage for as long as she can manage to retain the attention of the man she’s been married off to. In this and many other ways, Daisy provides hints that she is not really as selfish and shallow as she appears but is instead trapped within this same world of expectations and doing her best to smother her inner inclinations.
In the character of Daisy, Fitzgerald reveals the innocence of America as well as its fickle, inconsistent nature that changes as quickly as the views of those around her change. When Daisy first appears in the novel, she does so in a flowing white dress, such that the reader sees a clean slate, a blank canvas, and a picture of innocence, but she floats around without any kind of substance, meaning, or purpose. This concept is related to America of the 1920s in that its innocent goals for the pursuit of happiness, individuality, and discovery had been overtaken by the winds of materialism and a shift of values to the decadent display of wealth. Although America was still there, it was no longer colored with individual thought, a drive for discovery, or pursuit of happiness. Yet Daisy is seen as the perfect example of the American high society ideal because she has everything but she cannot remain dedicated to anything. This changeable nature, always shifting with the most prevalent, loudest voice, is the way in which America is seen to operate in these post-war years, no longer standing true to her ideals but instead shifting and changing any way the money blows. The light at the end of Daisy’s East Egg pier reflects the American dream, always just out of reach, always a little brighter than reality, and always a little different from what one might have been expecting. The symbol of Daisy for the changing nature of American ideals is just one element of how Fitzgerald communicates his message.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.