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Simone de Beauvoir’s Eternal Feminine in The Great Gatsby

Feminist authors have tried to deconstruct the female myths that provide women with a hypothetically feminine nature for nurturing and caring. Simone de Beauvoir analyses the female images spread by the patriarchal society and presents the idea of the Eternal Feminine in her book The Second Sex (1949). This concept represents a series of traditions, conventions, images, or beliefs linked to many customs and social practices regarding the essence of a woman. According to Beauvoir, not only was the Eternal Feminine a patriarchal construction but a source for opposed concepts or dichotomies. The Eternal Feminine presents the woman as an idyllic image or a dark power; she is either the hunter o the prey; she is every man's desire or a sin, and she is a pure creature or a sinful liar. She is the embodiment of Nature as a mother or a nurturer, but she also symbolizes sexual desire (Degeyter, 2015).

Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby adheres to the proposed canon of femininity of the Eternal Feminine, which is best represented by the female character Daisy Fay Buchanan. As the plot unfolds, all the scenes in which she appears illustrate her paradoxical personality: from being idealized to being considered a cruel murderer resigned to a loveless marriage in exchange for peacefulness and social status. Fitzgerald represented the anxiety that overwhelmed the society of his time due to the apparition of the New Woman. A new female image had appeared, and it threatened to surpass the conception of the traditional woman. This modern female identity would change female presence in the public space. For the first time, their access to education, the political field, and the workplace was a reality that menaced to take over the conservative society (Zeven & Dorst, 2020).

Fitzgerald also felt the tensions of his time and represented them in his novel distorting the reputation of the New Woman that only tried to escape the repressive social conventions imposed on them. As the new tendencies became part of the cultural mainstream, the conservative society met them with increasing disregard and struggle (Zeven & Dorst, 2020). The Great Gatsby was one of the books representing those tendencies and put forward Daisy Buchanan as a new image of the Eternal Feminine to stop the progress of the New Woman narrative (Degeyter, 2015).

Jordan Baker, Daisy, and Nick Carraway in the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

First of all, Daisy is considered an idol, especially for Gatsby. He builds his empire for a future with that girl from whom he was separated in his youth. Daisy becomes the source of life for Gatsby because he sees her as his main goal in life. She is the reason why he has flourished in life although Gatsby only thinks of her as his love rather than a real human being. He creates a myth that surrounds not only Daisy but himself (Zeven & Dorst, 2020). He has acquired the status of divinity for all those who know him, but in fact, still is the poor young boy wanting to marry the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. He accomplishes the hero’s journey in pursuit of his grand finale. According to Beauvoir’s Eternal Feminine, the female personality remains bound to the man’s personality since he aspires to become his best self to possess the desired object (Degeyter, 2015). Daisy represents the idealized love she once inspired in Gatsby and, therefore, his profound longing is closely linked to the past. The hero’s journey is paradoxical since he aspires to improve his present and future to return to the past (Morgan, 2014).

Secondly, Daisy is unreachable and an illusion since she symbolizes purity, beauty, and kindness to the utmost extent. Her characterization is also full of illusory features indicating happiness, such as her big bright eyes or her sweetness and vitality. Daisy represents an unattainable and not fully graspable persona, which exacerbates her illusory characteristics and the attraction of the male characters. Gatsby’s realization that Daisy does not love him in the way he does is the ultimate evidence of her ineffable personality (Degeyter, 2015). Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, struggles to perceive what is so satisfying and elusive about Daisy’s personality. He cannot completely understand Daisy’s power over Gatsby and why his friend is willing to sacrifice himself for her. Nick intuitively senses her attractiveness although he is never sure about it because he doubts his senses (Morgan, 2014).

Daisy and Gatsby in the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Even, Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, realizes that he will never understand and grasp the enigma that she represents. Tom is a character that represents old masculinity based on his power over his peers, his lover Myrtle and Daisy. When he realizes Daisy was not as innocent as he first thought he feels like his world falls apart. As Beauvoir’s Eternal Feminine states, women can either be the source of life or death. For Fitzgerald, Daisy is both a perfect illusion and a menace to male nature since she unwillingly led them to tragic destinies (Degeyter, 2015).

Thirdly, Daisy represents a possession, especially for her husband Tom. Gatsby incarnates a tragic hero who cannot accomplish his goal since social structures are much more solid than he first thought. Daisy embodies a woman obstructed in a world of appearances and social merits where honesty and kindness do not have a place (Zeven & Dorst, 2020). Her destiny always was bound to marry a man of the upper class renouncing her freedom and will. Despite all her suffering, Daisy symbolizes a possession and will never abandon her fate since those were the values she was brought up with. She remains silent and passive under the social arrangements because she depends on men to protect her (Degeyter, 2015).

Daisy and Gatsby in the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

In conclusion, a few decades after The Second Sex, The Great Gatsby appropriates her conception of the Eternal Feminine and assimilates the notion into the literary realm. Fitzgerald witnesses the transformation of the society and how the changes will subvert traditional conventions and customs. Therefore, he expresses the collective anxiety that his society feels about the personal and professional development of women. The New Woman built a new identity for female nature that had always been determined by social standards leaving women obstructed by patriarchal schemes. For that reason, Fitzgerald decides to base Daisy on the concept of traditional femininity, that is, the Eternal Feminine. Daisy’s dichotomous character has always been portrayed negatively because of her role in Gatsby’s final destiny. She is the modern version of Eve who caused Adam’s downfall.

Bibliographical references

de Beauvoir, S. (1976). Le deuxième sexe. Gallimard. Degeyter, H.E. (2015). Beyond Woman, Mystery, and Myth: A Study of Daisy Fay Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Fitzgerald, S. (1999). The Great Gatsby. Penguin Books. Morgan, T. (2014). Sentimentalizing Daisy for the Screen. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review, 12(1), 13–31. Zeven, K. & Dorst, A. G. (2020). A beautiful little fool? Retranslating Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Perspectives, Studies in Translatology, 29(5), 661–675.

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Ana Isabel Bugeda Díaz

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