Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!
Daisy Buchanan from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby says she wishes her daughter will be a “beautiful little fool.” Is Daisy herself nothing but a fool or is she trapped by her society?
I’ll be the first to admit that I have never been a fan of The Great Gatsby, and part of the reason is that my initial impression of most of the characters is that they are quite frivolous, quite ridiculous–annoying rich people with, for lack of a better term, “first world problems.” Daisy Buchanan highlights this, with her obsession with material objects and making sure other people like her. However, I realize that’s somewhat of a superficial reading, and the more I reflect, the more I see Daisy as belonging to a long line of literary women playing up their “feminine wiles” because they see that as their one path to some sovereignty over their lives.
Yes, Daisy is beautiful and often foolish. She’s said to have a charming little laugh and accused of doing silly things like talking softly so you have to lean closer to hear her. When we first meet her, we see her through Nick’s eyes as an ethereal young creature whose laugh is contagious and who has “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.” She’s all frills and charming little nothings. However, this is the scene where we also see her husband Tom be completely dismissive of her. She asks Nick to see their baby, and Tom immediately wades in and changes the subject; the conversation is to be about him and supposedly more interesting/important things (than, you know, his family). Daisy is constantly pushed aside throughout the novel and has little recourse to do anything about it beyond trying to be so attractive and engaging and likable that perhaps people will want to be kind to her.
When Daisy says she wants her daughter to be a “beautiful little fool,” I think she says so with the recognition that, for women, beauty is often power. Men like beautiful women. Men do things for beautiful women. Men marry and care for beautiful women. And, well, if you’re a fool perhaps men will find that endearing and innocuous, and you’ll be silly enough to be happy with what you have. Wanting more, having ambition or intelligence, could just make you unhappy if you have no real way to get more. I don’t know that Daisy is entirely correct about women’s situation at the period, but her opinion is based on her personal experience, where she does feel trapped and can’t find herself a way out.
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