In The Great Gatsby, how are Daisy and Myrtle trapped in their roles in society?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Daisy and Myrtle live in a time in American society when women generally did not live independent lives, and their relationships with men were of primary importance. Marriage was their most common "occupation," the means to achieve status and financial security. Daisy and Myrtle each married believing their husbands would support them. Tom Buchanan, of course, supported Daisy in a fabulously wealthy lifestyle, but Myrtle soon realized that George was so poor he had to borrow the suit in which he was married. From their situations an odd irony develops: Daisy becomes trapped by wealth, whereas Myrtle becomes trapped by poverty.

Daisy's marriage to Tom is filled with his neglect and humiliating infidelity, making her quite bitter, but it does not occur to her to simply walk away. Daisy had no experience taking responsibility for her own life. She had lived in her father's fine house until marrying Tom and his money, and the one time she had tried to act independently, vowing to leave home and go find Gatsby who had gone off to war, her efforts are quickly squelched by her family. Daisy tells Nick that when her daughter was born, she hoped the little girl would be "a beautiful little fool," thus expressing her own views on the role of women in her society. Deeply unhappy in her marriage and quite bored with her purposeless life of privilege, Daisy begins her illicit summer affair with Gatsby, but when pressed to choose between her husband and her lover, she will not leave Tom; she will not abandon the wealthy lifestyle, financial security, and social status he provides.

Like Daisy, Myrtle attaches herself to men to make a life, first in marrying George Wilson and later in becoming Tom's mistress. Also like Daisy, Myrtle has no education or skills to employ in supporting herself, and the idea of living independently never occurs to her. Trapped in a miserable marriage and living in poverty above George's garage, Myrtle sees Tom as her ticket to the life she has dreamed of, one of wealth and glamour. She clings to the notion that Tom will marry her, but Myrtle's role in his life will never be more than it always has been. She is a woman born into the lower class and, like Gatsby, can never belong in Tom's social circles.

Although their lifestyles are polar opposites, Myrtle and Daisy are both trapped in their social roles as their lives revolve around Tom Buchanan. Neither woman has the strength and integrity to break free and create an independent life, nor does traditional society encourage such thinking and behavior.

 

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