What image is presented of wealthy women when Daisy crumbles under the pressure from her husband?
In this episode we see Daisy coming to the painful realization that there is a flaw in her grand and self-exonerating belief that she can have everything she wants (and deserves it all too). Her crisis comes when she is made to face the fact that she cannot live two lives. No amount of privilege can afford that.
This scene can be argued to demonstrate Daisy’s hope to “have it all” as a privileged person capable of attaining true love in her affair with Gatsby without any real cost to her marriage and her sense of self. We can certainly see her trying to find a way to hang on to some sense of what was good about her marriage while pursuing a love affair with Gatsby too.
Importantly, we also see that as much as Daisy desires to “have it all,” her capacity to undo the past and believe in a new and perfect romance is not as strong as Gatsby’s. Daisy’s belief that you can change or re-live the past falters when Gatsby puts that belief to the test in this scene.
Forced to choose between her husband and her lover, Daisy tries to find some middle ground and maintain a compromise. Ultimately, she must take a side because neither Tom nor Gatsby is willing to compromise or relent. Yet, in choosing Tom, Daisy is making a positive choice about her life and her personal history. She is not necessarily giving in to anyone, but instead choosing herself by refusing to disavow the importance of years of her life.
So we can see Daisy being pushed and pulled between Gatsby and Tom in Chapter VII, but there is reason to question whether or not she crumbles or demonstrates a weakness of will, of character or of morale in this episode.
Both Tom and Gatsby make demands on Daisy in this scene. Gatsby shows that his romantic vision with Daisy at the center is an absolute one. He is bent on erasing the past in order to claim (or reclaim) a sort of visionary perfection. This is one way to explain why he insists that Daisy disavow her marriage, not only in the present moment of crisis, but in its entirety.
“’Daisy, that’s all over now.’ He said earnestly. “It doesn’t matter any more. Just tell him the truth -- that you never loved him -- and it’s all wiped out forever.’”
Daisy does cave in to this demand, but only momentarily. Soon she attempts to compromise.
“’I love you now - - isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began to sob helplessly. ‘I did love him once -- but I loved you too.’”
Prior to this climactic confrontation involving Tom, Daisy and Gatsby, we have already encountered Gatsby’s remarkable belief that the past can be erased and even replaced. He makes his view very clear in an exchange with Nick.
“You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
When Daisy fails to meet Gatsby on the rarefied plane of idealistic romantic philosophy, she is also asserting a connection to her past. She is unwilling or unable to agree that her past does not matter or does not count for anything. If Daisy is a seemingly uncaring mother, she still cares enough to say that there is meaning in having a child and being married to Tom. She cannot agree to her past being "wiped out forever."
In looking at this episode as evidence of Daisy crumbling, we should note the fact that there are two options posed to her. (The only way for her not to acquiesce to either Tom or Gatsby would be to choose to leave them both.) In yielding to Tom, Daisy is not necessarily crumbling but she is finally admitting that she cannot have her cake and eat it too. She cannot live a dream with Gatsby and stay connected to the reality that is married life with Tom. Her privilege only extends so far.
In this scene then, if we see Daisy as an exemplar of the wealthy woman, we might reasonably argue that despite her apparent shallowness and materialism, Daisy has a moral center that anchors her to a basic sense that her life is important. Wealth is not truly accountable for Gatsby’s ability to erase the past and to pursue the impossible. If wealth were the true agent for that ability, Daisy would leave Tom and marry Gatsby.
A fundamental fear of meaninglessness may keep Daisy attached to her husband, which is just another way to say that this wealthy woman wants the same things that everyone else wants. No amount of money can insulate her from a reliance on a coherent sense of identity. Only the rare dreamer, like Gatsby, can go beyond that reliance and clutch an impossible vision.
To return again to the specific question here, we might see Daisy in this episode coming to a realization about the limits of what she can possess. She cannot have her past and also wipe it out. She cannot have a life with both Tom and Gatsby. Broken off from Gatsby and his dream, she does shrink back into herself, but how should we see that shrinking? Is Daisy recognizing a smallness to her moral being? Is she hurting now because her relationship with Gatsby has come to an end and the vitality of that love affair is taken away? Is she discovering the same isolation and bitterness that she demonstrates when we meet her in the novel? And to what extent are any of these possibilities attributable to the men in her life?
In this instance, wealthy women are presented as being submissive to their husbands. In Chapter 7, Daisy is supposed to confess her love for Gatsby by telling Tom, her husband, that she never loved him. Gatsby begs her, "Just tell him the truth--that you never loved him--and it's all wiped out forever," and Daisy does say, "I never loved him," but then Tom reminds her of "that day I [Tom] carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry," and Daisy relents, saying, "I did love him once--but I loved you too." In this instance, it is clear that Daisy is easily influenced by the men in her life. At Gatsby's insistence, she renounces her love for Tom, and at Tom's insistence, she renounces her previous assertion. The degree to which she is controlled by both men is even more clear on the next page, where Gatsby asserts, "Daisy is leaving you [Tom]." Tom then exclaims, "She's not leaving me!" In this instance, Daisy is presented as a bystander with no say in a matter that directly pertains to her. Perhaps Daisy's situation is best summed up in one of the most famous quotes of the novel. In regard to the future of her daughter, Daisy states that she hopes "she'll be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Clearly, Daisy's domestic life has jaded her so greatly that she cannot hope anything for her daughter except that she be blind to the social pressures which accompany a life of wealth and the subservience required to maintain this lifestyle.