What is the significance of Jordan's lies?

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There is a definite sense of ennui permeating F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Nobody can be said to be entirely satisfied with his or her lot in life, and most of Fitzgerald’s characters are innately deceitful to one extent or another. Tom and Daisy ’s...

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There is a definite sense of ennui permeating F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Nobody can be said to be entirely satisfied with his or her lot in life, and most of Fitzgerald’s characters are innately deceitful to one extent or another. Tom and Daisy’s marriage is a sham; Nick is trying to be something he is not; Myrtle and Tom and engaged in a protracted extramarital affair, both cheating on their respective spouses; the titular character’s entire life is a lie. Jay Gatsby is really James Gatz from North Dakota, a nouveau riche resident of West Egg whose fortune, it will be revealed, was compiled through illicit activities. Jordan Baker, the professional golfer and representative of the 1920s jazz atmosphere in which The Great Gatsby takes place, is no different.

As with the novel’s narrator, the more down-to-earth Nick Carraway (whose own pretensions to East Coast elitism fall prey to the shallowness and hypocrisies he observes), Gatsby, and Daisy (born and raised in the decidedly unsophisticated Southern city of Louisville, Kentucky), Jordan is also a transplant from the midwest. While she purports to be a modern-day success story, her rise to stardom and wealth owe a great deal to her own duplicity.

It is in chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby that the reader is provided pertinent background information on Jordan Baker. Nick initially meets Jordan early in the novel, in the opening chapter, when he first visits Tom and Daisy’s mansion. In that initial meeting, Nick observes the formal, almost defensive and superficial manner in which Jordan postures.

In chapter 3, Fitzgerald’s narrator fills in important gaps in her background, most importantly the extent to which Jordan’s life has been characterized by deceit. Nick notes that Jordan had once left a borrowed car “out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it.” More significantly, Jordan’s reputation in professional sports had been tarnished by allegations of having cheated during a golf tournament. Repeating his observation from that earlier chapter, Nick observes in Jordan an innately false character, suggesting that “the bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something” and then commenting that Jordan was “incurably dishonest,” unable “to endure being at a disadvantage.”

Within the context of Fitzgerald’s novel, Jordan Baker’s dishonesty is hardly unique. As noted, each of the main characters harbors some darkness from their past or some desire to begin life anew, whether it was Gatz/Gatsby’s creation of a false persona for the purpose of attaining Daisy’s affection, Daisy’s efforts at presenting something of a façade of normality despite her husband’s infidelity, or Nick’s efforts at assimilating into the New York/Long Island milieu despite his midwestern background. Jordan lies because she is an inherently dishonest person—evident from the golf episode—and because her carefully-created persona requires, to paraphrase Winston Churchill in a very different context, a "bodyguard of lies" to survive. The significance of Jordan’s lies is minimized by virtue of the environment in which she operates. Everybody lies.

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Jordan might be seen as the hard-hearted liberated young woman, as opposed to Daisy representing the more naive-appearing young woman in Fitzgerald's portrayal of the Lost Generation. Jordan plotted and lied and used people as she needed to accomplish her personal goals and pleasures.

She was incurably dishonest. She wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world...

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald endeavored to highlight the lack of moral character and personal responsibility he saw in much of well-to-do American society of the 1920s. Jordan's lies, big and small, come easily and often; they help to support Fitzgerald's picture of immoral attitudes and lifestyles.

 

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