One topic in which feminism and psychoanalysis align well is female sexuality. An important point in feminism is the study of how men sexualize women, as well as how authentic female sexuality can be expressed. A main focus of psychoanalysis is how human sexuality shapes our mental state, and how...
One topic in which feminism and psychoanalysis align well is female sexuality. An important point in feminism is the study of how men sexualize women, as well as how authentic female sexuality can be expressed. A main focus of psychoanalysis is how human sexuality shapes our mental state, and how we express sexual desires, even when repressed.
Psychoanalysis analyzes how descriptions of seemingly common, non-sexual situations are embedded with symbolic sexual subtext, which reveals repressed desires. The following quote is a great example of that, especially in regards to women:
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.
This quote reveals Nick Carraway's views of female sexuality, and feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives are both necessary to fully understand it. The women's white dresses and the overall description of lightness/airiness (references to balloons, rippling, fluttering, etc.) in the first two sentences can be seen as a symbolic of purity and youth. This can be read as a desire Nick has for young women. The next sentence, however, breaks this sense of lightness with references to noises of “whip and snap” and “groan.” This is both heavier/more oppressive in nature and more overtly sexual; a “groan” is often associated with sexual noises, and “whip and snap” could even denote a desire for sexual dominance. This can be read as a desire by Nick to dominate young women, an important point in both feminism and psychoanalysis.
A scene from one of Gatsby's parties also presents a quote with many layers to which we can apply psychoanalysis and feminism:
Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek.
To start, we have Daisy and Nick participating in voyeurism, however mundane it may seem. This can be seen as symbolic of female sexuality in both psychoanalysis and feminism as Daisy is participating in this activity. They watch what the language intimates is an intimate moment between a woman and man, yet there is certainly repression (a key point of psychoanalysis) here; they are touching “except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between,” and the director has been slowly moving toward her all night. The “ultimate degree” that he reaches is kissing her on the cheek. From a psychoanalytic perspective, that such mundane, even childish, physical contact is built up to such a degree is a clear indication of sexual repression not considered healthy (aka stunted) in adults. Building on this with a feminist perspective, we could read it as a stunted man in a position of power (as the star's employer – the director) sexually harassing a female employee at a tense and excruciatingly drawn-out pace, which brings attention to the problems women suffer due to being sexualized.
While reading The Great Gatsby, look out for any quotes that allude to female sexuality or the sexualization of women; they will most likely present opportunities for both psychoanalytic and feminist analysis.