In The Great Gatsby, why do Jay Gatsby and Daisy wear masks? What is the toll for their concealment of identity?
Jay Gatsby becomes an archetypal image as he recreates himself in the pursuit of Daisy; he is, as one critic phrases it, "the platonic conception of himself." For, he feels that he must re-invent himself in order to recapture the woman who married for a pearl necklace worth $350,000. So, he "gilds" himself with a house that looks like a Norman hôtel de ville, gold-plated bathrooms, a car that is the color of spun gold with windshields that "mirrored a dozen suns" in its golden glow. His mask is made in this acquisition of wealth, a self-made man who has achieved financial success in his life, a man who has achieved the American Dream. With the mask of financial success and prestige as "an Oxford man," Gatsby feels he can qualify to pursue Daisy, whose pier's green light beckons him, and whose voice "that sounds like money" should be lured to his possessions.
In her rue for having been purchased by Tom Buchanan for a string of magnificent pearls, Daisy introduces her little daughter and expresses her wish that the girl will be a fool. She says that when she came out of the ether after her daughter was born, she turned her head and declared,
"I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool – that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Dissatisfied with her life that is but a lie, Daisy wears a mask of flirtation, frivolity and shallowness. With a voice that "sounds like money," as Gatsby observes, along with the white car of her youth, and later with her great white mansion, her white dresses, white sofa, and curtains, Daisy seduces him in an "absolute rose" of a vision of social status, glamour, prestige, and herself.
But, as Robert Frost wrote, "Nothing gold can stay"; the illusions created by Gatsby and by Daisy do not last. For, the gold in The Great Gatsby symbolizes the sell out of idealism. And, after running over Myrtle Wilson, Daisy is reduced to being one of the "careless people" who ruin the lives of others and then go on their way, while Jay Gatsby learns "how grotesque a rose is," how distorted his dream of materialism has been, and he is left outside the Buchanans' window, "standing there in the moonlight--watching over nothing."
Jay Gatsby wears the mask of an affluent, educated member of the upper class. Gatsby holds magnificent parties and lives in an ostentatious mansion in the West Egg. He wears the mask of an aristocrat to attract Daisy, who hails from a wealthy family. However, Gatsby attains his wealth by becoming a bootlegger and ends up corrupting his soul and losing his identity. Gatsby's pursuit of the American Dream is in vain because he compromises his morals and dies a lonely man.
Daisy wears the mask of perfection, prestige, and happiness throughout the novel. Her beauty is only skin-deep, and she is portrayed as a superficial, callous individual. Similar to her husband, Daisy wishes for people to perceive her as a happy, attractive person with access to anything she wants. Despite Daisy's material wealth and physical beauty, she is unhappily married to an immoral man and cannot truly appreciate genuine people. Similar to Jay Gatsby, Daisy is corrupted by her extreme wealth and continues to live an unfulfilling life with Tom in order to remain financially secure.