Last Updated on September 13, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784
Extended Character Analysis
Daisy is a “golden girl,” born with money, beauty, and status. All throughout her life, her beauty and wealth have made men covet her, and she has honed her charms well. However, despite her advantages, Daisy appears to be an unhappy cynic, married to an unfaithful husband and left hoping that her daughter will be a “beautiful fool,” as she once was.
Daisy is a flawed person. She cheats on her husband with Gatsby, kills Myrtle with her reckless driving, and then allows Gatsby to take the blame for it. She is materialistic, self-absorbed, and careless. She looks down on the West Egg nouveau riche with an elitist sneer. However, she also shows moments of genuine depth and insight that make it hard to classify her as a mindless villain. Throughout the novel, Daisy is treated like a prize to be won by both Gatsby and Tom. She is Tom’s trophy wife, his rich, beautiful southern belle whom he makes no secret about cheating on. She is Gatsby’s dream girl—or rather, the person she was five years ago is Gatsby’s dream girl. Either way, Daisy is less a person than a commodity.
Daisy’s decision to stay with Tom makes her a villain in Nick’s eyes, and it leaves the impression that she never loved Gatsby to begin with. However, Daisy’s actions can be read in different ways. By one reading, Daisy is every bit the materialistic, selfish person that she is made out to be. Her relationship with Gatsby is a novelty and possibly even a way to get back at her philandering husband. Gatsby’s wealth impresses her, but ultimately Gatsby is green money, new and untested. Tom, by contrast, is the gold standard, established and secure. By this reading, her decision to return to Tom is purely mercenary: he can give her the more secure future, and their marriage conforms to societal expectations.
By another reading, Daisy views Gatsby as a fantasy to indulge in. He is the hardworking man of humble origins who swept her off her feet when she was eighteen and amassed a fortune solely for the purpose of being worthy of her. Unlike her philandering husband, Gatsby has only ever had eyes for Daisy. However, Gatsby’s dreams are not Daisy’s reality. She is a married woman with a daughter and a life that, for five years, she has built without him. When he resurfaces, Daisy is just as eager as he is to escape back into the past and relive her “white youth.” However, for Daisy, it is only ever a fantasy. When her comfort and stability are put at risk, she retreats back into the safety of her marriage to Tom, refusing to sacrifice her life, imperfect as it is, for a shaky dream.
By a different interpretation, Daisy really does love Gatsby. In a world that expects her to be a “beautiful fool” decorating the arm of a wealthy man, Gatsby offers her something genuine and authentic. By this reading, Daisy sees the same thing in Gatsby that Nick does: a dream to believe in. She writes to him while he is stationed abroad and genuinely mourns his absence. However, unlike Gatsby, she moves on. As a woman, she knows that her beauty and charms will not last forever. Thus when the great love of her youth returns five years later, she is unhappily married to a philanderer. However, it rapidly becomes clear that Gatsby cannot see her as she now is. He is still stuck five years in the past, unable to accept that Daisy has changed. When Gatsby asks her to disavow having ever loved Tom, she cannot. By asking her to go against her convictions and lie, Gatsby makes the same mistake as Tom, treating Daisy as an ideal or symbol rather than a nuanced human being.
Daisy is a deceptively complex character. Filtered through Gatsby’s lens, she is the ideal of womanhood, an angel whom he must have at all costs. To Tom, she is a fellow member of the “secret society” of rich people who live above the concerns of the rest of the world. In her own words, she is a woman of the view that “everything is terrible” and whose best wish for her daughter is that she grows up to be a “beautiful little fool.” Perhaps she really is the cruel, careless woman that Nick believes her to be. Or, maybe she’s just a cynical, heartbroken woman who wishes she could go back to being the beautiful little fool who didn’t have to acknowledge the cruel realities of the world.
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