Student Question

Compare and contrast the theme of gender in The Great Gatsby and Macbeth.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In both Macbeth and The Great Gatsby, a female character is highly influential in determining the plot of the story and the development of the main character. In Macbeth, it is Lady Macbeth's relentless pushing and goading that tips Macbeth into murdering Duncan, setting the rest of the plot into motion. At the point Lady Macbeth inserts herself, Macbeth has decided against killing the king. However, Lady Macbeth knows how to push Macbeth's masculinity buttons, and rather than look unmanned in front of her, he does the evil deed. Having taken this first step, his character then changes to become harder and harder, until he has no conscience or happiness left.

In Gatsby, it is Gatsby's love for Daisy that drives the action of the plot. He moves in order to be near her, throws his wild parties in the hopes that she will show up, and pulls Nick into his orbit when he realizes Nick is Daisy's cousin and friend. Gatsby's great, driving wish is to reunite with Daisy and pick up their relationship as if no time has passed.

Though both Macbeth and Gatsby are driven in an ultimately tragic direction by a woman, while Macbeth's character shrivels under his wife's influence, Gatsby's expands because of the innocence and audaciousness of his dream of reuniting with Daisy. He stands out in Nick's mind as the one redeeming figure amid the "foul dust" that swirled around him during his time in New York.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the theme of gender affect plot and character development in The Great Gatsby and Macbeth?

The theme of gender affects plot and character development in Macbeth and The Great Gatsby in the following ways.

Comparison 1: Both Macbeth and Gatsby are alike in being motivated to act based on wanting to impress a woman. Contrast 1: Macbeth's attempt to impress his wife turns him into a cruel person who increasingly keeps secrets from her, whereas Gatsby's attempt to impress Daisy leads him to behave generously and open his doors to the world.

Comparison 2: Both men want to display their masculine competency in front of the woman they love. Contrast 2: Macbeth does so in an evil way, through murder. Gatsby does so by becoming wealthy. Macbeth is an example of a male from a warrior culture, while Gatsby is an example of male from a culture that celebrates money and consumption.

Comparison 3: Both man's attempt to impress the woman he loves ends up tragically. After Macbeth kills Duncan to please his wife, he and Lady Macbeth's lives spiral downward to horror and despair and, in Lady Macbeth's case, suicide. Macbeth also dies at the end of the play. Likewise, Gatsby ends up dead, in his case killed by George Wilson for covering up Daisy's crime and pretending he was the one who ran over Myrtle. Contrast 3: Although she kills herself, Lady Macbeth never consciously betrays her husband. She tries her best to keep their secret, even if she exhibits her guilt through sleepwalking and trying to wash blood from her hands. Daisy, in contrast, completely ditches Gatsby when the chips are down and walks away without any guilt or remorse.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is the theme of gender more prevalent in The Great Gatsby or Macbeth?

It can be argued that the theme of gender is more prevalent in The Great Gatsby than in Macbeth, as shown by the importance of the female characters of Daisy Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson and related themes of women's dissatisfaction.

Gender roles are important in Daisy's relationships with her husband, Tom, and her lover, Jay. Daisy is both dissatisfied with the restrictions placed on her as a woman—albeit a wealthy one—and resentful of her husband's affairs. Her frustration along with her romantic nostalgia prompts her to enter into her own affair, with Gatsby. Daisy's dissatisfaction with her opportunities and with motherhood is shown in her outburst hoping her daughter will grow up "a fool."

Myrtle is also shown as frustrated with her marriage and seeking an outlet in an affair. In her case, this affair is with a married man, and it is implied that her motives are more materialistic than romantic.

Gender in Macbeth is a minor but significant undercurrent, shown in the way Lady Macbeth aids her husband within the unassailable patriarchy of Scottish society. In particular, Lady Macbeth gives a speech in act 1, scene 5, in which she expresses a desire to change or eliminate her sex.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on