In both books a female character is the pivotal one in the narrator’s story; all events are linked somehow to her. However there are many differences in the presentation of these characters. Fitzgerald’s leading lady is delicate and elegant; she appears as ‘the flutter of a dress’. Her name suggests prettiness: Daisy. Her surname, Fay, perhaps has connotations of the fabled Morgan Le Fay, the witch in the tales of the Knights of the Round Table. The surname also suggests ‘faery’, which adds to the fairy-tale synonyms.
She has a face that is ‘sad and lovely’, ‘bright eyes and a bright, passionate mouth’, which presents her as a lively and beautiful character but one whom melancholia has touched. Brett from ‘Fiesta’ however is more sexually presented, described as ‘damned good looking’ and ‘built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht’. She is a lot more physical and solid than daisy as ‘built’ suggests and less feminine: ‘her hair was brushed back like a boy’s’. This androgyny is continued with the non-gender specific name Brett, compared to the girlish ‘Daisy’.
Adultery is a frequent occurrence and, it seems, an acceptable one in Fitzgerald’s novel. Catherine seems to think the supposed fact that ‘Neither of them can stand the person they’re married to’ makes it forgivable. She also says of Myrtle that ‘Tom’s the first sweetie she ever had’ making it seems an innocent childish, harmless and even expected romance. Brett’s frequent changing in her male partners is never commented on by her friends in ‘Fiesta’, similarly to the silence of the friends on ‘The Great Gatsby’.
Although Mike and Brett are engaged Brett still goes off with other men and raises no comment even though they all know everything about them. Brett seems a little hard in hurting Mike this way. She is presented as being a somewhat abandoned character, spontaneous and self-orientated, not thinking about the repercussions of her actions ever. She says that she has ‘always done just what I wanted’. The frivolous way she says this suggests she has never thought there was any other way to behave. She says to Jake, about falling in love with Romero, that she ‘can’t help it.
I have never been able to help anything’. This makes her seem like she’s not in control of her emotions and they completely rule her. Daisy, on the other hand, is at first cautious about her affair with Gatsby, and Tom and Myrtle’s romance is also hidden from their spouses. They can control how they act around other people with the men they are having affairs with. Catherine’s comment about Myrtle not being able to stand her husband certainly seems to be true since she puts him down behind his back with lines such as ‘he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe’.
She seems very critical and snobbish here. Myrtle buys ‘Town Tattle’ and a film magazine and selects a lavender coloured taxi. The purchase choices suggest a love of gossip and keeping up with times and her particular choice of taxi whilst letting four others pass by shows her almost comic affectations. She also seems to only desire a dog to go in the flat for the trivial reason that ‘”They’re nice to have – a dog. “‘ She gives the impression that she’s strongly influenced by what society believes to be ‘nice’.
Her ‘high mincing shout’, flouncing and pointless laughter all indicate a pretentious woman, but she also has a great deal of energy and ambition to rise above her social status: ‘All I kept thinking about [… ] was “You can’t live forever”‘. Myrtle is truly at odds in many ways with Daisy and Jordan; her implied social class is lower than theirs (Jordan says, ‘Tom’s got some woman in New York’ who hasn’t got ‘the decency’ not to interrupt their dinner). She also has a revealed sexuality, a blatant kind which is completely at odds with Jordan’s ‘complete self-sufficiency’ and Daisy’s voice.
The author never examines sexual needs of Daisy’s by the way of Gatsby or Tom. She is perceived as passive and her entire sexuality is compressed into her voice, which is made to represent her entire femininity as well as her personality and charm. When she sings, she does it “in a husky whisper, bringing out a meaning in each words it had never has before and never would have again”. There is a suggestion of an enchantment, linking back to the suggestions of her surname again.
The language attributes to her the powerful enchantment of the sirens that tried to lure passing sailors to their deaths as well. Daisy is not allowed to tell her own story; Jordan, so often non-committal about herself, tells it, ensuring her emotions are filtered though another woman’s knowledge, as Gatsby’s are though Nick. Myrtle, however, is allowed to relate her account herself of her excitement at Tom, and in this way she expresses her own sensuality. The upper-class women are not allowed this opportunity and therefore do not have sexual attributions like Myrtle does.
In the first description of her, Myrtle is described as ‘sensuous’; she is a somewhat slutty character. Fitzgerald talks of her flesh and ‘an immediately perceptible vitality’ as well as the ‘nerves of her body continuously smouldering’. She is very sexual character; the word ‘smouldering’ suggests intense sexuality and ‘vitality’ an energy that we are shown seems to be directed into her sex appeal. Her dress is ‘stretched tight over her rather large hips’, suggesting that she is trying to be attractive but perhaps is a little too large for it.
Jordan’s body is also mentioned frequently throughout the novel, except she is graceful and delicate; her lips ‘flutter’ and she moves a page with a ‘flutter of slender muscles in her arm’. Jordan’s body, in contrast to Myrtle’s, is talked about in a more muscular manner, she is toned and healthy rather than corrupted and indulgent like Myrtle. Jordan’s body is not so sexual: ‘she wore her evening-dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes’ and there is a ‘jauntiness about her movements’. Brett’s sexuality is not often mentioned.
The only mentions of it are the comment about being built like a ‘racing yacht’ and when Brett wears a sleeveless black evening dress but Jake sticks to a simple ‘she looked quite beautiful’. This suggests that she is very attractive but that Jake doesn’t remind himself of it rather than that she is quite plain most of the time. However, the one part of her that is talked about is her eyes. They ‘wrinkle’ at people when she smiles. This suggests that she isn’t really smiling, and that rather she just ‘crinkles’ her eyes. She never seems completely happy or at rest with herself in the novel.
This would explain the happy face with the not truly happy eyes. In comparison to Brett’s physicality and Myrtle’s licentiousness, Daisy has an attractiveness that comes more from the way she speaks. The others use their bodies more, yet Daisy doesn’t need to. Her voice and mannerisms make the imagination work; her look that promised ‘that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see’. She seems to unwittingly flirt with men, which Nick notices towards himself here, but phrasing it like that shows he believes she applies it to all men. She has a ‘voice men who had loved her found hard to forget’.
This non-specific comment on how she achieves this means the reader is left to imagine what she sounds like. I think this is effective; she has a mysterious indeterminable quality that Myrtle doesn’t. Brett has a power over her relationships with men in a similar way to the way in which Jordan has over Nick. It is Brett who takes Cohn down to Spain and she who ends it. She also commands the Count at the beginning and with Mike, and with Jake when he suggests living together, she tells him he ‘couldn’t stand it’, and it is Brett who calls him to her when he relationship with Pedro Romano ends.
This behaviour suggests Brett seems to know her mind when it comes to what she has decided (the assertive statement of ‘you couldn’t stand it’) and is strong-willed maybe verging on bossy. She never compromises in the novel. She also expects people to do as she says and her commanding manner means that no one refuses, like her telegram that Jake complies to without barely thinking about it. Jordan ‘deliberately shifted’ the relationship between her and Nick by saying, “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you. It is a surprise since throughout the novel she has been aloof, a ‘clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal scepticism. Like Brett, she has deeper emotions that only the one special man in their lives sees. Brett loves Jake but no one else knows this. Both these women appear to wear guises to protect their inner selves. When dressed for town, Jordan and Daisy have ‘their small tight hats of metallic cloth’ and ‘light capes over their arms’ which suggests that these women’s fashions then protected the wearer with some kind of armour from any real emotion.
Brett is outgoing and gets drunk with the men, for example, ‘How about some of that champagne? ‘ ‘Give a chap a brandy and soda’ and ‘her ladyship wants a drink’. We are given the impression that Brett drinks a lot from Jake’s first words to her: ‘”Hello, Brett,” I said. “Why aren’t you tight? “‘ Drinking seems to be a form of escapism for the characters in Fiesta; it allows them to endure lives that seem completely without purpose. In contrast, Daisy supposedly doesn’t drink at all, according to Jordan when she’s giving the description of how Gatsby met her.
However, it is blatant she does: two mentioned drinks are mint juleps and gin rickeys. These are, nonetheless, cocktails and therefore perhaps a more refined drink than the beer etc. that Brett usually consumes. Jordan’s guise is an unemotional; she rarely reveals what she truly thinks. She has a ‘hardy scepticism’, suggesting that she doesn’t expect any good to come of anything, and that cannot be challenged. Her choice of words presents her as clinical: she gives one simple reason why she likes Nick knowing exactly how it will move them on in their relationship; she is very aware of it.
Brett is more ‘manly’, in many ways than the men: she has ‘her hair slicked back like a boy’s’, refers to herself as a ‘chap’ and, most significantly, is strong and independent. Therefore she represents the traditionally masculine attributes that Mike, Jake and Bill lack. However, she sees this strength as a threat to Pedro Romero, saying “You know I’d have lived with him if I hadn’t seen it was bad for him”. Brett also has sexual liberation since she is the one who wanders between relationships without any commitment, preferring independence. However, she is still not comfortable being by herself; Jake says, ‘She can’t go anywhere alone’.
In contrast to Brett, all three women of Fitzgerald’s women make some attempt to move outside of their social conventions and encounter serious problems. Myrtle Wilson is killed, Jordan Baker loses her femininity and Daisy is easily persuaded by return to her position of captivity by Nick and Gatsby who do not reveal it was her who was driving the car but couldn’t control it. The car represents an object of freedom to the women: it destroys Myrtle, Daisy allows it to get fatally out of control and Jordan misuses it by not being able to drive properly.
Fitzgerald’s women are presented as socially brilliant but morally and economically passive because their world really has no use for them. Fitzgerald was fully aware of the change in the role of women in the post-war era but viewed it with mixed feelings. Jordan Baker’s emancipation shows aggression in her and Daisy, although she has the means to be free, prefers to retain her wealth and social position rather than risk it to make a real attempt to secure true freedom, and keep the privileges of a safe, conventional role.
Brett is also emancipated but it still doesn’t seem to satisfy her. She does exactly what she wants but is still not happy. Fitzgerald’s women are carefully documented in a detailed, romantic and imaginative manner that evokes the air of their presence explicitly. Myrtle is presented as a licentious adulterer with pretensions, Daisy as an extemporising and mystically attractive flower and Jordan as an enigmatic, cynical and contemptuous liar. Hemmingway’s Brett is created for us by her actions rather than her appearance and is strong-willed, emotionally driven and androgynous.