Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in a scene from “The Great Gatsby.”
Young women sometimes turn to literature for guidance, yet experts warn these readers to consider the time and circumstance when choosing literary females to emulate.
Writer Ella Ceron, Fordham University graduate and Thought Catalog contributor, says The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan should not be admired as the flighty, flirty object of men’s affections that author F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays — but it isn’t Daisy’s fault.
“It’s not that Daisy’s a bad role model, necessarily,” Ceron says. “She’s a girl of her times and circumstance.”
Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Daisy can even be interpreted as a model of how women should not behave, says Dana Cloud, communication studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Fitzgerald is calling attention to the limits of Daisy’s power as a sexual object, therefore the text encourages modern women to resist such a subordinate role even if the character does not model such a role,” Cloud says. “The book cautions us against a too-easy acceptance of the promises of the American Dream. Daisy is a symbol of that empty mystery and a victim of the shallow role she much play in a shallow world.”
Despite her unpleasant qualities, young women across the world have idolized Daisy for nearly a century.
“I think, despite (women’s) modern independence, we still glorify the ideal of being a man’s true love,” Ceron says.
English professor Elizabeth Scala at UT-Austin also stressed the importance of reading female characters in their historical context, citing Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet as another character that fell victim to her times and circumstance.
“Juliet could be a great role model,” Scala says. “She speaks her mind, acts on her desires and tries to make a life for herself independent of her parents’ more narrow view of things. However, I would not want anyone to read her suicide as a plan of action. One might adopt Juliet’s heroism but act upon it differently in today’s world — maybe taking a new kind of job or attending a different college than one is advised to do.”
Scala said reading the texts closely is the key to understanding classic literature.
“It is important that we read beyond our own present moment, even if we are trying to find a relevance to our present,” Scala says. “Reading older literature has the advantage of showing us how much things have changed, while they show some of the ways in which we face similar problems and issues.”
Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which hit theaters May 10 and earned $51 million during its opening weekend, puts a modern spin on a classic American novel.
Scala says that one of the reasons that young women may idolize Daisy, Juliet and other literary females is because they take these characters out of their historical and political contexts.
“These characters come with certain constraints and expectations placed upon them by the societies in which they live,” Scala says. “Any understanding of female roles need to be sensitive to the cultural and historical complexities of the stories in which they are set. I would also hope, that as a corollary to this kind of complexity, readers would not be looking for advice about how to behave today in the particulars of such texts.”
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