The novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is set in the ‘Jazz Age’ of America in the 1920’s, where the end of the Great War brought a period of peace and prosperity. Mass production allowed much wider access to new consumer goods, such as radios and cars. The women of this era wore short hair and short dresses, and in many Western countries they finally achieved the right to vote. The former restrictions that applied to women were replaced by a new feeling of freedom. The play “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen was first performed in 1879, and through the characters of Nora and Torvald Helmer it illustrates the subordinate and confining position of women in marriages of the late Nineteenth Century. Torvald Helmer would have been easily recognised by the audience as a representative depiction of the middle class male attitude. Gender roles are highly defined in this play; even with the legal limitations of women and expectation that women would remain in domestic situations. Attitudes to marriage and relationships are reflected powerfully in these two pieces of work, where both protagonists, although they share some similarities, have extremely differing perceptions of what they want in life, which includes the different outlook each has on their marital relationship.
Each of these works can be considered as early contributors to the body of modern literature. Although both are intensively concerned with their specific characters, they allow the reader to come to an appreciation of attitudes towards matrimony and relationships.
Both ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Doll’s House’ have made their contribution into the collection of literature that have marked the 1800-1900’s, and through their portrayal of interesting and uniquely developed characters they have allowed reflection on the society of their time. Both pieces of work are modern in the sense of dealing with challenging issues which face modern society. The women Daisy Buchanon from ‘The Great Gatsby’ and Nora Helmer from ‘A Doll’s House’ have been specifically chosen, being the obedient and subordinate possessions of their husbands, who evidently mask their possible intellectual potential. Whilst Nora develops a dramatic character change throughout the drama by realising her duties to herself, Daisy remains and accepts the same person she was at the beginning of ‘The Great Gatsby’. In this essay, comparisons will be made concerning both Nora and Daisy’s relationships with their husbands and children, as well as a deeper analysis into their personalities, uncovering their secret beliefs and motivations.
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In Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, each character is noteworthy when establishing the confusions and complexities of social relationships. The novel is considered a representation of the golden age of jazz and all of its extremes. The parties that Gatsby would host demonstrated the extreme ostentation of this era: wealth, luxury and corruption. The novel begins with a verse quotation from Thomas Park D’Invilliers to introduce it; “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her…” and this is suggesting that one must do all things possible to impress the woman whose love one seeks. The novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, he is a persona adopted by the author and as a moral barometer the readers can value his insights and feel that he will be a reliable informant. Through his eyes and experiences we meet other characters and learn of all the relationships included in the novel.
The chronology of the events of “The Great Gatsby” begins with the protagonist, Jay Gatsby, meeting and falling in love with a young Daisy while he is still a poor officer. When he is sent overseas, Daisy marries the very rich yet fierce Tom Buchanan. Fitzgerald gives the readers a significant impression of Tom through the use of many descriptive adjectives. The first time the readers are introduced to him he is in ‘riding clothes’ – this accentuates his muscularity, and his ‘high boots’ are an association with military authority, and the fact that he was standing with his ‘legs apart’ indicates a stance of confidence and power.
Daisy, who becomes Tom’s wife, is also introduced to the readers in an imposing way. She is described as ‘charming, passionate and witty’ and the readers learn that she had a ‘sad and lovely face’. Fitzgerald shows her personality as ‘appealing, attention seeking, seductive and captivating’ in the sense that when she talks one enjoys being in her presence. Tom and Daisy also have a three year old daughter. When the readers are introduced to these characters they also learn that the relationship between them is not a typical relationship that a married couple are expected to have.
To add, when Gatsby learns that Tom and Daisy married he decides to pursue wealth endlessly until he becomes a self-made millionaire. Gatsby then moves to New York and occupies a great mansion, where he begins to host generous parties to which he is hopeful that Daisy will appear. Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, lives next door to Gatsby and he is also Daisy’s cousin. When Gatsby learns this, he befriends Nick trusting that this will lead him to see Daisy again, which eventually does happen. The relationship between Gatsby and Daisy then is the rekindled, which introduces the readers to the central passion of the book as well as one of the most prominent relationships in the novel.
Furthermore, the marital relationship between Daisy and Tom is a very unusual one due to the fact that Tom has a mistress in New York; Myrtle Wilson, who is also a married woman. The odd thing is Daisy’s attitude towards this relationship; Daisy continues to stay with Tom despite her knowledge of his unfaithfulness, and this is the thrust of the novel. This staggers Nick who does not understand why Daisy does not “rush out of the house, child in arms”, and also raises the central question, why does Daisy stay with Tom?
Additionally, when Nick goes to visit Tom and Daisy at the beginning of the novel, Daisy confides in Nick, she calls herself ‘cynical’, and this is reflected in her negative approach to life and relationships. She also tells Nick that she cried when her daughter was born, ‘the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’ Daisy indicates that being a fool will protect a girl from the harsh truth of infidelity. Daisy cried when her daughter was born, sadness is fixed in her life. The readers can appreciate that Daisy is not a fool because if she were she wouldn’t be concerned about Tom’s mistress, and Tom is not a caring husband because when his child was born he was not nearby which is known when Daisy tells Nick that “Tom was God knows where” when their daughter was less than an hour old. This goes to add to the bizarre fact that Daisy does not leave Tom, despite almost everything being wrong in their marriage.
Also, the relationship between Myrtle and Tom is one that is clearly driven by wealth. Tom entertains Myrtle in an apartment in New York. She was young when she married her husband, George Wilson, and she thought that he was a gentleman; she had little knowledge that he was a simple soul who had borrowed a suit for his wedding. She loves the sense of wealth from Tom that George could never provide, and she stays with Tom because of this; as well as the status, prestige and ego-flattery that he provides her with. Myrtle enjoys the lifestyle with Tom, in a boasting tone she chatters about the ‘things’ she intends to purchase. These items are cheap consumables of no financial consequence to Tom.
Furthermore, Myrtle enjoys being a hostess; which is reflected in the confident manner she behaves in. She changes into an elaborate dress when they get to their apartment with Nick and smiles with pride whenever complemented. When Tom slaps her and breaks her nose at the apartment he has provided her with, he proclaims his power and sense of male authority because that is the type of man he is. This goes to display that this relationship offers Myrtle the wealth and status she would never be able to receive from George; only leading her to want it more from Tom.
Additionally, when Gatsby invites Nick out for lunch he introduces him to Meyer Wolfsheim, who was reputed to be a gambler who fixed the World Series in 1919.This illegal act linked Gatsby with a shady and suspicious reputation. There is no proof that Gatsby was involved in this illegal act but there is a long-standing association between the men; this linkage soils Gatsby, which shows that the relationship between the two men is not a decent one. The readers know that Gatsby originated as a poor deprived man, who suddenly, driven by his love for Daisy, became wealthy and owned much more then people knew he could afford. This goes to show that the origin of Gatsby’s wealth may have come illegally and so it is not guaranteed that he may have this wealth forever.
Moreover, the play ‘A Doll’s House’ is a clear analysis of a character that goes through a great dynamic change only to find her true self and to remove the dishonest perception of herself in the eyes of those around her. This change lead the character to become fully aware of her life along with an understanding of what an insincere life she had mistakenly led, and this character is known as Nora Helmer. At the beginning of the play, Nora is portrayed as a childish and naive housewife with a talent for spending money. This view is conveyed through the ‘parent – child’ dialogue she has with her husband and his usual categorization of Nora as an expensive little person with a talent for melting his money in her hands. This evidently reveals Nora’s relationship with her husband to be very similar to that of a relationship between a spoiled child and his parents.
Also, through the character of Nora, Ibsen shows us that a woman is expected to be little more than a child in her own marriage, incapable of taking on serious issues, and useful only for her ability to amuse her husband. During the course of the play, as Ibsen takes the reader through the climax of Nora’s controlled life, he shows how Nora develops into a wiser and more determined woman who learns to have her say. Nora’s development is highlighted and guided with her growing courage, her direct attempts to become more equal with her husband, and her decision at the end of the play conveys Ibsen’s idea that a woman has a duty to herself, and that the marriage she shared with Torvald was so confining to the extent where she could only fulfil her duty to herself by leaving her husband.
However, Nora learns this through the experiences she undergoes while she was treated more like Torvald’s child rather than his wife. The fact that she does not retreat at Torvald’s comparison of her to minor creatures, but rather she even links herself into his terminology by saying things such as “we skylarks and squirrels” just proves how blind Nora was towards her husbands’ arrogance and superiority. A major theme of the play, deception – or the gap between appearance and reality, is introduced in the very first word of the play; “Hide”. Nora wants to hide the Christmas tree so that the children don’t see it before it is decorated. The theme is developed throughout the play until it is realized that Nora’s entire relationship with her husband is based on many layers of deception; one of these layers is that Nora was constantly aware of the need to flatter and protect Torvald’s masculine ego. She disguises her anxiety over the repayment of the substantial loan in order to protect Torvald from his own somewhat exaggerated sensitivity.
Another strange deception in the play is the macaroons, which are symbolic to their relationship. Torvald forbids them while Nora enjoys them secretly, which just shows that Nora is capable of lies and deception. But the fact that Torvald forbids them because they will spoil Nora’s teeth also adds to the way in which Nora has more of a father-daughter relationship with Torvald, rather than a husband and wife relationship, because that is a strange instruction to be given to an adult.
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The deceptive relationship between Torvald and Nora is contrasted with that between Dr Rank and Nora. With Dr Rank, Nora is able to be more truthful and drops the childish-flirtatious act she employs with Torvald, and she is able to have open conversations with him, which shows the audience a different side of Nora. Through the relationship she has with Dr Rank the audience are able to appreciate that Nora can be treated as a woman and handle different situations in a much stronger manner than Torvald.
In A Doll’s House, Ibsen explores his interest in the role of women in society. He raises questions about how much a woman has to compromise her own wishes and aims in order to fit into society. Mrs Linde has had to give up her true love, Krogstad, and marry a man she did not love in order to gain the financial security she needed to look after her mother and brothers. This is known when Nora asks Kristina why she married her husband and she replies “My mother was still alive; she was bedridden and helpless, and I had my two younger brothers to look after – I didn’t feel I could refuse his offer.” Therefore, because she let the relationship with her loved one go in order to have the wealth she needed to look after her family, which shows that her life has been one of self-sacrifice rather than self-fulfilment. The relationship between Kristina Linde and Krogstad constitutes the sub-plot. It is of less importance of that of the Helmers, but serves as a contrast to aid the understanding of the audience of the relationship between the protagonists. Krogstad and Kristina find the mutual need, they are open and truthful, and they move towards emotional love.
Ibsen has employed Krogstad to provide a device to bring the play to a climax. He has also provided a different male paradigm to that of Torvald, and when he had fulfilled these tasks, he takes no further part in the play. Krogstad does not hold a grudge; he is not vindictive and is prepared to request the return of his letter from Torvald. However Kristina makes the decisive decision of the play, she wants Torvald to find out the truth of Nora’s secret; it was she who saved Torvald’s life, she borrowed money and forged her father’s signature without his consent.
The novel “The Great Gatsby” investigates the new incidents that women began take part in society throughout the 1920’s. Throughout the novel, in contrast to life before the early 1900’s, women were almost on equilibrium with men; they were allowed to dress and behave like them. They were also allowed to drink and act in an improper manner at parties, and they also began to express their views more openly. This dramatic change had a great affect on the new established place that they held in society. Daisy is a character who had the wealth and beauty that other girls would dream of, however she let Tom degrade her and philander with other women, which made her the inferior of their relationship. Eventually as the novel goes on, Daisy gives herself a sense of freedom when she has the affair with Gatsby, and this is known when Tom is on the telephone, and it is rumoured that he is ‘talking to his girl’. Daisy kisses Gatsby and tells him, ‘You know I love you,’which is followed by a firm statement to Jordan Baker ‘I don’t care’, which displays Daisy reacting against Tom’s infidelity and proclaiming her own standing and independence.
What’s more is that although Torvald may regard Nora as extremely inferior to him, he had never used physical violence against her, as Tom of “The Great Gatsby” did on his mistress. When Myrtle attempts to elevate herself by speaking about Daisy, Tom violently lashes out and breaks her nose. Although distressed, Myrlte accepts that she has been put in her place as inferior and submissive to Tom.
To add, Tom would answer the calls of his mistress at dinner time; indicating that he did not have an ounce of concern for Daisy’s feelings whatsoever. On the other hand, Nora was Torvald’s whole world, and he would not dream of hurting her. Therefore, when Daisy decides to stay with Tom while Nora decides to leave Torvald, the readers are left in a confused state. Daisy stays with Tom because despite everything they are from the same social status. Tom offered Daisy certainty of position, while Gatsby has an upstart, and there are suspicions about his money. Gatsby also has no reputation in the background of being socially acceptable. Daisy stays with the group of socially stable people, and even though Gatsby loves her, she finds her wealth and position in society more important.
Furthermore, Nora’s ultimate decision of deciding to leave her husband and children may seem uncalled for, however she did have reasons which supported her decision. The relationship she shared with Torvald was that like a father-daughter relationship, it was dishonest as well as hypocritical. There was no love between them; she was Torvald’s ‘doll wife’ and when she realises this she tells Torvald “I don’t love you anymore”. At the end of the play, Nora is aware of herself and the subordinate inferior position she held for so many years. She feels a strong sense of injustice, firstly by her father and the by her husband, and she accuses Torvald; ‘It’s your fault I’ve made nothing of my life’. When she states her intention ‘I must try to educate myself’ Torvald is concerned only about appearance; ‘you haven’t thought of what people will say’ and then pathetically says ‘I could change’ followed by his plaintive suggestion ‘couldn’t we live here as brother and sister?’ Both these ideas were dismissed out of hand by Nora.
When Ibsen presented the Helmer family to his 19th century audience, he had a strong intention of using the dramatic situation to further the consideration of the need for the status of women to be reappraised. He rejected the traditional view of women as inferior appendages to men. Ibsen believed that marriage should be a mutual arrangement, and that women had the right to develop their potential through education and involvement in the commercial world. His strongly implied criticism of Torvald Helmer was a criticism of the traditional male paradigm.
F. Scott Fitzgerald set out to present an impression of American life during the exuberant period of the early 1920’s. Although it was a time when women rejected restrictive traditions, Fitzgerald presents more as a social commentator then crusader for change. The traditional bonds of status and security are what hold Daisy’s relationship with Tom together. Their marriage was far from perfect, but it was sustained; “they weren’t happy … and yet they weren’t unhappy either … there was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together”.
This essay examined the different ‘attitudes to marriage and relationships that are evident in the novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the play “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen,’ and in due course it was clearly evident that neither Ibsen nor Fitzgerald present marriage from the perspective of a romantic bond; there are other more practical considerations involved. Through F. Scott Fitzgerald, romance was presented through Jay Gatsby which was ultimately doomed due to the obsessive and irrational nature of it.
Both literary works show the audience that marriage and relationships are impacted on by wider pressures of society in life; but whether a marriage is sustained seems to be up to individual preference.
The apparent irony evident in the two pieces of literature is the fact that Nora leaves Torvald, despite the fact that he had never physically hurt her nor was he ever unfaithful to her; while Daisy stays with Tom and his violent and unfaithful nature. Daisy had more reason to leave Tom than Nora had to leave Torvald, but both characters ultimately made unexpected decisions which left its impact on the audience. Daisy’s attitude towards marriage is not based on infatuation or love; rather it is built on her status, both financial and social, and that is what she considers to be luxury. Nora’s regard for marriage was initially founded on what she thought was love; as she knew nothing more or less. However throughout the play she learns and develops into a woman able to make her own decisions; where her marriage becomes an obstacle to her individuality.
Further exploration of these two works could be undertaken to explore the conflicting pressures that are faced by mothers in unhappy marriages and relationships.
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