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THE CHARACTERS - CHARACTER LIST AND ANALYSIS
MAJOR CHARACTERS (continued)
• TOM BUCHANAN
Tom Buchanan, Nick tells us, "had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven-a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax." He is also very wealthy, having brought a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest to Long Island. This double power-the size of his body and his bankrollcolors our feelings about Tom Buchanan.
Because he is both very strong and very rich, Tom is used to having his own way. Nick describes him as having "a rather hard mouth" and "two shining arrogant eyes." When we first meet him in Chapter I, he reveals his crude belief in his own superiority by telling Nick that he has just read a book called The Rise of the Colored Empires. The book warns that if white people are not careful, the black races will rise up and overwhelm them. Tom clearly believes it.
Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of George Wilson, who runs a garage in the valley of ashes. Myrtle seems to have a dark sexual vitality that attracts Tom, and he keeps an apartment for her in New York, where he takes Nick in Chapter II. Here he again shows how little he thinks of anyone beside himself when he casually breaks Myrtle's nose with the back of his hand, because she is shouting "Daisy! Daisy!" in a vulgar fashion.
Between Chapters II and VII we see little of Tom, but in Chapter VII he emerges as a central figure. It is Tom who pushes the affair between Gatsby and Daisy out into the open by asking Gatsby point blank, "'What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyway?" It is Tom who verbally outduels Gatsby to win his wife back and deflate his rival's dream. And it is Tom who, after the death of Myrtle Wilson, tells George Wilson that Gatsby was the killer and then hustles Daisy out of the area until the affair blows over.
Fitzgerald describes Tom and Daisy as careless people who break things and then retreat into their wealth and let other people clean up their messes. It's a particularly apt metaphor for Tom, who cannot understand why Nick should have any ill feelings about Gatsby's death. After all, Tom was only protecting his wife. Nick shakes hands with Tom in the final chapter because "...I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified." Yet Tom's behavior was not justifiable, and when Nick refers to the "foul dust" that floated in the wake of Gatsby's dream, he seems to be speaking of Tom Buchanan more than anyone else. It is Tom as much as anyone who sends Nick back to the Midwest, where there are still values one can believe in.
• DAISY FAY BUCHANAN
She was born Daisy Fay in Louisville, Kentucky, and her color is white. When Jordan Baker, in Chapter IV, tells Nick about the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy in October 1917, she says of Daisy, "She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night."
Throughout The Great Gatsby Daisy is described almost in fairytale language. The name Fay means "fairy" or "sprite." "Daisy," of course, suggests the flower, fresh and bright as spring, yet fragile and without the strength to resist the heat and dryness of summer.
Daisy is the princess in the tower, the golden girl that every man dreams of possessing. She is beautiful and rich and innocent and pure (at least on the surface) in her whiteness. But that whiteness, as you will notice, is mixed with the yellow of gold and the inevitable corruption that money brings. Though Daisy seems pure and white, she is a mixture of things, just like the flower for which she was named (see Schneider in "Critics").
Fitzgerald suggests the nature of this mixture beautifully in the famous passage from Chapter VII about her voice: --"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of-" I hesitated. "Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood it before. It was full of money-that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it.... High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl.... --Like money, Daisy promises more than she gives. Her voice seems to offer everything, but she's born to disappoint. She is the sort of person who is better to dream about than to actually possess. Fitzgerald-with that double vision we discussed in The Author and His Times section of this guide-knew very well both the attractions and the limitations of women like Daisy, who is modeled in many ways upon his wife Zelda.
Gatsby worships Daisy, and Nick distrusts her-just as Scott both worshipped and distrusted Zelda. Gatsby loves Daisy too much to see what is wrong with her. Nick stands back and sees the way Daisy lets other people take care of her in crises. If you want to study the nature of Daisy's weakness, look especially at her behavior on the night before her wedding and on the night of Myrtle Wilson's death. Daisy, unlike Tom, uses her money rather than her body or her personality to bully others. She uses her money to protect her from reality, and when reality threatens to hurt her, she cries and goes inside the protective womb her money has made.
Be careful not to identify Daisy with the green light at the end of her dock. The green light is the promise, the dream. Daisy herself is much less than that. Even Gatsby must realize that having Daisy in the flesh is much, much less than what he imagined it would be when he fell in love with the idea of her.
• JORDAN BAKER
Jordan Baker's most striking quality is her dishonesty. She is tough and aggressive-a tournament golfer who is so hardened by competition that she is willing to do anything to win. At the end of Chapter IV, when Nick is telling us about Jordan, he remembers a story about her first major tournament.
Apparently she moved her ball to improve her lie (!), but when the matter was being investigated, the caddy and the only other witness to the incident retracted their stories and nothing was proved against her. The incident should stay with you throughout the novel, reminding you (as it reminds Nick) that Jordan is the smart new woman, the opportunist who will do whatever she must to be successful in her world.
In many ways Jordan Baker symbolizes a new type of woman that was emerging in the Twenties. She is hard and self-sufficient, and she adopts whatever morals suit her situation. She has cut herself off from the older generation. She wears the kind of clothes that suit her; she smokes, she drinks, and has sex because she enjoys them. You may wish to explore Jordan as the new woman of the Twenties by looking at the manners and character traits she reveals. Note such things as her name (a masculine name), her body (hard, athletic, boyish, small-breasted), her style (blunt, cynical, bored), and her social background (she is cut off from past generations by having almost no family).
Another important aspect of Jordan is her function in the novel. Fitzgerald needs her to get the story told. Because she is Daisy's friend from Louisville, she can supply Nick with information he would not have otherwise. She also serves as a link between the major characters, moving back and forth between the world of East Egg (Tom and Daisy's house) and West Egg (Gatsby's and Nick's houses). She is rich enough to be comfortable among the East Eggers but enough of a social hustler to appear at Gatsby's parties.
Jordan serves still another purpose: Nick's girlfriend during the summer of 1922. The Nick-Jordan romance serves as a nice sub-plot to the Gatsby-Jordan relationship, and allows you to compare and contrast a romantic-idealistic love with a very practical relationship made on a temporary basis by two worldly people of the time.
If you want to explore the Nick-Jordan relationship and the possible reasons why Nick becomes involved with her and then breaks the relationship off, you'll need to look particularly at three passages: Nick's comments toward the end of Chapter III; the phone call between Nick and Jordan in Chapter VIII; and their final conversation in Chapter IX. We'll take a close look at these passages later on.