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Throughout the age’s women have been prominently featured in literature. We never really get to see them fleshed out as they tend to take up these more traditional roles instead of being who they actually are. An example would be Shakespeare’s plays. In his plays the female characters would usually be there to pursue love or take the traditional housewife role of taking care of the house and the kids. When his plays were performed at the Globe Theater only men were allowed on stage, even for the roles of the women.
It isn’t until the Modern American literature era that we start to see female characters come into who they really are and take up more nontraditional roles.
Two of the novels that we read this semester that prominently featured female characters were The Great Gatsby and Lolita. In each of these novels we have female characters that we really get to see fleshed out and well written.
The Great Gatsby has a few prominent female characters, being, Daisy Buchannan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson. Each of these characters are viewed through the lens of Nick Caraway, who is our narrator. Lolita also has a number of prominent female characters. We have Lolita, Clare Quilty, and Charlotte Haze. In Lolita we see women through the lens of Humbert Humbert, who is our narrator. He tends to over sexualize the women who he comes in contact with. In both of these novels we are able to see the women through the point of view of the narrator.
In The Great Gatsby we have Nick who is a very judgmental narrator, and in Lolita we have a narrator who over sexualizes the women. In each of these books the women tend to take on more than one role whether they be traditional or nontraditional
In The Great Gatsby the most prominent female character is Daisy Buchanan. She takes on a lot of roles throughout the story. She takes on the traditional role of a woman in the 1920’s. She is a housewife for Tom Buchanan and stays home to look after the house. Even though they are rich enough to afford house keeps, and chefs. She just stays at home not doing much. It is not until she is introduced to Gatsby that she really starts to break the traditional role by cheating on Tom with Gatsby. In the 1920’s people really cared about their self-image and did not like to be seen in a bad light, women didn’t like to be seen as promiscuous. They wanted to be viewed as pure and wholesome. With Daisy cheating on Tom this allows her to break that role. By going outside the norms that society put on women in the 1920’s. Daisy is also the catalyst to the whole story as well. Without her it is likely that none of the events in the story would have taken place. The reason that Gatsby had attained his wealth and status was to try and get closer to Daisy. The reason that Gatsby bought a house in East Egg was so that he was able to be closer to Daisy. The reason that Gatsby threw his lavish parties was to try and get Daisy’s attention and have her attend one of them.
Just so he had away to finally see her after all of these years. Without her existence it is safe to say that none of these events would have ever taken place to begin with. In the story Daisy also represents wealth or something to be had. In The Great Gatsby it seems that everyone wants to be with Daisy, everyone loves her. Tom wants Daisy even though he is cheating on her with Myrtle Wilson. It appears that even Nick wants to be with Daisy even though they are cousins. He has this incestuous attraction to his cousin. It is quite clear that they will never be together, but the fact remains that Nick has some latent attraction. And, Daisy knows this as well, she plays on it sometimes when trying to get him to do something for her. Gatsby is also trying to attain Daisy. For a little while he is able to do so. They both seem to be in love with each other. Things seem to be going great until Tom catches wind of what is going on between them. He doesn’t like it one bit and wants to put an end to it. He is able to do so without getting his hands dirty, by having George Wilson kill him. In the end it is Tom who is able to have Daisy, despite not even being deserving of being with her. He was able to get what Gatsby wanted for most of his life. All of Gatsby’s efforts were in vain because in the end he was never able to really be with Daisy like he wanted to.
Another prominent female character in The Great Gatsby is Jordan Baker. Jordan, unlike Daisy, is not like the women of the 1920’s. She is cynical, good at sports, and likes to drink. Characteristics that women at the time did not strive to have. She is what us known in the 1920’s as a flapper. And, flappers were women who went outside of the social norms of the time. One of the big norms that she is breaking is with her profession. She is a professional golfer, a job which most women did not have in the 1920’s. Most women in the 1920’s didn’t work, if they did they would have jobs like secretary or telephone operator. It was rare to see a female professional athlete in that time. Another one of the roles that Jordan play is that she is Nick’s Love interest in the book. They don’t seem to have much of a relationship though. Nick is always judging her, and they eventually breakup because Nick is unable to trust her. The most important thing that Jordan does in the story is that she helps explain Daisy’s and Gatsby’s relationship to Nick. In chapter 4 Jordan says to Nick,
“Well, about six weeks ago, she heard the name Gatsby for the first time in years. It was when I asked you—do you re- member?—if you knew Gatsby in West Egg. After you had gone home she came into my room and woke me up, and said ‘What Gatsby?’ and when I described him—I was half asleep—she said in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know. It wasn’t until then that I connected this Gatsby with the officer in her white car” (Fitzgerald, 84).
It is at this point in the story that Nick is able to see what Gatsby wants. Jordan is the one who helps setup the affair between Gatsby and Daisy. She passes along Gatsby’s message of wanting Nick to invite Daisy over for tea, so they can finally meet in person after all of these years.
Finally, in The Great Gatsby we have Myrtle Wilson. She, like the other female characters in the book plays many roles. One of her roles is bored housewife. Myrtle is married to a man named George Wilson, who is a mechanic in The Valley of Ashes. She doesn’t like her life there because it is so bleak, and George doesn’t make a lot of money, so they aren’t able to live very lavishly. This brings Myrtle into her second role as Tom’s girlfriend. Tom is cheating on Daisy with Myrtle and Myrtle is cheating on George with Tom. The reason she is so easily able to cheat on George is because Tom is rich. He is able to give her the life that she believes she deserves.
She is able to attend these nice parties, go to these nice restaurants, and have all of these nice things. All because she is with Tom. When she is with Tom she goes from bored housewife to cheating house wife. Myrtle’s third and final role is accomplice to Gatsby’s murder. She didn’t physically help murder Gatsby, but her death is what lead to Gatsby’s death. If Myrtle had never ran into the road in front of the car that Daisy was driving Gatsby would still be alive. Tom also played a role in the murder by lying to George about who was actually driving the car. She relies on men to get by in life. She doesn’t find her own way. This is a stereotype of women of the time. They liked to play the damsel in distress, only to be rescued by the man in shining armor. Who is this case is Tom. Though we don’t see much of Myrtle throughout the book she still plays a major role in the overall story.
In Lolita one of the most important female characters in the story is the titular character Lolita, whose real name is Dolores Haze. Throughout the story she takes on many roles, but her most important role is being Humbert’s nymphet. From the moment that Humbert sees Lolita he is instantly attracted and know that he has to have her somehow. Because she scratches that nymphet fetish for Humbert. Eventually Humbert and Lolita have sex, after they do this Lolita becomes very manipulative. She tells Humbert that if they don’t keep having sex that she is going to the police that she was raped by him. In this aspect Lolita is a bit like Daisy. She is wanted by the main character, who will do just about anything to be with her. She plays into it but is never fully with the guy who wants her. Gatsby and Daisy are together for a little while, up until Gatsby dies. Lolita and Humbert are together for a while too, but Lolita doesn’t see it as a romantic relationship.
She just likes the affection that Humbert gives her because she never really had a father figure in her life, and Humbert is able to fill that father like role. Lolita only stops being with Humber until Clare Quilty comes to the hospital to pick her up and runs off with her. Another role that Lolita plays is partner to Clare Quilty. This is the role that leads to her downfall. She runs away with Clare, who she is in love with. This causes the death of two people. It gets Clare killed because Humbert thinks that Clare has taken away Lolita’s innocence. It also gets Lolita killed, due to complications during childbirth. If Lolita hadn’t run away with Clare it is safe to say that both Lolita and Clare would still be alive because Humbert wouldn’t have tracked down Clare and killed him. And, Lolita wouldn’t have married Dick and gotten pregnant, which would have kept her alive. Throughout the rest of the book Lolita is sexualized by just about every man she comes in contact with. They don’t see her as a young girl, but as this sexual object to be won and coveted. Even though she is so incredibly young.
Another important female character in the book is Charlotte Haze. One of her roles is Lolita’s mother. She doesn’t seem like a very good mother and puts Lolita by the wayside and does her own thing, she seems very neglectful of Lolita. She s cares more about hoe other people see her than her own daughter. She wants to be viewed as the graceful, sophisticated, and elegant woman. When is reality he is a pretty vanilla and boring woman. Another role that Charlotte takes on is wife to Humbert Humbert. When she meets Humbert, she sees him as her ticket to elegance, just because he is European. What Charlotte doesn’t know is how messed up he actually is. Once her and Humbert get married she begins to see Lolita as competition in her newly found relationship. So, she sends Lolita to summer camp, so she won’t get in the way. Once they get married Charlotte takes on the role of obstacle for Humbert. The only reason that he marries her is, so he is able to get closer to Lolita.
He now has to find a way around Charlotte to be with Lolita. So, he has to do it in secret. He keeps all of his plans written down in a journal, which Charlotte eventually comes across. When she finds out Humbert true intentions she kills herself. This allows Humbert to finally be with Lolita without anyone else getting in the way. Charlotte is a lot like Myrtle Wilson. They both don’t like the lives that they have and strive to become something that they are not. Charlotte wants to be seen as elegant and Myrtle wants to be seen as someone who has high status in society. They both find their ticket out of their boring lives in these new and exciting men that they happen to find. In the end of their respective stories they both end up dead. Charlotte at her own hands and Myrtle at the hands of Daisy. They both in the end use death to escape the lives that have been given.
Another important female character in Lolita is Annabel Leigh. Her role in the book is that she awakens Hubert’s hebephilia. When they dated they were both around the same age. Eventually, Annabel’s parents take her away from Humbert and move away. This upsets Humbert. Then four months later she is killed by typhus fever. This scars Humbert for the rest of his life. Every girl that Humbert dates he compares to Anabel. It is what gives Humbert his fetish for pre-pubescent girls.
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