The Great Gatsby: Hating Daisy

There’s a lot of hate going round for Daisy Buchanan at the moment. As one particular example, a friend’s English teacher apparently told the class that Daisy had - and I quote - ‘no soul.’ Critics have described her as 'frivolous'; 'an empty vessel'; ‘an emptiness that we see curdling into the viciousness of a monstrous moral indifference  as the story unfolds' - a sentence so dripping in vitriol that to read it is to feel poisoned.

She’s  ‘superficial’ and ‘a tease’ on Thought Catalog - 'someone who doesn’t take responsibility for [her] legacy’, the legacy being that which Gatsby has built up around her like a huge inescapable prison with electric wires. Which is something she should totally have to take responsibility for.

Daisy has been getting flak for years and it’s incredibly unfair. Readers are forgiving towards other flawed and vulnerable women in literature - off the top of my head, they have certainly warmed to both Tess Durbeyfield and Anna Karenina (who, it's fair to say, both make epically bad decisions.) Yet there's a special kind of vitriol reserved for Daisy.

Is this because Daisy, unlike Tess and Anna, lives? Readers claim to be heartbroken at Tess’ fate and the awful fates of other literary heroines, but is there a bloodthirsty part of us which calls for the death of these ‘fallen women’? Does Daisy need to die before we can forgive her, so then we can be all weepy and sad and entomb her in the false dream where she ‘belongs’?   

Below are some of the reasons commonly cited for hating Daisy Buchanan, where I explain why these are basically shitty reasons to hate anybody.

1) Daisy married Tom rather than waiting for Gatsby - she must be a shallow floozy

In Jordan’s account of Daisy’s youth, she shows us an extremely vulnerable young girl who is also a dreamer, a romantic - a girl who has learnt to expect the world to love and protect her and therefore has an acute and touching naivety. Gatsby and Daisy’s love story blossoms from this innocence. Jordan remembers seeing them as young lovers -  “The officer  looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at some time.” 

After he has gone Daisy tries to follow him against her family’s wishes, yet is eventually stopped: “Wild rumours were circulating about her - how her Mother had found her packing her bag one winter night to go to New York and say goodbye to a soldier who was going overseas. She was eventually prevented, but she wasn’t on speaking terms with her family for several weeks.”

Surely the above quote demonstrates how conflicted Daisy was, how torn between the wishes of her family that she should marry a wealthy man, and her wish to marry Gatsby. Even at this point she makes a bold stand against her fate, agreeing to wait for Gatsby til he leaves the army - however he then, inexplicably, disappears  to Oxford, leaving Daisy surrounded by other more mum-and-dad friendly suitors. To go against her family's wishes would have been almost incomprehensible for a girl as sheltered as Daisy, though it's clear even on the night before her wedding that she hasn't forgotten Gatsby, when she lies on her bed drunk and saying “Tell ‘em all Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!”

It's also worth bearing in mind that she does love Tom, at least at first before his infidelities become apparent.

2) Daisy doesn’t talk about her daughter all the time - she is obviously a terrible mother 

One of the first things people know about Daisy is that she wants her daughter to be “a beautiful little fool.” Yet this quote is often taken out of context. When Daisy says this she is lying in hospital, feeling entirely abandoned, with no idea about the whereabouts of her own husband. The life of promise she lived before has eluded her, and she has been left all alone with a young baby that depends on her.

Her desire for her child to be beautiful is natural; in Daisy’s world, beauty equals love. As a girl who was in many ways powerless to choose her own path, beauty was, tragically, Daisy’s only strength. This does not demonstrate that she is vacuous, frivolous and silly, but rather that she values the one aspect which she believes can give women power. Yes, it’s appalling that she felt that way - but that says more about her society than her character.

Wanting her daughter to be a ‘fool’ is more problematic; however, Daisy came from a set where women were not valued for their intelligence, and she has seen firsthand how hurtful it can be to know too much of human nature.  Ignorance and beauty may not be virtues, but they are the two things which Daisy believes will best equip her child to cope with the world.

Although these waters are difficult to tread, it's also perfectly possible that Daisy may be in the midst of unrecognised postnatal depression. This would certainly explain her seeming disinterest in the child when Nick first asks about her - “I suppose she talks and eats and everything.” Her strange detachment, as well as her bitterness towards the world in which the baby is born, may well indicate this.

It should also be taken into consideration that Nick Carraway is a fallible narrator. Daisy might spend more time with the child when there are no visitors, and the little girl may also play a vital part in Daisy’s decision to stay with Tom. This is never stated - however, when Tom and Daisy are seen through the window talking earnestly, Carraway does not know what’s being said. 

Gatsby asks Daisy to wipe out the last five years, but the little girl is a part of that. Daisy, while wishing to wipe out Tom and his infidelities, can never wish the child did not exit. 

As for Gatsby - “He kept looking at the child with surprise. I don’t think he had really believed in its existence before.” 'Nuff said.

3) Daisy kills Myrtle then lets Gatsby take all the blame - what a bitch

This is the most problematic aspect of Daisy by far, and one which is, to use an understatement, definitely not cool. It’s true that Myrtle does run out at the car to try to stop it, that Daisy is nervous and upset, that she’s an awful driver - but none of these are excuses. All we know is that the killing of Myrtle was not a deliberate act, but a sickening awful coincidence (perhaps one brought about by the all seeing eyes of Dr T J Eckleburg.)  Daisy certainly had no idea that Myrtle was Tom's mistress.

Daisy's reactions demonstrate her remorse:  she falls weeping on Gatsby’s lap while he takes control of the car. She is profoundly shocked, scared, sorry.  

Gatsby offers to say he was driving and she allows him to. This is cowardly and almost unjustifiable, but could she have accepted out of fear? And does it make it any better if she did? Her grip on reality is slippery at best; as Mulligan said of Daisy in her American Vogue interview - “She’s constantly on show, performing all the time. Nothing bad can happen in a dream. You can’t die in a dream.” 

And let's remember at this point that we forgive Tess for murder, even if the world does not.

4) Daisy fails to live up to Gatsby’s dream

Almost every girl has at one time or another been put on a pedestal - and it’s a terrifying place to be. Pedestals set you up for failure like nothing else, and the pedestal Gatsby has built for Daisy is, well, The Biggest Pedestal Of All Time. Falling from that height, a girl is going to get hurt, even “the king’s daughter, the golden girl.”

When Gatsby and Daisy are triumphantly reunited, reality comes along as a qualifier - “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams - not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.” Gatsby, even whilst basking in Daisy’s presence, is saddened that the green light at the end of her harbour has ceased to have significance. For him, she has become so idealised that she has ceased to be real; for Daisy, her idealised view on the world has also fatally divorced her from reality.

Daisy may fail to live up to the dream, but she only ever pursued a future in which she could be happy, secure and loved. She certainly never constructed the dream herself.

5) But...she cries when she sees his shirts! She cries because of pretty shirts!

Shut up, she doesn’t cry because of pretty shirts. She cries because she is so overwhelmed by being reunited with Gatsby and seeing all he has built for her. The shirts are a symbol for this. 

And FYI, I can totally see how, given the right circumstances, a girl could cry over shirts.