Women prior to the 1920 s were usually described as proper and prim mannered. This was during a time when women were basically powerless, because they were being controlled by men. During the 1920 s though, females began to show some boldness and started to move away from the stereotypes that were placed on them, and strived to live their lives according to their own version of the American Dream. The women of The Great Gatsby and Passing, are portrayed as both reckless and defiant. While women were treated as inferior and were supposed to act proper, the females of the 1920 s defied the stereotypes, and broke the social boundaries.
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The females of The Great Gatsby played important roles in showing the desired cultural identities of the 1920’s. Originally, the women were controlled by men, and had basically no say in their own personal affairs.
Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy s name. Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! shouted Mrs. Wilson. I ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai- Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (Fitzgerald 41)
Without warn, the violent and governing Tom broke his girlfriends nose because of the fact that she mentioned his wife s name. Although Mrs. Wilson did not gain power by mocking Tom, her role slightly changes as she decides that she indeed does have to right to speak her mind. Slowly throughout the novel, the women begin to disengage themselves from their standards, and start to take a more loose role in society. The women start to voice their opinions more, and throughout the novel women are drinking and dancing. At Gatsby s untamed parties, the women are intoxicated to the point in which they can no longer walk or act normally. The women even become the center of attention, which was unusual in a time when they were supposed to remain in the background.
The groups change more swiftly with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath- already there are wanders, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited with triumph glide though the sea change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light. (45)
While some of the women at Gatsby s parties still remain in the background, several confident girls began to push themselves into the spotlight, erasing social barriers of the past. After staying in the spotlight for a moment, the women glide through, which indicates a confident walk.
Daisy, by the end of the story, not only accepts a new role as a woman, but also gains much power over her controlling husband.
You don t understand, said Gatsby, with a touch of panic. You re not going to take care of her anymore.
I m not? Tom opened his eyes wide and laughed. He could afford to control himself now. Why s that?
Daisy s leaving you.
I am though, she said with a visible effort. (140)
Daisy separates herself from Tom s control, and decides to leave him. Contrary to the cultural customs that were used during that time, Daisy disregarded her husband s wishes and made her own decision. This is the most important point in the novel when looking at the changing roles of women.
In Nella Larsen s Passing, the narrative picks up when the women have already broken some of the social barriers and are in the midst of experiencing life as real people
With a quick perception of the need for immediate safety, she lifted a wavering hand the direction of a cab parker directly in front of her. The perspiring driver jumped out and guided her to his car. He helped, almost lifted her in. She sank down on the hot leather seat. For a moment her thoughts were nebulous. They cleared. I guess, she told her Samaritan, it s tea I need. On a roof somewhere. The Drayton, ma am? he suggested. They do say as how it s always a breeze up there. Thank you. I think the Drayton ll do nicely. she told him. (Larsen 13)
The Drayton hotel, although fictional, was used by Larsen to portray the Drake Hotel in Chicago, which is a very expensive and highly acclaimed hotel. Prior to the 1920 s, women were not allowed into the upper class hotels without being accompanied by a male. This shows that times were changing, and that women accepted the new role which was available to them.
As you can see, the proper women that existed before the 1920 s began to vanish during that time period, and women started to become more powerful individuals. Passing and Gatsby both showed how the women of the era defied the stereotypes and expectations, and lived life free.