The Great Gatsby: Women Oppression and Patriarchal Dominance

 The Great Gatsby: Women Oppression and Patriarchal Dominance

(L-r) ELIZABETH DEBICKI as Jordan Baker, JOEL EDGERTON as Tom Buchanan, CAREY MULLIGAN as Daisy Buchanan and TOBEY MAGUIRE as Nick Carraway in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “THE GREAT GATSBY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

To Daisy, being naive and innocent is important to women than being smart and intellectual.

The Great Gatsby is not merely the story of love and betrayal. It also tells how women are oppressed through the patriarchal dominance.

Through the lens of feminist literary criticism, the essay tries to uncover symbols of women oppression and patriarchal dominance contained in the characters of the story.

Throughout the history, feminism and feminist literary criticism has been focusing on the issue of gender and sexuality carried in the literary works and their adaptation into film.

Feminist critics, ranging from radical, liberal, to Marxist feminism, have argued that many of the literary works are composed under the influence of male-dominated society, resulting them into depicting unequal position within the relationship of men and women (UK Essays, 2016).

Women are mostly portrayed as having less power compared to men. They are unable to empower themselves due to the power domination of men. In other words, men are the controller to women.

Such portrayal encourages feminist critics to further examine power relation in terms of gender and sexuality, particularly on the pattern of thought, behaviour, principle and authority between the two genders (UK Essays, 2016).

Liberal feminism upholds the idea that men and women should be given equal opportunities in all circumstances.

This type of feminism also believes that public policy should be made accessible to both genders and not only advantageous to one side (UK Essays, 2016).

Radical feminism, like its term, sees men as threat to the freedom of women. It rejects every notion of patriarchal society and its cultural product and accuses men along with their patriarchal system as the women oppressor.

While, Marxist feminism does not merely focus on gender, but also considers the relatedness of social class, wealth, aristocracy and ethnicity.

The issue of women and depiction of feminism are presented and can be easily found in The Great Gatsby.

It is a 2013 film directed by Baz Luhrmann and adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same title.

The story sets in Long Island and New York City in the 1922, after the World War I ended. This era is called the Jazz Age. The era, where, as described by Luhrmann:

“The tempo of the city approached hysteria. Stocks reached, record peaks, and Wall Street boomed in a steady golden roar. The parties were bigger. The shows were broader. The buildings were higher. The morals were looser and the ban on alcohol had backfired making the liquor cheaper.” (Luhrmann, 2013).


The plot centres around Nick Carraway, who moves to Long Island to expand his career. He visits his acquaintance, Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan, and later he learns that Tom is involved in a romantic affair with a woman named Myrtle Wilson.

Being in New York, Nick also learns that material and possession are everything needed in order to be recognised in the society. He then discovers that he is the neighbour of Jay Gatsby, the most mysterious wealthy man in the West Egg.

As the plot develops, Nick reveals the past between Gatsby and Daisy as ex-lovers. Gatsby and Daisy soon get into their romantic affair secretly.

The overall setting and plot development depict how female characters in the film experience oppression within the patriarchal society. Hence, this essay aims to examine women oppression in The Great Gatsby.

In the discussion, there is also further investigation of the impact of patriarchal dominance toward female characters in the film.

The depicted issues are seen through the perspective of feminism. Liberal and radical feminism is used to analyse the position of women in the relationship, and Marxist feminism is applied to the issue of women and social class.

Character Analysis: Daisy

At the beginning of the story, the audiences are introduced to the East Egg, where Tom and Daisy live in their luxurious neighbourhood.

East Egg is not only a perfect illustration to social class and aristocracy, but patriarchal society is depicted there (Affroni & Hendrarti, 2013).

It is told that Tom is the “heir to one of America’s wealthiest families,” (Luhrmann, 2013), while Daisy is jobless in her marriage.

Daisy is fully dependant on Tom, and this causes her to be oppressed in her own marriage. Daisy does not have to do a single job to support the finance of the family.

While it may seem that the women are the ones who take the advantage from the patriarchal system, according to liberal feminism, they do not realise that they are oppressed by their husband.

For instance, even though Daisy knows about the affair between her husband and Myrtle, she is asked not to create a scene. Women are unable to voice their rights because they are portrayed as weak compared to their husband.

In patriarchal society, especially in the marriage, the husbands are in charge of every decision made regarding the relationship.

Women’s rights are cut off; they have to be obedient to their husband simply because their husband has given them all the material and possession. Consequently, they, too, become a possession to their husband; the ones who can be controlled.

In addition to being unaware of the oppression, the female characters in The Great Gatsby are mostly portrayed shallow.

The patriarchal society has taught them to be submissive and that they are unable to empower themselves.

Women are told that they need men in order to survive. The shallow characteristics of female character in the film can be seen through the dialogue of Daisy and Nick when she shares her feeling of giving birth to a girl.

“I’m glad it’s a girl, and I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl in this world can be. A beautiful little fool,” (Luhrmann, 2013).

Here, Daisy’s shallowness is pictured clearly.

She does not appreciate women’s intelligence because her society has constructed her to think that women have less capability in intelligence, and there is no use of being a smart woman since there are men to give them life.

To Daisy, being naive and innocent is important to women than being smart and intellectual. She also states that physical appearance is another important quality. It is implied that in patriarchal society, women are seen and not heard.

Character Analysis: Myrtle

Myrtle, another main female character in this film also contributes shallow portrayal. She is told to be the mistress of Tom, and she cheated from her husband.

Marxist feminist sees the relatedness between women and social class.

Myrtle is not happy with her marriage because her husband cannot provide her enough possession, so she gets into an affair with Tom, who has high social status.

However, what Myrtle has with Tom is only an illusion; she will never be part of the aristocrats. She is willing to leave her pride, degrade her own value as human being for wealth and luxury.

Just like Daisy, Myrtle is objectified by Tom. She is not respected as a human. Tom can come by anytime and Myrtle has to be ready to please him.

Through radical feminist’s lens, in patriarchal society, when a woman tries to stand up for her right, the man will come to take it.

This can be seen when Tom physically abuses Myrtle, and there is nothing Myrtle can do to fight back because she is powerless.

While the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy seems equal, there is still inequality between the man and woman.

When Gatsby tries to convince Daisy to go with him instead of Tom, he tries to dominate and control Daisy.

This can also be seen as an oppression toward female character resulted from patriarchal dominance.


In conclusion, The Great Gatsby tells the story about how women are oppressed through the patriarchal dominance.

The life in New York and Long Island is the representation of how the society constructs false consciousness in which men are positioned in higher authority than women.

Daisy Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson are the symbol of oppressed women and the victim of patriarchal society.

Daisy is the portrayal of woman who is ignorant to her own life. Myrtle is portrayed as the character who willingly accept the oppression.

Tom Buchanan is the symbol of the patriarchy itself; he is able to control and dominate other characters.

sumber gambar: IMDb

Muhammad Firhat
Mahasiswa Sastra Inggris Universitas Negeri Jakarta

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