The focal point of the paper is to explore the Male-Female Relationships in The Great Gatsby by the noted American author of the post first world war era F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Yellow Wallpaper by American short story writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The complexities of men and women in the texts would be examined and evaluated based on sexuality and relationship and the inferences would be supported by the texts themselves.
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Background of Male-Female Relationships
Before one begins to discuss sexual and gender differences in regards to love and intimacy, perhaps it is wise to discuss first the basic concepts of love, intimacy, and marriage. In modern Western democracies, marriage is assumed to be founded on the cherished concept of romantic love. Furthermore, persons in modern, industrialized nations strongly believe that the choice of a mate should be left to the individual. It comes as a shock to many people in these Western nations, then, when they discover that this revered concept of romantic love is almost wholly unknown in most cultures and is considered laughable or self-indulgent in many other societies. In most traditional or developing societies, marriage is viewed upon as being a pragmatic economic arrangement or a matter of family alliances. (Lips, 67) Love has little, if anything, to do with it. In these cultures, marriage is negotiated by the parents of the betrothed. The opinions of the children themselves are generally viewed as being irrelevant. If love becomes a feature of these unions at all, it is expected to be a result and not a cause of the marriage. The economic components of these unions are especially pronounced in cultures where an intending groom must pay a bride–price to his prospective father-in-law. This tradition is very common in sub-Saharan Africa, where almost all of the tribes expect the groom to trade cattle for the bride. However, strange it may seem today, the man-woman relationship depended on these principles in 19th century America as depicted in the selected texts. (Robertson, 188)
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby can be enumerated as a novel that is a landmark of American literature. This 240-page novel published on April 10, 1925, by the noted publisher of the time Charles Scribner’s Sons is an epic story set in the background of Long Island and New York City depicts the incidents of 1922 summer. According to Francis Scott Fitzgerald, this novel is a chronicle of an era that could be enumerated as the “Jazz Age.” It would also place a well-documented approach towards the application of the philosophy of the era and the insights of the characters pursuing the ‘American Dream’ with their social and emotional perspectives.
Analysis of the text
Daisy’s existence completely depended on successful marriage and without a successful marriage, the position of the woman in the society in the era was sure to suffer. “Through this twilight universe, Daisy began to move again with… the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed. And all the time something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately – and the decision must be made by some force – of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality – that was close at hand” (Fitzgerald, 8.19). Without a husband, she was not complete in the eyes of society and this was formulated by the male-dominated system of the time. Her entire surroundings were concerned about her marriage and Gatsby’s absence made her restless. This is a clear indication of the relationship between man and woman in the text as it is evident that in this situation the man is the giver and woman is the receiver, not a taker and while a taker can claim right away a receiver is only dependent on the giver, in this case, Gatsby.
Daisy’s comment, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (Fitzgerald, 1.118) is almost the interpretation of the society of the era. Here the relationship with the man is nothing more than being there and doing nothing. A woman is supposed to be befool and uninterested in everything other than satisfying a man. This makes a relationship with a man meaningless on emotional grounds but only on financial support.
It is visible in Nick’s comments, “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply – I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was at that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat. (Fitzgerald, 3.159) This ends the relationship between a man and a woman as such notion of disrespect could never develop a relationship and it is never possible to sustain a man-woman relationship under such parameters of disrespect.
The Yellow Wallpaper
This 6,000-word story was first published in The New England Magazine in the January 1892 issue. It narrates the mental health along with physical conditions of women in 19th century America and it is considered as one of the most fundamental works of the era from the parameters of feminist literature. The story is a journal by the main protagonist who is confined by her husband to work or move outside her house and so much so, she is even barred from other parts of the house too.
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Analysis of the text
John, the narrator’s husband, is reported to be extremely concerned about the narrator’s health and he firmly states, “My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing” (Gilman, 1.11). This is to emphasize the fact that the position of the woman is in her home whereas the men, who venture outside, possess the power to call the orders. Such remarks make the story dominated by male characters and this leaves the narrator confined in her room. The relationship between a man and woman is turned into a master and servant relationship bounded by orders.
The position of women in 19th century America was completely stereotyped and the narrator states, “[Jennie] is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for… no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!” (Gilman, 2.77) This identifies the position of women in society with the bondage of forced relationships and discouraged from education and to a man, being a good homemaker is all that can be desired from a woman, as in the case of John’s sister Jennie.
In her isolation, the narrator hallucinates, “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind,… and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. […] And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern–it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads (Gilman, 9.4 – 9.6). It is the vision of herself in the middle of a bonded relationship with her husband where there seems to be no outlet or salvation.
The relationship with her husband becomes so suffocating that she plans a way-out, at least in her mind. She imagines that the woman in the yellow wallpaper is trying to creep out at night. She remarks, “It is the same woman, I know, for she is… always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight” (Gilman, 10.4). It is this thought of suffocation that destroys the relationship with her husband and the man-woman relationship in this text becomes sour with her idea to salvage herself only at secrecy during the night.
Marriage in the Western culture is still laced with patriarchal notions. The idea that women are subordinate to their husbands is even today built into the marriage contract in many jurisdictions. Women in the United States, for example, still do most of the housework, even though a great number of them have jobs outside the home. Although the roles of fathers are changing, primary responsibility for the care of children still rests with the mother in Western society. This applies to both women with jobs and without jobs. Gender roles die hard. Given the many problems that are associated with marriage, it is not so surprising that many young people in Western societies- which, to a great extent, now values individual fulfillment over traditions- have become disillusioned with the institution of marriage. This has resulted in the surging of non-traditional social structures. (Leslie, 271)
Given the related conditions in the two texts, it is no wonder that today the women are choosing to be single. Another social structure becoming increasingly more common is singlehood. It is growing in popularity for women in Western democracies. For women, marriage- and even cohabitation- have serious drawbacks. Marriage, in particular, comes with an assortment of social sanctions that many women find to be constraining. Women usually lose their last names, having to assume the last names of their mates. Career-oriented women believe that assuming a family would be a detriment to their professional advancement. Many women- with justification- would feel burdened by doing the housework not only for herself but also for her husband and children. Also, by assuming a committed relationship, a woman makes herself vulnerable to the grim possibilities of physical, emotional, and mental abuse. Single is an umbrella term that includes persons who are divorced, widowed, or have never married. Singles now make up a considerable portion of the U.S. population. While some persons belonging to this group are unhappy with their single status, or ambivalent about it, large numbers are undeniably happy with this particular lifestyle choice.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Auckland: BLT, 2000.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Book Trust, 1999.
Leslie, Gerald. The Family in Social Context (Sixth Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Lips, Hilary. Sex & Gender: An Introduction. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2005.
Robertson, Ian. Society: A Brief Introduction. New York: Worth Publishers, Inc., 2001.