Who is the real Daisy Buchanan? – The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann

I am apprehensive about writing this. I sense I am crossing a boundary, we do still have taboos though they are painted on with invisible ink. They exist because – the unconscious mind exists – most of us do not command a 360 degree view and so, there is a line that separates the things we know from the things we do not know. This line is known as a Taboo and just like a perceptual cliff, we instinctively avoid looking over it. The 1920’s were different – there was a lot of looking over the cliff, a different kind of smashing was going on. The First World War destroyed the illusion of safety and also took out a generation of men – the youngest, the fittest, the best and the bravest – all went over.

I did a bit of skulking around the net trying to figure out what the current perception of Daisy inspires. I discovered everyone is pretty dark on her. She is described as shallow, selfish, weak – undeserving of the heroic dream Jay pins upon her – there may be truth to this, but for a different reason to the allegations the chorus places at her feet. She has become – interestingly, an object that inspires – disgust rather than admiration. This in some part – has been encouraged by our flawed narrator – Nick who is as captivated by Daisy, as everyone else she encounters. We become unwitting accomplices to a crime we sense is about to occur and we are powerless to stop our hand from striking.

Who or what is Daisy? I propose a detective hunt to join the eternal pursuit to claim, secure and possess ‘Daisy’ and to begin the hunt – let us seek out that which is similar to understand the habits and qualities of the quarry.

Daisy is portrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald as a modern version of Helen of Troy, the legendary most beautiful woman in the world. A woman – who inspired such desire – that it brought down the ancient Greek City of Troy. Helen herself, her motives – her preferences, her desires remain – unknown and unimportant to the story, unless you are wantonly curious – as am I. F. Scott paints Daisy as a ‘Helen’ – a mysterious, intuitive, feminine force – the essence of divine unattainable beauty – an object of desire, rendered more desirable due to her mystery. A mystery – that is assumed to explain or provide a key to ‘everything’.

Happenstance conspired to render the Daisy immortal. The constellation of fate and genetics offer her up as the perfect image or ideal object of desire upon which to reflect and project, every lost dream and relinquished desire – for transformation and retrieval.

The prose of F. Scott provides multiple clues about the motives and desires of Daisy herself, but they fall into at least two categories which are, in order – that which is perceived by Nick or Jordan or Jay or Tom and that which she herself conveys. The picture – is very different.

NICK’S GAZE
Nick first introduces us to Daisy by observing her, laying in a drawing room where a gentle breeze enters through open french windows “rippling and fluttering” the fabric of her white dress giving the impression that she had flown, like an otherworldly creature upon her wings and alighted on the sofa. Nick discloses an urge to apologize for ‘disturbing’ her.

Nick describes Daisy’s voice on many occasions. He begins by describing her way of speaking – in murmurs. He says, “She laughed again, as if she said something witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face; promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had … I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean towards her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming …”

“I looked back at my cousin who began … in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again … there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen’ …”

“For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened – then the glow faded … a stirring warmth flowed from her as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words”.

Nick observes the effects of her voice further, when Jay and Daisy finally meet – again, he says “His hand took hold of hers and as she said something low in his ear he turned toward her with a rush of emotion. I think that voice held him most with its fluctuating, feverish warmth because it couldn’t be over-dreamed – that voice was a deathless song”. And further when Daisy first attends one of Jay’s parties – a party he contrived to draw her closer, into his ‘dream’.

Nick says, “Daisy began to sing with the music in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again. When the melody rose her voice broke up sweetly, following it, in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air.”

JORDAN’S GAZE

Even Jordan is bemused, confused or intrigued by Daisy’s voice. She is telling Nick the story of Daisy’s Wedding to Tom. Contrary to popular belief she is on the verge of a breakdown the night before, clinging to Jay’s last letter – where is he asking her to wait.

Jordan says, “I was a bridesmaid. I came into her room half an hour before … found her lying on her bed lovely as the June night … and as drunk as a monkey … I was scared, I can tell you; I’d never seen a girl like that before … She began to cry – she cried and cried … we locked the door … cold bath … wouldn’t let go of the letter … gave her spirits of ammonia … put ice on her forehead … hooked her back into her dress … pearls around her neck … incident over … married … without so much as a shiver”. Hmmmm. Jordan goes on …

“Daisy was popular in Chicago … moved with a fast crowd … young and rich and wild but she came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because she doesn’t drink … Perhaps Daisy never went in for amour at all – and yet there’s something in that voice of hers …”

JAY GATSBY’S GAZE

Jay Gatsby was born James Gatz in the dust bowl of America. He was dirt poor. He dreamed his way through life becoming the object of his own dreams. Nick describes James’s journey from dream to form … “Each night [Jay] added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing” and James found the object of that wing in Daisy Faye.

Jay to Daisy after meeting again, “What do you think of that? It’s stopped raining.”

Daisy, “I’m glad Jay.” Her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of her unexpected joy.

” “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” … “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever … it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.”

Nick on Gatsby after meeting with Daisy again, “… I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness … 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. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything … He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you'”.

Jay tells Nick, “… she doesn’t understand. She used to be able to understand. We’d sit for hours …”. Nick cautions “I wouldn’t ask too much of her”. Through the lens of Nick’s perceptions, the tint of Jay’s gaze is made plain. Nick reflects on Jay’s story saying,

“He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again … his lips’ touch she blossomed for him … and the incarnation was complete.”

Nick says about Daisy as they are preparing to go to New York, “She’s got an indiscreet voice … it is full of …” then Jay finishes his sentence saying, “Her voice is full of money”.

TOM’S GAZE

F. Scott and Daisy portray Tom as a brute – but Nick describes Tom’s presence as a “wholesome bulkiness”. Despite his affairs, Daisy appears to occupy a certain value in his mind.

“Please Tom! I can’t stand this any more” Daisy implores, now afraid of Gatsby. Tom replies as a person experienced in intimidation and the art of punishing to ensure compliance, “You two start on home Daisy … in Mr Gatsby’s car. Go on. He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over.”

But we have not spoken of Myrtle, nor the little puppy left possibly to starve in the flat after Myrtle’s death. Nick recalls a scene which clears up to some extent the value Daisy has for Tom.

Nick says,“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.” So Mrs. Wilson, Myrtle continues to shout, “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!” and in response Nick tells us, “Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand”. Can we say, at least he used an open hand?

DAISY HER-SELF

It seems to me, the only way to clear up this mystery – is to discover what the lady herself thought. Daisy refers to Tom as a “brute of a man, a great big hulking physical specimen” and describes Jay saying “you always look so cool”.

Daisy confesses early in the tale to Nick, “I’ve had a very bad time, Nick, and I’m pretty cynical about everything.” She illustrates just how cynical she has become by telling Nick what she said when her little girl was born. She said, “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”. Daisy by comparison, is no fool. Daisy encourages Tom to mingle at Jay’s party saying, “Go ahead … and if you want to take down any addresses here’s my little gold pencil.”

Did she love Jay? Ofcourse but Daisy was realistic enough to know the Titanic sank. She realised, probably with the help of her mother, that Jay had as Nick says, “taken her under false pretenses” – letting her believe that he was a person from much the same strata as herself – that he was fully able to take care of her” whereas the truth was “he had no such facilities – he had no comfortable family standing behind him and he was liable … to be flown anywhere about the world”.

Although she ‘chose’ Tom, it was not without great turmoil that she did. The night before her Wedding she drank herself into a stupor. She said to Jordan, ” “Here, dearis.” She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. “Take ’em downstairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ’em all Daisy’s change’her mind. Say ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!'”

And ofcourse – if there was any confusion about Daisy’s motives or intentions – actions speak much louder than words especially when there is a cloak of double speak to hide a million secrets. Jay tells us, “Well, first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back … it must have killed her instantly.” Yes – it did.

Nick left Tom and Daisy’s house that night, but before leaving the redolent snobbery and taking his disgust with him he saw Daisy and Tom “sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale.” Tom was talking and Daisy nodding. Nick’s concludes, “They weren’t happy … and yet they weren’t unhappy either … unmistakable air of natural intimacy … they were conspiring together”, but we cannot now trust Nick completely.

F. SCOTT’S GAZE
Hard to say, need more time. But I wanted to leave this in a watery grave, where it belongs with a final piece of well crafted prose. This story and Daisy herself unsettles me – the deepest part of me feels disquiet the way the surface of still water is disturbed by the gentlest of breezes.

F. Scott has Daisy say to Jordan and Nick at the beginning, before the wreckage and destruction, “I looked outdoors for a minute and it’s very romantic outdoors. There’s a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line. He’s singing away … it’s romantic, isn’t it, Tom?”

The Titanic, was of course – one of the vessels owned by the White Star Line. It lasts – this dream, it lingers the way the melancholy lingers in the marble of the Taj Mahal – but there is also joy there too. I want to release Daisy from her prison and let her rest in peace and let everyone else – begin.

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2 thoughts on “Who is the real Daisy Buchanan? – The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann

  1. I loved the movie as well — LOVED it. But Daisy’s response in the astounding “shirt scene” is somewhat ambiguous, no? One could be forgiven for laughing, because of course it’s not the damned shirts she loves — yet, yet, it sort of IS the shirts, or, at least, the money they represent. We’re not exactly sure what’s going through that (mostly shallow, mostly materialistic) mind of hers. Certainly, caught up in the sensuous, romantic moment, she regrets having chosen money over love five years earlier. But does she regret her decision because she now realizes love trumps money or because she’s discovered that Gatsby is now swimming in money — so she can have her cake and eat it too? The essential answer doesn’t come until the end, where Daisy’s actions are not so ambiguous — she chooses money. Again. Poor Gatsby! — there’s that naive hopefulness — he thought Daisy was more than she actually was

    • So I need a little time to process the levels of your thoughtful comment but I will get back soon with something more substantial.

      For now, Lorelai Lee, aka Marilyn Monroe probably says it best in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”

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