Great Gatsby – Is Daisy Buchanan Retarded?

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Nick Carraway, the narrator, makes much of Daisy’s beauty and her sultry voice. But it is through dialogue and action –through her own words and duplicitous behavior– that we can detect her mental flaws.

Lord Francis Bacon in his essay on Beauty said, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” This quality of strangeness is the fact that she’s “slow.” As the story progresses it becomes clear that some things go over her head and as a result she tends to distrust and doubt what to others are acceptable events. In one instance Nick perceives this flaw when he says, “She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.” (GG, 107).

Understanding doesn’t come easy to Daisy, and when she offers an opinion, it is always an inane opinion that often verges on absurdity. Notice how she deals with one single idea by repeating the same idea three times:

“In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year.” She looked at us all radiantly. “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.”

If you count the pronoun “it” you will realize that she has mentioned the longest day of the year five times. Now, how many of us-unless we are physicists or meteorologists– entertain the idea to “always watch” for the longest day of he year only to miss it? Is it possible that she associates the summer solstice (June 20-21) with a personal date that she should both simultaneously remember and forget? June seems to be an ill-starred month in that summer of her discontent.

For, “In June she marries Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before,” Jordan Baker tells Nick. Since she married Tom in June, then Daisy may be alluding to her wedding anniversary date; a date that she watches for with painful expectancy only to dismiss it. One should also recall that on the eve of her wedding day she receives a letter (presumably from Gatsby) which distresses her immensely, moving her to the point of drunken stupor. As the story unfolds, we learn that Daisy is unhappy in her marriage to Tom, knowing that he is not only a womanizer but also a violent and abusive man.

A character that not only repeats the same words with each utterance, but also repeats trivialities and stutters has to be slow, or a least limited, if not feeble-minded. The British philosopher John Locke said of humans, “in their thinking and reasonings within themselves, make use of Words instead of Ideas.” In our own times, the linguist Noam Chomsky sees language as something that grows in the brain. In this light, when Nick portrays Daisy’s with a paucity of speech, we have no choice but to see her as an empty-headed beauty with little or no intellectual acumen.

The Renaissance scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his Copia of Words and Ideas-a treatise on the varying of speech-says,

“In particular, however, it will be useful in avoiding tautology, that is repetition of the same word or expression, a vice not only unseemly but also offensive. It not infrequently happens that we have to say the same thing several times, in which case, if destitute of copia we will either be at a loss, or, like the cuckoo, croak out the same words repeatedly, and be unable to give different shape or form to the thought. And thus betraying our want of eloquence we will appear ridiculous ourselves and utterly exhaust our wretched audience with wariness.”

But let’s return to Daisy’s repetitions: “I looked outdoors for a minute, and it’s very romantic outdoors.” Daisy’s idealized world is a chimerical, fabulous, enchanted dimension where she hopes-with enough faith-she might find love in the form of a rescuing prince.

She sees in her cousin Nick as a pleasant, unthreatening figure, who is fun to be with, who is discreet, and who seems loyal to her. Nick for Daisy is someone who will not cause hurt to her as Jay Gatsby did with their separation, and as Tom Buchanan does in their unhappy marriage.

“Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.”

“You always look so cool,” she repeated.

As she repeats the word ‘cool’ she emphasizes her sentiments that she finds in Nick a benign soul. When Daisy accepts Nick’s invitation to visit with Gatsby, little did she know that Nick would be opening the flood-gates of adultery, misery, crime and evasion, and much unhappiness.

“Come back in an hour, Ferdie.” Then in grave murmur: “His name is Ferdie.”

When she repeats the name Ferdie in a “grave murmur,” what the narrator signals is the gravity of her unennobling actions; we know that has sealed her fate to committing adultery.

Once Daisy enters Gatsby’s mansion, there’s no escape from that castle of doom. Once in Gatsby’s inner sanctum, dazzled by the opulence, she can only spew trivial observations, as when she sees the collection of shirts:

“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such–such beautiful shirts before.”

Oxford shirts were imported from London, and were the expensive uniform that people in Wall Street would wear. Since Nick was a bond trader, he presumably knew about such beautiful shirts. We can also note a symbolic connection to Gatsby, as he was referred to as an “Oxford man.”

What is surprising is that she blurts out not only platitudes, but also absurdities as in the following examples: “I’ll tell you a family secret,” she whispered enthusiastically. “It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose?”

But again, what appears an absurdity (to talk about noses in a serious book) may be pseudo symbols to depict “the help,” just as the houses (Daisy’s, Jay’s, and Tom’s) are representative of the “upper crust.” (p.13).

Nick refers to Daisy’s laugh as “an absurd, charming little laugh.” (p.8)

Daisy also stutters: “I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.” (p8.)

But much unhappines she reveals when the nurse informs her that her baby is a little girl. Acknowledging the plight of the American woman of her times she says: “I am 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.” This poignant remark shows Daisy’s little self-esteem and resignation to a life of utter dependency. The French moralist, La Rochefoucauld, writes in maxim 207: “People do not grow mentally after age 25, nor do they grow older mentally. There is little wisdom based on understanding – most wisdom consists of prettified disillusions and is based on bitter experience.” Within the realm of the story, the heroine is then reduced to one more in that mass of women who live by the light of prettified disillusions and bitter experience.

When Garcia Marquez’s character (in One Hundred Years of Solitude) Remedios the Beauty ascends to heaven, the reader accepts this fact because the woman in her simple mindedness never sees that her beauty hurts people; even kills them. But when Nick Carraway paints Daisy as a southern belle, an innocent ingenue–that is asking too much of a reader; especially when we know that she is the driver in the fated hit-and-run death.

When Hamlet said, “Frailty thy name is woman,” he meant, “Frailty thy name is Daisy.”

write by Godiva

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