Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alternate Endings

This is a paper that I wrote for my POES (Principles of English Studies) class. I rather liked it, and I got a good grade on it- 100%! Enjoy!

A common concept throughout literature is that of women being forced to, or choosing to, conform to the expectations placed upon them by a patriarchal society. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his contemporary James Joyce both wrote in a period of history in which women's rights were beginning to emerge and gain importance in the public mind. Joyce's “Eveline,” from his collection Dubliners, and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, published ten years later, both contain female characters that illustrate the conflicted attitudes toward women and gender roles at the time. The women in both stories are reflections of the progress that women were making toward equality, but also of the tendency to revert back to a male-dominated existence out of habit. Eveline in “Eveline” and Daisy in The Great Gatsby are similar in their ultimate submission to the roles assigned to them by society rather than choosing another course in life, and in their unrealistic idealization of the men that represent those courses, perpetuating patriarchal views toward both women and men.

Eveline lives in constant fear of her father's violence and works not because she wants to, but because her father cannot work to provide for the family. She is also responsible for two children, having to step into the role of a mother at the age of nineteen. On the surface, she feels obligated to stay because of “the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could” (Joyce 134). But, as soon as a way out presents itself, she jumps at the chance. She believes that, “in her new home, in a distant unknown country... people would treat her with respect then” (132). Eveline is not marrying Frank because she loves him; at least, that is not the only reason, or even the main one. She wants to marry him so that she can escape her domineering, violent father and hard, working-class life. “She must escape! Frank would save her....Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness” (134). By viewing Frank as a means of escape, placing him in shining armor on a white horse, so to speak, Eveline objectifies him, setting up expectations of him that are sure to be disappointed eventually and, ironically, allowing herself to be objectified as well.

Daisy seems to have an easier life than Eveline; it is certainly a more luxurious life. Her marriage to Tom appears to be, if not happy, at least stable at the beginning of the novel, despite Tom having a mistress and his apparent indifference toward their child; he interrupts Daisy when she is talking about the girl to ask Nick what he does for a living (Fitzgerald 16). Beyond this, we see very little interaction between Daisy and Tom. At the end of the novel, Nick lumps the two of them together, claiming that Daisy is shallow and careless, but we know that Nick is not a reliable narrator, and a look into Daisy's past reveals a greater depth: “Her mother had found her packing her bag one winter night to go to New York and say goodbye to a soldier who was going overseas” (82). Whether or not this soldier was Gatsby (and it is most likely safe to assume that it was), Daisy's willingness to travel from Louisville to New York simply to say good bye to him implies that she had true feelings for him. Five years later, in the present of the novel, Daisy believes herself to still be in love with Gatsby, or in love with him again, but it is clear from their disjointed conversation that they do not really know each other anymore. Daisy's plan to leave her husband for her former beau is founded on a romantic image of Gatsby that she has built in her mind, an image which is fueled by Gatsby's invented identity. She, like Eveline, is allowing herself to idealize a man that does genuinely mean something to her, but who cannot rescue her like she expects him to.

Both women, after planning to leave their respective homes and run away with the men they have idealized, do not decide so much as fail to act on their intentions, and stay in the situations they were in from the beginning. For Eveline, this situation is oddly comforting: “It was... a hard life- but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life” (Joyce 133). Now that she has seriously thought about, even planned, making a major life change, Eveline finds that she can not. “She prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty” (135). She feels that her duty is to stay with her father, and she must do her duty. To do otherwise would put her in an unfamiliar situation. Similarly, Daisy finds that she cannot completely commit to running away with Gatsby. At the moment of confrontation between him and Tom, though she still says she is resolved to leave Tom, Daisy tells Gatsby, “Even alone, I couldn't say I never loved Tom... It wouldn't be true” (Fitzgerald 139). Daisy stays with Tom not only out of duty, but because she really does want to stay with him. Though she wants Gatsby too, she feels that Tom is the safer choice. As Sarah Beebe Fryer wrote in her essay “Beneath the Mask,” Daisy's “fear of emotions and her need for stability make her cling to her unsatisfactory marriage to Tom” (47). Both women end up choosing their perceived duty over happiness (or, what they think will bring them happiness) ostensibly out of obligation, but what they are truly deferring to is fear.

Daisy is no stranger to indecision. As Jordan reveals, the night before her marriage to Tom Daisy had some serious second thoughts, presumably triggered by a letter from Gatsby (Fitzgerald 82). Whether the letter is recent or one that she has saved is unclear, but either way she goes ahead with the wedding. For Daisy, financial security is what drives her initial decision to marry Tom; “Her voice is full of money,” (126) as Gatsby himself says. She can only briefly entertain the thought of living outside of the luxury in which she has been raised before rejecting it. Fryer also wrote of Daisy's need of security: “Her need was not for any particular person... but simply for an attainable partner who could provide- through marriage- the sense of identity and stability she so desperately craved” (51). She would rather marry a man she had only lukewarm feelings about than one that could not provide that security.

Eveline, too, craves stability. Frank seems able to offer it; he has a home in Buenos Aires, where he has “fallen on his feet” (Joyce 133). Yet as they are about to board the ship, “all the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her” (135). The use of water as a metaphor seems especially significant in light Eveline's desire for stability. The water of the sea is ever-changing, never still, and she now believes that leaving with Frank will throw her onto the waves, not only literally, and she will lose the stability she needs, even more than she needs the respect she thought would be hers after her marriage. Eveline's hesitation, like her desire to marry Frank, has very little to do with Frank himself. Her main reason for leaving Ireland with Frank had been to escape her hard life, so “she would not be treated as her mother had been” (132). But, as Florence L. Walzl points out in the essay “Dubliners: Women in Irish Society,” in Joyce's work “mothers so influence or manipulate their daughters that, in effect, the young women relive their mothers' lives” (47). This manipulation is seen in Eveline's promise on “the last night of her mother's illness” (Joyce 134) and is what ultimately makes her choose staying with her father over leaving with Frank; there is greater stability for Eveline in pleasing her parents than in a financially secure marriage.

Both women are afraid to take risks. They have both been brought up to accept the position allotted to them by a patriarchal society without complaint or question. And, since this is all they have ever known, when faced with the opportunity for something new, they revert back to the familiar. For both Eveline and Daisy, what drew them to the unfamiliar and made them consider giving up that security was an idealized, romanticized image of the men onto whom they projected their longings. For Daisy, this longing was for freedom, and for Eveline, respect. But in the end they both choose to keep their lives as they are, which perhaps is for the best. Would Daisy really have been happy had she left Tom for Gatsby, assuming he hadn't been murdered? Would Eveline have found the respect and affirmation she so clearly longs for had she gone to Buenos Aires with Frank? The alternate endings that they ultimately rejected may not have brought them happiness, and who is to say that the lives they end up with won't, either? While they may have chosen submission, the point is that they chose.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books Limited, 1981.

Fryer, Sarah Beebe. “Beneath the Mask: the Plight of Daisy Buchanan.” Fitzgerald's New Women: Harbingers of Change. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1988. 43-55.

Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Fiction: a Pocket Anthology. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. 131-135.

Walz, Florence L. “Dubliners: Women in Irish Society.” Women in Joyce. Eds. Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1982. 31-54.

1 comment:

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