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Answer by Cristina Hartmann,
I present to you the defense of Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby.
The common wisdom says that she’s a shallow, vapid bitch who spurned the ever-loyal Gatsby for the equally detestable Tom. Oh, she’s a criminal to boot!
I won’t deny that Daisy is a deeply flawed woman, but I don’t think she’s the devil incarnate or nearly as loathsome as many seem to think. I see her more as a deeply unhappy woman who cannot live up to others’ expectations of her. In other words, she’s deeply human.
I submit these pieces of evidence:
Gatsby’s letter to Daisy
Let’s talk about the infamous wedding scene:
I was a bridesmaid . I came into her room half an hour before the bridal dinner, and found her lying on her bed as lovely as the June night in her flowered dress —and as drunk as a monkey. She had a bottle of Sauterne in one hand and a letter in the other. …
“Here, deares’.” She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. “Take’em down-stairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ’em all Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say: ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!’”
She began to cry — she cried and cried. I rushed out and found her mother’s maid, and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn’t let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap-dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.
But she didn’t say another word. We gave her spirits of ammonia and put ice on her forehead and hooked her back into her dress, and half an hour later, when we walked out of the room, the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o’clock she married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver, and started off on a three months’ trip to the South Seas.
Where many readers might see a fickle woman throwing away true love, I see a woman with an difficult choice thrust upon her and choosing the known over the unknown—a choice many of us make in our lifetimes.
After Gatsby and Daisy parted ways, we can tentatively infer that they didn’t stay in touch based on her reaction to his letter. So, Gatsby traipsed off to a violent war for years—without a word—while Daisy stayed at home, ignorant of whether he was alive. Perhaps she even presumed he was dead.
As she prepared to marry Tom–someone who made her feel special by lavishing her with attention and presents–she’s waylaid by a letter from an old suitor. (Note that we don’t know what the letter says.)
Everything had been arranged. Her family had probably invested a lot of money into the wedding (the bride’s family is usually stuck with the bill). Everyone was expecting her to show up for the match of the decade.
She made a choice based on expectations and “sunk cost” over an uncertain love. It wasn’t a brave choice, but it was an understandable one.
Daisy’s affair with Gatsby
The conventional interpretation of Daisy rushing into an affair with Gatsby is that she did it out of shallowness and spite. Gatsby seduced her (easily) with his house and profligate lifestyle, leading her by the nose into renewing their relationship.
The older I grow (and hopefully wiser), I find that things are rarely that simple.
It occurs to me that Daisy might conflate lavish presents and true love. As a sheltered, somewhat upper-crust, girl, Daisy has had little experience with real love and tends to value herself by the attention that others (Gatsby and Tom) pay her. It’s actually quite tragic.
She makes the same mistake with Tom. At the beginning of their relationship, he lavished her with beautiful things and attention, making her think he loved her. (Which is why it is so hard for her to abide his flagrant affairs—because she truly believed he had loved her.)
Daisy is simply a woman who desperately wants to be loved but has been cast aside by her husband. When Gatsby comes along like a white knight, she seizes upon him, believing that maybe this time, the love is real.
It’s quite sad, actually. She should value herself more highly.
The accident and the aftermath
Daisy’s actions during and after the accident have served as the final nails in her coffin in the courtroom of public opinion. Not only did she hit—and kill!—someone, but she turned tail and abandoned the man who was willing to stand by her.
I suspect that most of the vitriol is directed at Daisy’s abandoning Gatsby (people are funny that way), so I’ll focus on that.
The more times I read Gatsby, the more I feel uneasy about his presupposed love. Gatsby no longer seems like a loyal lover, but more as a obsessive stalker who has created this impossible ideal of Daisy in his mind.
Take this as an example:
Gatsby walked over and stood beside her.
“Daisy, that’s all over now,” he said earnestly. “It doesn’t matter any more. Just tell him the truth— that you never loved him— and it’s all wiped out forever.”
She looked at him blindly. “Why— how could I love him—possibly?”
“You never loved him.”
She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing —and as though she had never , all along, intended doing anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late.
“I never loved him,” she said, with perceptible reluctance …
“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now— isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly . “I did love him once— but I loved you too.”
Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.
“You loved me too?” he repeated.
Gatsby demands that Daisy love him and only him, not just now, but ever and forever. It’s a form of ownership, to own someone’s love so thoroughly that nobody else can penetrate the bond is … unrealistic, to say the least. Particularly considering how short-lived their initial romance was. His need to own her heart is so profound that he tries to badger her into believing his version.
That’s attempted emotional manipulation if I ever saw it.
It is clear that Gatsby has built up this ideal of Daisy in his mind that’s closer to a deity than a real woman. Gatsby doesn’t even really love her; he loves the idea of her. (Which, of course, is part of the point of the novel.)
And perhaps Daisy realizes that Gatsby’s love is as fake as his name.
At the end, she’s left with a man who thinks too much of her and a man who thinks too little of her. She chooses the latter, since she can’t measure up to the former. Once again, we see her make the weaker choice—a choice many people would’ve made.
As for the accident, not turning herself in afterward is the one unpardonable thing she has done. Yet, people focus on her abandoning Gatsby and shallowness. Odd.
Daisy Buchanan doesn’t deserve praise—she consistently takes the weaker, cowardly route—but she doesn’t deserve hatred, either. When you look closely, you’ll find a woman constantly searching for love in the wrong places and trying to meet unrealistic expectations. When she faces a tough choice, she cuts and run … like many of us.
Perhaps we should pity her instead of vilifying her.
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