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Teaching The Great Gatsby through a Reproductive Justice Lens

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Feminist critiques of The Great Gatsby are surprisingly lacking. Here are some suggestions if you're looking to teach the iconic novel through a reproductive justice lens.

 
 

Given the iconicity of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, it’s rather disappointing to discover that feminist critiques, over a span of forty years, represent a paltry percentage in relation to almost any other analytic approach. Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle emerge as key figures worth contemplating, but overall, these three--either as an abstract composite of different women’s options in the 1920s or individual players--typically serve as secondary instruments to comprehend either Gatsby’s or Nick’s moral compass.


Why not, then, introduce a fresh perspective into the mix via the prism of motherhood? Rather than dredging up the green light’s symbolism One. More. Time, perhaps turn to the “fresh green breast of the new world” as a maternal trope that can help to decode Nick’s own relationships with women and ‘the motherland.’ But more importantly, it may deepen your students’ understanding of Daisy’s relationship to traditional femininity through her distanced performance of motherhood.


Granted, her daughter Pammy pointedly makes few appearances--a prop to be “seen” for a moment, then whisked away by a paid caretaker. Daisy’s narration of the girl’s birth, however, registers as a rare moment of her vulnerability and candor, describing her “abandonment” by Tom (not present) and her lack of consciousness during the procedure. Her momentous lines-- “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”--are dismissed by Nick as “basic insincerity,” “a trick of some sort.” Feminist readers, however, may instead witness her keen awareness of gender codes in an ostensibly progressive, “New Woman” era. Students who initially romanticize motherhood may re-examine Daisy’s position in a different light, especially when flanked by Jordan and Myrtle.


Related discussion topics might include: How does Daisy’s maternal identity relate to, or conflict with, white and gold symbols within the novel? Does this role momentarily erase Daisy as a love object or enhance her desirability?

 

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