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The Role Of Female Characters In American Literature: The Great Gatsby And The Grapes Of Wrath

1166 words - 5 pages

For readers who observe literature through a feminist lens, they will notice the depiction of female characters, and this makes a large statement on the author’s perception of feminism. Through portraying these women as specific female archetypes, the author creates sense of what roles women play in both their families and in society. In books such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the roles that the main female characters play are, in different instances, both comparable and dissimilar.
In typical families of the early to mid 1900s, and even now in many cases, the man held the position of the leader, and the expected role of women was to cook, clean, and follow the orders of their husbands. This can be seen in the very first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath when Steinbeck writes, “And the women came out of the housed to stand beside their men-to feel whether this time the men would break…women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole”. (Steinbeck, 2006) It is clear from this that the women look to their husbands to decide how they must respond to any situation. Despite this typical portrayal of a submissive wife, Ma Joad in Grapes steps up as the leader and backbone of her family. Steinbeck makes this clear when he says, “She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she has practiced denying them in herself”. (Steinbeck, 2006) Clearly, the members of the Joad family look to Ma for leadership, not Pa. Unlike Ma, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby as a woman who is very dependent on the men in her life for financial support, decision-making, and happiness. Fitzgerald shows this multiple times. One example of this would be when he writes of how Daisy, as a young woman, discusses with Gatsby their dreams of traveling and doing spectacular things; however, instead of achieving these dreams, she marries Tom in order to climb higher on the social ladder and lives off his success. (Fitzgerald, 2004) From this, the reader clearly sees that Daisy does not find happiness in her own success or decisions, but though what the man she is with has made of himself. Without a doubt, social status is a very important key to Daisy’s joy in life; however, she takes no action in creating this success for herself and depends on her husband for this particular goal.
The act of being a mother has always been a central role of women in both reality and literature. In The Grapes of Wrath, Ma comes across as a very caring, compassionate mother who would do anything for her family. One example of her good, motherly skills would be her constant encouragement. For instance when she tells Tom, “Why, Tom - us people will go on livin' when all them people is...

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