Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Genital Mutilation

A couple of weeks ago, Africa Today asked me to review a submission to their journal. Probably, they knew of my article on Chinua Achebe published in Research in African Literatures a few years ago and then republished more recently in a Harold Bloom collection. Anyhoo, I accepted. The manuscript that I subsequently received discussed the first two novels in Naruddin Farah’s “Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship” trilogy. In preparation for reviewing the essay, I quickly got a hold of the books; I’m currently done with the first one and nearly finished with the second. I will have a lot to say in terms of how Farah—in stark contrast to Achebe—posits gender equality as central to post-colonial nation-building, but I will save that for another time. Today, I have another issue on my mind and heart, albeit one closely related, for Farah at least, to gender equality in Africa: genital mutilation both in the US and abroad.

As I’ve made my way through the first two novels, Sweet and Sour Milk (1979) and Sardines (1981), both set in Somalia in the 1970s, I’ve noticed numerous references to that which we in the Western world refer to as female genital mutilation (FGM) or, perhaps less judgmentally, female circumcision. In the first book, Ladan suffers excruciating pain for several days each month, a pain common, the narrator points out, to circumcised women. In Sardines, Medina leaves her husband, Samater, at least in part, because he refuses to take a stand against his mother, who insists that she will circumcise Medina and Samater’s eight-year-old daughter, even if it means that the old woman has to snatch the child away from her parents for a few days to get the job done (106). In a reverie on the topic of circumcision, Medina articulates the physical and psychological damage that it causes to young girls, as well as the ways that it leads to further—seemingly endless—violations throughout women’s lives: “If they mutilate you at eight or nine, they open you up with a rusty knife the night they marry you off; then you are cut open and re-stitched. Life for a circumcised woman is a series of de-flowering pains, delivery pains and re-stitching pains. I want to spare my daughter these and many other pains. She will not be circumcised. Over my dead body” (67). In fact, the evil of the current Somali dictatorship seems to be best represented for Medina by circumcision. She tells the story of an African-American couple who visited the country with their “gem of joy,” a sixteen-year-old daughter, in order “to introduce their daughter to the country of their birth” as well as to gather research for a project that would threaten to reveal to the world the political problems of Somalia (102). Soon after entry into Somalia, the family’s passports were confiscated. To further humiliate this family, the dictator arranged for the girl’s circumcision: “The women hired by the newly stipended chieftain plotted. One night, while the parents were asleep in their room, they dragged the girl out of her bed, tied her to the bed-post, gagged her mouth with a cloth and circumcised her. Poor thing” (105). Powerless and unable to face their teenage daughter’s mutilation and the plans of the government to then marry the girl to “a man of the clan,” the parents committed suicide (105). Medina shows FGM, then, to function both as a method to subordinate womanhood and simultaneously further the power of the dictatorship.

Of course, I had heard of FGM, but I wanted to understand it within the Somali context established in Farah’s novels. Through simple internet research, I found that the US Department of State classifies infibulation, the type of FGM practiced most frequently in Somalia, as Type III Female Genital Mutilation: “Type III is the excision (removal) of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora) and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. The girl or woman’s legs are generally bound together from the hip to the ankle so she remains immobile for approximately 40 days to allow for the formation of scar tissue” (par. 7). The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports, “The practice itself often takes place in remote rural areas by untrained village midwives who use instruments such as knives, razors or even broken glass. The instruments are often not sterile and the ritual is very often performed in unsanitary conditions. In urban areas, some families use a doctor to perform the operation. . . ..The practice often occurs without the use of anesthesia” (par. 7-8). The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the consequences of infibulation as severe:

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include:

• recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
• cysts;
• infertility;
• an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
• the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening [infibulation] needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks. (“Female Genital Mutilation,” WHO par. 7-8)

According to UNICEF, FGM in Somalia is widespread: “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has a prevalence of about 95 percent in Somalia and is primarily performed on girls between the ages of four and 11. This traditional practice is embedded deep within Somali culture, and the belief is widely held that FGM is necessary to ‘cleanse’ a girl child. In some communities, girls cannot be married without it” (par. 1). FGM is condemned by many African nations, as well as by the US, WHO, UNICEF, and many other countries and organizations.

Looking at the information about FGM, I am deeply grateful that my own daughter will never face the prospect of female circumcision, but I am also proud of my husband and myself and our decision, made about a year and a half ago, to forego circumcising our baby son, despite both cultural and familial pressure to do so. I look at my son and daughter and see happy, healthy, and intact children, and I am proud that we have given them—and my son especially—the gift of wholeness. While it is easy to declare FGM a horrific—and backward—practice, it is perhaps harder for many US citizens to think critically about male circumcision.

It is clear to me that male circumcision, which despite the American Academy of Pediatrics' declaration that it is not medically necessary is still performed on about 75% of male babies born in the US, is similar to—albeit less severe than—FGM. Wikipedia describes the circumcision procedure:

For infant circumcision, devices such as the Gomco clamp, Plastibell, and Mogen clamp are commonly used, together with a restraining device.

With all these devices the same basic procedure is followed. First, the amount of foreskin to be removed is estimated. The foreskin is then opened via the preputial orifice to reveal the glans underneath and ensure it is normal. The inner lining of the foreskin (preputial epithelium) is then bluntly separated from its attachment to the glans. The device is then placed (this sometimes requires a dorsal slit) and remains there until blood flow has stopped. Finally, the foreskin is amputated. Sometimes, the frenulum band may need to be broken or crushed and cut from the corona near the urethra to ensure that the glans can be freely and completely exposed. (par. 25-26).

Granted, male circumcision does not cause life-long health problems or (debatably) function socially or religiously to affirm the non-subject status of its victims, and it may not be such an obvious method of exercising political control over a people as is FGM. It clearly does, however, cause boys unnecessary fear and pain—often in an infant’s already probably terrifying first few days of life outside of the womb—and reduce sexual feeling in male genitalia. Furthermore, male circumcision seems to me an attempt to indoctrinate boys into a culture that values mind over body, to abnegate, according to religious traditions, the sensations of the body in favor of a psychological closeness with God. Personally, I find this veneration of the mind/body split ridiculous, as we are all minds and bodies intricately intertwined. More importantly, though, I am against male circumcision because at its core it is a form of genital mutilation, a practice leftover from violent tribal societies that existed thousands of years ago, performed most often without that person’s consent. Just like with FGM, using the legitimizing term “circumcision” doesn’t change that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections on Service Learning in the Freshman Composition Classroom

In the interest of becoming—and to facilitate my students’ becoming—more community centered, I implemented my first ever whole-class service project in the freshman composition course that I taught this summer at Ivy Tech Community College. My idea was to have my students design and put together a book of writing prompts for local high school students. I thought that this project would benefit both my college students and the high school students who would receive the books. Besides gaining a measure of self-satisfaction simply by giving back to the community, my students would have to articulate—and then construct prompts that called for—the types of thinking and writing that they thought that the high school kids should be practicing in order to later do well in college. In this way, this project would provide my students with a meaningful opportunity to reflect on the particular challenges and restraints of “college writing” as well as critical thinking in general. At the same time, I thought that my students would develop skills as visual rhetoricians as they designed the prompt pages and the book as a whole. As for the high school students on the receiving end of the books, I thought that this project might help renew their interest in writing, as the books would be constructed especially for them, not by teachers or textbook writers, but by college students.

The prompt book project was successful in many ways. A friend of mine who teaches English in high school became a sort of community partner for this project, as she enthusiastically agreed to take the books and use them in her classes. She spoke to my students early in the term about her student population, which helped them to understand the particular interests and needs of the students who would receive the books. After this presentation, my students wrote a vision statement for the service project. Then, they marketed and organized two fundraisers—a bake sale and a concert—to raise money for the printing of the books, earning over $250. They each designed at least three prompt pages for the book, and several of them submitted entries in our cover design contest. In the end, we chose the best 30 prompts to include in the book as well as the most visually appealing cover. The students then printed and bound a classroom set of the books. I believe that my students did a lot of “real-world” writing and speaking for this project, as they penned emails to various people to organize the fundraisers, conveyed the mission of the project in advertising materials for the fundraisers, and discussed our needs with possible printers as they arranged to compile the books. I also know that the books will play a role in local student learning at the high school level, as my friend seems genuinely excited to use them in her classroom.

Still, at the end of the summer term, I felt a bit uneasy about the way that I’d incorporated service learning in the Ivy Tech course. Yes, my students had worked hard and, I hoped, learned a bit about writing and design in the process. But, for all of that effort, how impressive was our end product? I mean, after all, aren’t writing prompts available from lots of different sources? Couldn’t my English teacher friend simply look in her writing or literature textbooks or, better yet, just Google “high school writing prompts” to find prompts that are possibly as thought-provoking as the ones that my students wrote in our book? I think what I’m saying here is that $250 might have been a lot to spend on creating a teaching tool that pretty much already exists. So, although I wanted to continue to require a service learning component in my freshman composition classes, I was hesitant to do this particular project again.

Enter Project Leadership!

In a separate—more personal—initiative to increase my community involvement, I recently agreed to become a mentor in a local organization that seeks to pair adult volunteers with at-risk but highly capable students and help them to stay focused on the end goal of attending college, a program called Project Leadership of Delaware County. When I met with an administrator of the organization for what seemed like a kind of in-take interview, she mentioned that she was always looking for presenters to lead the monthly training sessions that Project Leadership holds for the mentors in the program. Later, it dawned on me: Project Leadership had a need that my students could fulfill in the form of a service learning project!

So, I’ve come up with a new service learning idea for the fall semester. This time, I will be teaching freshman composition for Ball State University instead of for Ivy Tech. Therefore, my class will likely be comprised of mostly 18- and 19-year-olds instead of the mix of traditional and non-traditional students who enrolled in my summer class. My service project will therefore attempt to harness my students’ special expertise as a population straight from high school. I am going to have my students organize and host a mini-conference for the Project Leadership mentors. The conference will include several student-led sessions on overcoming impediments to attending college. In groups, my students will design and implement multi-modal presentations on issues that they will identify as related to impeding high school students’ dedication to the pursuit of higher education. The presentations will utilize various types of research, including both primary and secondary, popular and scholarly, and they will focus on how Project Leadership mentors can help high school students successfully negotiate these issues in order to ultimately attend college.

How this idea differs from my first service learning idea, I hope, is that it will end with my students actually filling an existing need in the community. Besides providing my students with a meaningful opportunity to conduct all types of research and to construct and give presentations to a real audience, my students will hopefully really help the folks of Project Leadership to provide their mentors with ideas and encouragement to carry on with the important work of mentoring future college students. Although I certainly don’t have service learning all figured out, I feel like I’ve taken a step in the right direction.

Bibliographic Note: See Tim Scepansky’s article for a basic discussion of community service in higher education.

Works Cited

Scepansky, Tim. “Service Learning and Faculty in the Higher Education Institution.” Organizational Issues and Insights. NewFoundations. 13 Jan. 2005. Web. 20 Aug. 2010.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Chilling Truth Exposed in In Cold Blood: Oppression of Gay Men in Middle America in the 1960s

Since the 1965 publication of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, mainstream critics have seemingly gone out of their way to ignore the author’s intricate weaving of homoerotic tension into the lives and relationships of the two main characters, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Besides a virtual void of critical responses to the complicated sexual dynamics that exist between Perry and Dick, this unwillingness to entertain the duo’s queerness has resulted in a widespread misunderstanding of the brutal killing of the Clutter family, as it is depicted in Capote’s novelistic depiction of the historical event. Even contemporary critics assert (see, for example, reviews on the blogs Serendipity and Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem), as Conrad Knickerbocker does in a 1966 review published in The York Times, that Perry and Dick kill the Clutters “without motive” (par. 6). I would argue, however, that instead of lacking in motive, the murders are clearly driven by a subconscious rage at the oppression of gay men in mid-twentieth-century mid-America, as well as the shame and self-loathing caused by their marginalization.

Significantly, it is Perry, the most obviously gay character of the criminal pair (despite Dick’s repeated use of endearments such as “honey” and “sugar” in conversation with Perry), who ultimately shoots the Clutters. In fact, as literary scholar Kathryn Bond Stockton points out, “the killing of the Clutters, in Capote’s hands, is the result of Perry’s missing the chance for a homosexual connection with a friend” (311). Indeed, Perry openly admits that he would never have agreed to accompany Dick to the Clutter home if “things had work[ed] out with Willie-Jay,” his “real and only friend,” who mentored and cared for Perry during a previous stint in prison (45). I would add to Stockton’s assessment of Perry’s motives that once inside the Clutter household, Perry is further incited to murder by Dick’s (perhaps overcompensatory) assertion of heteronormativity, his pronouncement of a desire to rape the teenage Nancy Clutter before killing her. Although Perry stops Dick from committing the rape, this incident spurs Perry to action, as he quickly executes the Clutters, people who, until this point, Perry had stringently argued with Dick for saving. As Tim asserts on the blog Random Observations
, then, it seems that Perry is motivated in part by jealousy (par. 8). Also factoring into Perry’s motives are his anger at his parents for abandoning him as a child and his embarrassed rage at the nuns at the orphanage who ridiculed his problem with bed wetting and abused him sexually (275). Years after the murders, Perry surmises that he might have used the Clutters as scapegoats for the wrongs committed against him throughout his life: “They [the Clutters] never hurt me. Like other people. Like people have all my life. Maybe it’s just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it” (302). Far from motiveless, then, Perry’s killing spree is thus directly linked to his anger toward the circumstances that led to his life of crime, the cultural factors that works to prevent his reunion with Willie-Jay, and his perceived need to assert control over—or perhaps prove his masculinity to—his new partner Dick.

In addition to his complex characterization of Perry’s tortured sense of his own sexuality, Capote deliberately echoes of a couple of key scenes in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1955), published ten years prior to In Cold Blood and depicting a similarly senseless murder as Capote’s text, to highlight the tragic consequences of the widespread oppression of gay men in the mid-twentieth-century. As John Tuttle points out, In Cold Blood signifies on “A Good Man” in several ways. Both figure the perpetrators of murder as polite and respectful towards their victims, and both include scenes in which mother figures—Bonnie Clutter in In Cold Blood and the grandmother in “A Good Man”—attempt to forge bonds with the criminals by expressing their disbelief that men as courteous as these could commit murder. Also, both texts feature “rhetorical flourish[es]” that describe murder as answering the cruelty of the world with personal “meanness” (Tuttle 145). Finally, I would argue that both Capote and O’Connor deliberately characterize their murderers using the grotesque. In “A Good Man,” the sweaty and flabby bodies of the Misfit’s gang embody the evils of a still racially and socially stratified South. Instead of in the South, In Cold Blood is set in Holcomb, Kansas, a city that Capote points out is located in nearly the exact middle of the nation and in which people simply live out “ordinary life” (5). In this way, the physically deformed bodies of both Perry—whose legs “seemed grotesquely inadequate to the grown-up bulk they supported” (15)—and Dick—who was injured in a car accident which left his fact “composed of mismatched parts” (31)—come to represent the social ills of “ordinary life” in middle America, the underlying unfairness and oppression that prevent the long-neglected and abused Perry from achieving a fulfilling relationship with another man and lead both men to lives of self-hatred and, ultimately, heinous crime.

Certainly, in that homosexuality was considered even in medical texts in the 1960s as a pathological illness, it is understandable that Capote would track the motives for the Clutter murder to the widespread oppression and misunderstanding of gay men. The truth exposed in Capote’s journalistic endeavor to write a non-fiction novel, then, is not only that Perry and Dick killed four innocent people “in cold blood” but also that the state in turn murdered Perry and Dick “in cold blood.” This book thus points to middle America’s chilling disregard for vulnerable lives—like the neglected and abused Perry’s, in particular—that don’t fit the “ordinary” mold. In order to more fully understand the extent of Perry and Dick’s victimization by cultural and political institutions, as well as the particular dynamics of their ultimately destructive queer relationship, more critical attention must be paid to the underlying homoerotic tensions that guide the action in this great work.

Works Cited

Cortez, Jessica. “In Cold Blood: The Bible of Crime Writing.” Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem. Robert A. Waters. 1 Jul. 2010. Web. 13 Aug. 2010.

Knickerbocker, Conrad. “One Night on a Kansas Farm.” Rev. of In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. The New York Times. 16 Jan. 1966: n. pag. Web. 12 Aug. 2010.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. “Feeling Like Killing: Queer Temporalities of Murderous Motives among Queer Children.” GLQ 13.2/3 (2007): 301-25.

Tim. “Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.” Random Observations. 13 Sept. 2009. Web. 13 Aug. 2010.

Tuttle, Jon. “Glimpses of ‘A Good Man’ in Capote’s In Cold Blood.” ANQ 1 (1988): 144-46.

Vivienne. “In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.” Serendipity. 8 Jun 2010. Web. 13 Aug. 2010.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Threat of Maternity in The Great Gatsby

With summer vacation already well past its mid-point, my 16-year-old sister recently decided that maybe she should start on the summer reading list for her Honors English class. When I heard that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) was on the list, I recognized not only a chance to bond with McKenzie over literature (if only required reading, from her perspective) but also an opportunity to finally commit to reading Fitzgerald’s classic, a text that I’d somehow never managed to get through entirely. I thought that McKenzie and I could each read the novel and then discuss it when she comes to visit later this month. Resisting the temptation to—lovingly, of course—chastise my sister for not beginning her summer reading earlier, I communicated with McKenzie via text message (the best way to reach her these days) my plan to read Gatsby along with her, and, although I’m pretty sure that it didn’t earn me any street credit with her, she agreed to be my reading buddy. A few days later, I sent McKenzie a follow-up text: “Gatsby done last night. Still thinking about it, but don’t think it has very positive portrayal of women.” She replied, “Lol omgoodness ur crazy.” I briefly contemplating the possible reasons for her assessment of me as “crazy”—was it because I read the book in a relatively short period of time, because I attempted to instigate a conversation about the novel in a text message, or because I seemed about to discuss gender, a topic which I tend to harp on, at least according to her?. Ah, well, I decided, maybe we will discuss the book further when I see her face-to-face. In the meantime, perhaps my response to the book will be better received by readers of my blog than by my sister, a soon-to-be Junior in high school, someone who at this stage in her life is, at least somewhat understandably, more concerned with her hair and her boyfriend than with literary analysis.

So, here goes. As I began to articulate in my text message to McKenzie, I am troubled by Fitzgerald’s depiction of women in general and Daisy in particular. Although the characterization of Gatsby’s entire cast of characters is complicated by its development through the perspective of narrator Nick Carraway, women—and especially Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan—seem to represent, at least for Nick, of all that is evil in Fitzgerald’s highbrow modernist sphere. Not only does the feminine come to symbolize weakness and carnality—as opposed to the masculine-coded strength and intellect—but also romance, in both the popular and literary sense of the word, as well as popular or “low” culture in general—as opposed to the “high” culture of Fitzgerald’s modernism. Linked to the association of women with popular culture in the novel is the depiction of women—and, again, Daisy most especially—as representative of the iniquitous power of money. In perhaps the most often quoted passage of the novel, Daisy’s voice is described as “full of money” (120). Indeed, many scholars have noted Nick’s misogynistic characterization of Daisy as a sort of siren who leads Jay Gatsby to his demise. What has been neglected in Gatsby scholarship, however, is how Daisy’s depiction as femme fatale is both compounded and complicated by the maternal imagery surrounding her relationship with Gatsby and her literal role of mother. I would claim, in fact, that it is at least in part because Daisy is a mother that she comes to represent such a threat to Nick Carraway.

Nick narrates the story of Gatsby and Daisy’s ill-fated love affair as it unfolds throughout the course of the novel. He learns that the two met and fell in love as teenagers, but that Daisy chose to marry Tom Buchanan, a “brutish” and even cruel man of the “Old Money” set, over Gatsby, a penniless serviceman doing a tour of duty in Europe. After the war, Gatsby went on to make his fortune independently and, through Nick, re-enters Daisy’s life as a new man. Gatsby offers Daisy a way out of her loveless marriage and an escape from the annoyance of Tom’s numerous affairs, but she is ultimately unable to commit to leaving the security and status afforded her as Tom Buchanan’s wife. After Tom manages to secure Daisy’s allegiance to their marriage in a dramatic show-down with Gatsby, Daisy (perhaps accidentally) strikes and kills Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, in a hit-and-run automobile accident in Gatsby’s car. The other characters blame Gatsby for the death, and neither Daisy nor Gatsby correct their assumption that Gatsby was driving when the accident occurred. Finally, Gatsby is murdered in an act of vengeance by Myrtle’s husband, and Daisy and Tom leave on vacation, not even bothering to attend the funeral. Throughout the narrative, Nick sees Gatsby as emblematic of the prototypical self-made man and even assigns to Gatsby the symbolism of “The American Dream.” When Gatsby dies to protect Daisy’s secret, then, Nick sees him as succumbing to the allure of romance instead of standing steadfast in the reality of his hard-earned success and power. The warning implied in Gatsby’s demise is, of course, that “civilization,” at least in the US, might give way to the frivolity and filth of popular culture and the dictates of capitalism that drive it.

Certainly, Nick portrays Gatsby’s attachment to Daisy as the cause of his ultimate emasculation and death. It is Daisy who diminishes Gatsby’s extraordinary capacity for self-sufficiency and success. Before Gatsby kisses Daisy for the first time, he contemplates his seemingly limitless potential to self-create: “Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder” (112). The maternal imagery in this depiction of Gatsby’s capacity for self-generation serves to characterize Gatsby as god-like, capable of creating his own destiny; he is both mother and offspring, able to nurture himself with the “pap of life” and “milk of wonder” and therefore grow independently of a woman. If he chooses to part with Daisy at this time, he will climb the ladder of success and pursue an existence of achievement and intellect. When Gatsby does act on his physical desire for Daisy, however, his powers of creation and nurturance are weakened: “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. . . . Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete” (112). Not only is Gatsby here deprived of his god-like intellect and seeming ability to transcend his own body, but also his capability for self-creation is usurped by Daisy. Daisy plays a chief role in Gatsby’s re-birth and forever becomes his font of “incarnation,” thus taking on the figurative position of mother. No longer able to nurture himself, from this point on, Gatsby seeks out Daisy, his source of origin, as an infant seeks the comfort of his mother’s breast.

And as a mother figure, Daisy clearly infantilizes Gatsby. When the two reunite at Nick’s house, Nick is disappointed to find Gatsby the Great “acting like a little boy” (88). Over and over again the next few weeks, Gatsby becomes lost in Daisy’s voice and grows entirely insensible to his spectacular achievements and neglects his powerful social connections because of the power of Daisy’s spell over him. Finally, it is Gatsby’s need for Daisy that leads to his death.

Not only does Daisy thus come to represent for Nick a controlling, ensnaring maternal figure of emasculation, but she also acts to perpetuate the social system that ultimately causes Gatsby’s demise by visiting her own pathologies on her daughter, in effect creating the next generation of femme fatale. Although Daisy cried when she learned that her child was born a girl, in this way expressing an awareness of the gender limitations that have impacted the trajectory of her own life, she actively engages in training her little girl to become “a beautiful little fool” (17). Daisy makes a point of dressing the child in white dresses, for instance, just like the ones that she and her closest girlfriend wear, and ignores the little girl’s chatter, emphasizing only her doll-like appearance (117). Clearly, Daisy seeks to prepare the girl for a role like that which Daisy herself fills in her relationships with both Tom and Gatsby, to accept her status as an object of beauty and a representation of masculine financial and social success. In the end, of course, it is the much larger social system, a system that incidentally forces Daisy and her daughter into playing “fools,” that makes Gatsby’s destruction inevitable. But it remains that, as a mother, Daisy plays an important part in sustaining this social system, of ensuring its continuance into future generations.

As a woman and especially as a mother, then, Daisy both perpetuates and serves as a representation of the evil of flesh, carnality, romance, popular culture, money, and capitalism, the tangled themes that destroy Gatsby and “The American Dream” that he pursues.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. [1925]. New York: Collier Books, 1980.