Great Gatsby – Is Daisy Buchanan Retarded?
Nick Carraway, the narrator, highlights Daisy’s beauty and sultry voice. But it is through dialogue and action, through her own words and her deceitful behavior, that we can detect her mental flaws.
Lord Francis Bacon in his essay on beauty said: “There is no excellent beauty that does not have some strangeness in proportion.” This quality of strangeness is the fact that she is “slow”. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that some things fly over his head, and as a result, he tends to distrust and doubt what to others are acceptable events. In one instance, Nick senses this flaw when he says, “She saw something horrible in the very simplicity that she couldn’t understand.” (GG, 107).
Understanding doesn’t come easy for Daisy, and when she does offer an opinion, it’s always a stupid opinion that often borders on the absurd. Notice how he deals with a single idea by repeating the same idea three times:
“In two weeks it will be the longest day of the year.” She looked at all of us radiantly. “Do you always look forward to the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always see the longest day of the year and then you miss it.”
If you count the pronoun “it” you will notice that he has mentioned the longest day of the year five times. Now, how many of us, unless we’re physicists or meteorologists, entertain the idea of ”always on the lookout” for the longest day of the year only to miss it? Is it possible that you associate the summer solstice (June 20-21) with a personal date that you should remember and forget at the same time? June seems to be an unlucky month in that summer of your discontent.
Because, “In June she’s marrying Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville has ever known before,” Jordan Baker tells Nick. Since she married Tom in June, then Daisy may be alluding to the date of her wedding anniversary; a date she awaits with aching anticipation only to dismiss it. It should also be remembered that on the eve of her wedding day she receives a letter (presumably from Gatsby) that distresses her immensely, moving her to the point of a drunken stupor. As the story unfolds, we learn that Daisy is unhappy in her marriage to Tom, knowing that he is not only a womanizer, but also a violent and abusive man.
A character who not only repeats the same words in every sentence, but also repeats trivia and stutters has to be slow, or at least limited, if not mentally deficient. British philosopher John Locke said of humans, “in their thinking and reasoning within themselves, they make use of Words instead of Ideas.” In our times, the linguist Noam Chomsky sees language as something that grows in the brain. In this light, when Nick portrays Daisy in sparse language, we have no choice but to see her as a goofy beauty with little to no intellectual acumen.
The Renaissance scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his Copy of Words and Ideas, a treatise on the variation of speech, says:
“In particular, however, it will be useful to avoid tautology, that is, the repetition of the same word or expression, a vice that is not only unseemly but also offensive. It is not uncommon that we have to say the same thing several times, in the What case, if we lack copy we will feel lost, or, like the cuckoo, we will squawk the same words repeatedly, and will be unable to shape or form differently the thought, ridicule ourselves and completely exhaust our unfortunate audience with caution” .
But back to Daisy’s reruns: “I looked outside for a minute, and it’s so romantic outside.” Daisy’s idealized world is a chimerical, fabulous and enchanted dimension where she hopes, with enough faith, to find love in the form of a prince who rescues her.
She sees her cousin Nick as a pleasant, non-threatening figure who is fun to be around, discreet, and seems loyal to her. Nick to Daisy is someone who won’t hurt her like Jay Gatsby did with her separation, and like Tom Buchanan does with his unhappy marriage.
“Ah,” he yelled, “you look so cool.”
“You always look so cool,” he repeated.
As she repeats the word ‘great’, she emphasizes her feelings that she finds a benign soul in Nick. When Ella Daisy accepts Nick’s invitation to visit Gatsby, little did she know that Nick would open the floodgates of adultery, misery, crime and escape, and much unhappiness.
Come back in an hour, Ferdie. Then in a low murmur: “His name of hers is Ferdie.”
When he repeats Ferdie’s name in a “low murmur”, what the narrator points out is the seriousness of his unennobling actions; we know that she has sealed her fate to commit adultery.
Once Daisy enters Gatsby’s mansion, there is no escape from that castle of doom. Once in Gatsby’s inner sanctum, dazzled by her opulence, she can only spew trivial remarks, like when she sees the shirt collection:
“These are such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I have never seen such beautiful shirts before.”
Oxford shirts were imported from London and were the expensive uniform worn by people on Wall Street. Since Nick was a bond trader, he presumably knew about such beautiful shirts. We can also note a symbolic connection to Gatsby, as he was known as an ‘Oxford man’.
What is surprising is that he not only spouts clichés, but also nonsense, as in the following examples: “I’m going to tell you a family secret,” he whispers enthusiastically. “It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose?”
But then again, what seems absurd (talking about noses in a serious book) may be pseudo-symbols to represent “the help”, just as houses (Daisy’s, Jay’s and Tom’s) are representative of the “upper crust”. “. (p. 13).
Nick refers to Daisy’s laugh as “a charming, absurd giggle”. (p. 8)
Daisy also stammers, “I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.” (p. 8.)
But she reveals a lot of sadness when the nurse informs her that her baby is a girl. Acknowledging the plight of the American woman of her day, she says, “I’m glad she’s a girl. And I hope she’s a fool; that’s the best a girl can be in this world, a beautiful fool.” This poignant comment shows Daisy’s low self-esteem and her resignation to a life of total dependency. The French moralist, La Rochefoucauld, writes in maxim 207: “People do not grow mentally after the age of 25, nor do they age mentally. There is little wisdom based on understanding; most wisdom consists of embellished disappointments and is based on in bitter experience.” Within the scope of the story, the heroine is then reduced to one more in that mass of women who live in the light of embellished disappointments and bitter experience.
When the character of García Márquez (in One Hundred Years of Solitude) Remedios la Bella ascends to heaven, the reader accepts this fact because the woman in her simplicity never sees that her beauty hurts people; she even kill them. But when Nick Carraway paints Daisy as a southern belle, an innocent naive, that is asking too much of a reader; especially when we know that she is the driver in the predestined hit and run death.
When Hamlet said, “Frailty, your name is woman,” he meant, “Frailty, your name is Daisy.”