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 deceptive 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 go over his head, and as a result, he tends to be wary and doubtful of what to others are acceptable events. In one instance, Nick perceives this flaw when he says, “She saw something horrible in the very simplicity that she couldn’t understand.” (GG, 107).
Understanding is not easy for Daisy, and when she offers an opinion, it is always a stupid opinion that often borders on the absurd. Notice how he treats 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 wait for the longest day of the year and then you miss it? I always see the longest day of the year and then you miss it.”
If you count the pronoun “it” you will realize that it has mentioned the longest day of the year five times. Now, how many of us, unless we’re a physicist or a meteorologist, entertain the idea of ”always looking out” 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 marries 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 her wedding anniversary date; a date she waits with aching anticipation only to write it off. One must also remember that on the eve of her wedding day she receives a letter (presumably from Gatsby) which 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 utterance, but also repeats trivia and stutters has to be slow, or at least limited, if not mentally deficient. The 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 with sparse language, we have no choice but to see her as a dimwitted beauty with little to no intellectual acumen.
The Renaissance scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his Copy of Words and Ideas, a treatise on speech variation, 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 for us to have to say the same thing several times, in the What if, if we lack a copy we will feel lost, or, like the cuckoo, will croak the same words repeatedly, and will be unable to shape or shape the thought differently, ridicule ourselves and completely exhaust our wretched audience with caution.” .
But back to Daisy’s reruns: “I looked outdoors for a minute, and it’s very romantic outdoors.” Daisy’s idealized world is a fabulous, enchanted, chimerical 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 the way Jay Gatsby did in breaking up with her, and the way Tom Buchanan does in her unhappy marriage.
“Ah,” she yelled, “you look so cool.”
“You always look so cool,” she repeated.
As she repeats the word ‘great’, she emphasizes her feelings that she finds a benign soul in Nick. When she Daisy accepts Nick’s invitation to visit Gatsby, little did she know that Nick would open the floodgates of adultery, misery, crime and running away, and much unhappiness.
Come back in an hour, Ferdie. Then in a low murmur: “Her name is Ferdie.”
When he repeats Ferdie’s name in a “grave mumble”, what the narrator signals is the gravity of his unennobling actions; we know that she has sealed her fate to commit adultery.
Once Daisy enters Gatsby’s mansion, there’s no escaping that castle of doom. Once in Gatsby’s inner sanctum, dazzled by her opulence, she can only vomit trivial observations, like when she sees the shirt collection:
“They 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 notice a symbolic connection with Gatsby, since he was known as an “Oxford man”.
What is surprising is that he not only releases clichés, but also absurd ones, 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 like nonsense (talk 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 lovely, absurd giggle”. (p. 8)
Daisy also stammers, “I’m f-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 delusions and is based in the 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 ingénue, that’s asking too much of a reader; especially when we know she’s the driver in the fated hit-and-run death.
When Hamlet said, “Fragility, your name is woman,” he meant, “Fragility, your name is Daisy.”