A Comparison of the Portrayal of Women in the

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Erin Wilcox
ENG 595 – Specialized Studies: Hemingway and Fitzgerald
Professor Robert Moore
Term Paper
Behind Every Great Man: A Comparison of the Portrayal of Women in the Works of
Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald
Both Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s novels feature protagonists that are chiefly
male and either symbolize the principles of masculinity, or are ‘plagued’ by effeminate
characteristics that hinder their ability to face their realities. Hemingway was more
preoccupied with the strengths and weaknesses of his male characters, placing special
emphasis on their reactions to certain situations and giving female characters more
antagonistic roles in some of his novels. Arguably this is what makes him different from
Fitzgerald, who always appeared more interested in exploring how both men and women
could have their own character flaws, and possess both masculine and feminine traits.
Though their relationship as friends and contemporary writers fell apart, their individual
perspectives of women and femininity have both similarities and differences. The reasons
for their portrayal of women can be easily linked to their own failed relationships and
rejections; there are also factors of the time period they grew up in that offer some
explanation for the way their fictional women behave.
Beginning first with Fitzgerald, one does not have to look much further than the
relationship that he shared with his wife, and later ex-wife, Zelda Fitzgerald. They were
married in 1920 after a rough courtship that spanned around two years. An accumulation
of their love letters to one another gives the reader a firsthand sense of how stressed their
relationship became as time passed. For the first ten years of their marriage there was
some strain, since no relationship is perfect, but once they hit the mark of a decade
together, things started to take a turn for the worse. Zelda’s mental illness and the
breakdowns she suffered because of her psychological defect. As terrible as the situation
became for Fitzgerald, he still did what he could to support her. But as time went on, her
condition was worsening, and from her own written words the reader can gain a sense of
the suffering she was experiencing: “Dear Scott: Every day it seems to me that things are
more barren and sterile and hopeless. In Paris, before I realized that I was sick, there was
a new significance to everything: stations and streets and facades of buildings – colors
were infinite, part of the air, and not restricted by the lines that encompassed them and
lines were free of the masses they held” (Bryer and Barks, 81). This excerpt from a letter
written in 1930 was only the beginning of her mental unstable times, and things only got
worse as time progressed. Fitzgerald was exposed to the gradual deterioration of Zelda’s
mind as she was moved between different hospitals and clinics.
Fitzgerald’s trauma from witnessing the mental illness of Zelda is highly apparent
in some of his stories, most notably that of Tender is the Night with regard to the
character of Nicole Diver. Nicole is a woman who has frequent breakdowns and suffers
from her own mental condition, which stems from an incestuous relationship she had
with her father at a young age. Though she has her problems, Dr. Dick Diver slowly fell
in love with her during the time before the novel takes place. It isn’t long, however,
before the reader begins to feel a sort of ominous element in the relationship, with subtle
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passages like “…For Doctor Diver to marry a mental patient? How did it happen? Where
did it begin?” (Fitzgerald, 156) Though in this recollection of the past they have only just
gotten married, there is already an air of doubt settling in. It is as though Fitzgerald is
either consciously or unconsciously contemplating how he could have married Zelda and
spent all those years with her without realizing the tragedy that was to come. Many
theorists and writers have found several strong connections between Fitzgerald and his
character Dick Diver, who is suffering a decline very similarly as Fitzgerald himself did:
“If Fitzgerald took Zelda’s sickness as a starting point and coupled with the drain of this
illness upon him with his feelings toward the very rich, he did not make Dick Diver
merely the victim of Nicole and her wealthy family. Dick is complicit in his decline”
(Lehan, 129). Lehan’s statement about Dick Diver eerily echoes potential thoughts that
Fitzgerald may have been wrestling with during the time when his marriage was falling
apart. Though he knows that Zelda’s illness is destroying his life alongside hers, he still
continues to try and support her for a time, and thus willingly allows his own career and
vitality to wither away. Nicole can thus be seen as a female character that is supposed to
emulate a real-life person, Zelda, and carries features that Fitzgerald appears to have
implanted into her, in order to perhaps work through the stresses that he was experiencing
in his own life at the time.
The character of Daisy presents us with an entirely different female character.
Whereas Nicole’s character is rather calm and collected in the novel, even after her
announcement that she is leaving Dick for Tommy Borbon, Daisy is described by many
literary analysts as a more sly and materialistic form of woman. Vindictive may be too
strong a word to describe her, but she reveals many character traits that make her a far
more forceful woman than Nicole. As a first example of this difference, the reader need
only compare the scene where Nicole leaves Dick for Tom to the scene where Daisy
speaks against her husband Tom and proclaims her admiration for Gatsby (there is also
an ironic sense to be had in the fact that Tom is the name of the lover in one book, and
the domineering husband in another.)
“Isn’t it true you’re not happy with me anymore?” Nicole continued. “Without me
you could get to your work again – you could work better if you didn’t worry about me”
(Fitzgerald, 310).
“You’re revolting,” said Daisy. She turned to me and her voice, dropping an
octave lower, filled the room with thrilling scorn. “Do you know why we left Chicago?
I’m surprised that they didn’t treat you to the story of that little spree” (Fitzgerald, 139).
In these passages from both novels the reader can see a startling difference
between Daisy and Nicole’s characters. Though both of them are resisting their marriages
and claiming love for another, they handle it in completely different ways. Nicole insists
that leaving Dick will be just as good for him as it will be for her, that she’s only slowed
him down in his career and that he’ll be free to make something more of himself with her
out of his life. Daisy, on the other hand, embodies a fiercer kind of woman. She speaks
harshly to her violent, aggressive husband and proclaims the disgust that she has been
harboring for him because of his temper and treatment of her. Daisy’s instances of fiery
spirit have been attributed to many different theories, though two of the strongest involve
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the American Dream, and the argument that Daisy’s character was meant to act as a sort
of enchantress that is only acting on her own behalf. John Callahan wants to argue that
Daisy is a part of Gatsby’s own version of the perfect American dream, the one element
to pure happiness that he is lacking in. “Until Gatsby makes love to Daisy, he projects
little soul or feeling, only a self-absorbed passion mixed up with his urge to defy
American boundaries of class, status, and money” (Callahan, 381). Here the character of
Daisy is simplified to a mere element of Gatsby’s fantasy life, having both the
infamously wealthy lifestyle and the girl of his dreams. The argument that Daisy is also
pursuing her own American Dream of being with the man she truly desires is not without
evidence, but it is hard at the same instant to separate her character from the pursuits of
the disillusioned Gatsby. Callahan’s argument is supported by the research of others,
including Ronald Berman, who dedicated a section of his book, Fitzgerald-WilsonHemingway: Language and Experience, to talking about Fitzgerald’s fascination and
perspective on American history and how the lives of its people were shaped. “In 1937,
Fitzgerald recalled his own historical sense of American life at the beginning of the
twenties: ‘With the end of the winter set in another pleasant pumped-up period, and while
I took a little time off, a fresh picture of life in America began to form before my eyes.’”
(Berman 35). In this sense, Daisy is a comparable female figure to Nicole, a woman who
is suffering from something she cannot control (in this case, her husband Tom Buchanan,
who has a strong hold over her), and who is pursuing her own happiness.
Daisy’s character, however, is a sharp contrast to Nicole’s when looked at from
the perspective that she was supposed to represent a more seductive, beguiling sort of
female. Glenn Settle’s in-depth analysis of Daisy’s character gives the reader a stronger
sense of the ‘enchantress’ element that she possesses, the way through which she
captivates Gatsby even years after their previous relationship was ended by the war: “The
flowers she admires form part of Gatsby’s scenery with which he hopes to lure Daisy
back to himself; but it may be argued that as Daisy Faye, enchantress flower, it is she, not
he, who woos successfully” (Settle, 117). Fitzgerald’s manner of writing Daisy supports
Settle’s argument of her seductive nature; she always seems to have a ‘sickeningly sweet’
demeanor about her, save a handful of scenes where the reader sees her darker, more
vicious side. For the most part she is described as having the façade, however, of a
woman that is considered sweet in her attempts at innocence, when in reality, as Settle
concludes, her outer personality is only to cover the darker elements of her character, the
self-centered core that she’s attempting to hide. Settle makes an impressive
summarization of Daisy’s inner personality that defines her well as a vindictive female
character, at the very least with regard to Gatsby.
“An overview of the story of Gatsby himself is also not with evidence of Daisy as
a wrecker-temptress. Although she has give her promise to Jay, she marries another. At
the Plaza Hotel she professes unqualified love for Gatsby in front of Tom, only to go
back upon that profession shortly thereafter…Finally, in an act of ultimate social
betrayal, Daisy fails to attend Gatsby’s funeral” (Settle, 118).
Thus, Daisy’s character can just as easily be argued to be a vindictive, controlling
woman who asserts what power she can grasp in order to manipulate others and get what
she herself wants. Though she shares some characteristics with Nicole Diver in that she is
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left in rather helpless situations at times, her struggles do not even compare with
Nicole’s, and she is left with far less excuses for her behavior outside of sheer
selfishness. Daisy’s character could have also had some contributions from the rough
marriage that Zelda and Fitzgerald experienced as well, and Fitzgerald’s own frustrations
with Zelda’s illness and selfishness. This is where the discussion of female characters
will now shift to Hemingway, where a dynamic between two different kinds of women in
his stories also involves the roles of vindictive women.
Two novels will be analyzed in order to grasp some of the types of women that
Hemingway wanted to write about: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises. In
order to begin the argument that both Hemingway and Fitzgerald possessed their own
forms of malicious women, The Sun Also Rises will be the first to be discussed. Lady
Brett Ashley’s character bears some striking resemblances to Daisy’s when the
peculiarities of their characters are compared. Like Daisy, Lay Brett Ashley also
commenced to juggle around several men, including Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, Pedro
Romero, and her fiancé, Mike. Lady Ashley has a highly sexual charge behind her
character that is not as strongly present in Daisy, but the way she speaks in such a
whimsical manner, in order to hide her true intentions, can be read in her words: “My
God! He’s a lovely boy,” Brett said. “And how I would love to see him get into those
clothes. He must use a shoehorn” (Hemingway, 181). The childlike tone of this passage is
similar to lines that Daisy had in The Great Gatsby, especially when she was talking to
her cousin Nick, and both women appear to use these sort of curious words in order to
very subtly make their intentions known. Scott Donaldson’s essay on the morality
systems of Hemingway’s writing supports this notion as well; he observes the callous
behavior that Lady Brett Ashley displays at times: “The case is different with Lady
Ashley, who acquires and casts off her lovers as casually as Georgette, but does so
without thought to the consequences of others” (Donaldson, 404). Lady Ashley and Daisy
can be compared with regard to this statement made by Donaldson; though both female
characters may possess some redeeming qualities about them in some instances, they are
still inherently selfish, and always pursuing their own goals without the consideration of
others and how their actions will effect them. Whereas Fitzgerald might have been
attempting to attach some of Zelda’s qualities to Daisy, however, Hemingway’s portrayal
of Lady Ashley appears to have different influences.
Hemingway was fanatically fascinated by the principles of masculinity; he spent
most of his life going on massive hunts for different animals and on safari, and was
interested particularly in events and subjects that were masculine in nature: hunting,
sports, etc. While Fitzgerald made his female characters the way he did in order to expel
feelings of anxiety because of his failed marriage, Hemingway’s women either fit the
mold of an obedient woman usually in the role of a wife or partner, or are made
masculine and are ‘corrupted’ by their androgynous identity. For instance, Lady Ashley is
described as a more masculine woman, physically androgynous because of her short-cut
hair. Hemingway had a particular fascination with hair and how women could be made
‘more masculine’ if their hair was cut away, making them less distinguishable from men.
Their heightened androgynous status as well might also, arguably, what makes them so
vindictive. Throughout history, it was usually found to be that a husband having an affair
and cheating on his wife was thought to be less guilty than a wife found to be cheating on
her husband. It can be argued then that perhaps Lady Brett Ashley is able to feel
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confident and less guilty about going through relationships so rapidly because she has
obtained a certain masculine quality in that she doesn’t not care that much (at least at
certain instances) about the consequences. Her androgyny could also be what keeps her
reputation from being entirely tarnished by her loose behavior, since men keep flocking
to her regardless of how many men she goes through. Ira Elliot, who did some research
into homosexuality in The Sun Also Rises, made some comments on Lady Ashley that
support this notion, and brings up the next: “Whatever is meant by ‘all that,’ Brett, ‘a
damned fine-looking’ woman, evokes androgyny and gender ambiguity both in physical
appearance (hair) and attire (her jersey)” (Elliot, 77). Here, Elliot seems to be hinting that
Lady Ashley’s masculine appearance is what draws the men to her. This is perhaps the
most drastic difference between Lady Ashley and Daisy in comparing them; Daisy is a
woman who is vastly effeminate and exudes female beauty. Lady Brett Ashley,
meanwhile, is very masculine in appearance and yet manages to draw in several men who
find her wildly attractive. Elliot’s arguments of rampant homosexuality in The Sun Also
Rises lend some insinuation that perhaps the men who are so enamored with Lady Ashley
are fulfilling both heterosexual and homoerotic desires, because being with someone so
androgynous is like having both kinds of desires at once. Daisy does not have this same
kind of symbolism behind her because Fitzgerald was more looking for how femininity
could be seductive, whereas Hemingway in the case of Lady Ashley was trying to show
how a more masculine woman could rope men in with little effort.
The women of For Whom the Bell Tolls portray a different kind of woman that
bears a closer semblance to Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night, if not in persona then in
spirit. Nicole Diver shares the same kind of strength that both Pilar and Maria possess
that allows them to overcome terrible circumstances that may have killed or severely
damaged someone else who was not willing to fight. Their demeanor is comparable to
Fitzgerald’s Nicole Diver because of the unified resolve to continue with their lives,
regardless of the tragedies they have suffered, especially on the part of Maria.