The Apostle Paul once wisely penned the words, “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1st Timothy 6:9). He then continued, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1st Timothy 6:10). Although these words were written 2,000 years ago, they seem to have an uncanny correlation with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. In the novel, the desire for wealth and shallow living leads to the demise of many characters; out of the seven main characters within the novel, Daisy Buchanan is the least honourable and most destructive of all.
In the Great Gatsby, both Jordan and Gatsby tell the narrator, Nick, about Gatsby and Daisy’s history. Years prior, Gatsby and Daisy had fallen in love, when Gatsby was in the military. Before Gatsby left for war, Daisy promised him that she would wait for his return. She was under the assumption that he was wealthy for two reasons: he told her that he was, and he was in uniform, so there was no way of her knowing that he was truly poor. Gatsby went off to war in love with Daisy, believing that she was devoted to him. Daisy proved her disloyalty when she failed to wait for Gatsby and, in his absence, married wealthy Tom Buchanan. “In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars” (p. 75). Daisy did not honour her word, her commitment, or her supposed love for Gatsby. Her actions were not only dishonorable but also destructive because when Gatsby returned from war, he became brokenhearted. For the rest of his life, Gatsby remained plagued by his obsession for Daisy, despite her lack of integrity.
From the beginning of Tom and Daisy’s marriage, Daisy’s thirst for wealth at all costs is apparent. Tom’s infidelity begins on their honeymoon, and Daisy is completely aware of his unfaithfulness. “The girl who was with him got into the papers, too, because her arm was broken—she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel” (p.123). Throughout their marriage, Daisy is aware of Tom’s various affairs, but her desire to remain married to a wealthy man overshadows any inflicted emotional pain. However, she does not allow any affairs to progress long enough to threaten their marriage. She insists that they leave Chicago and start over in New York. “Do you know why we left Chicago? I’m surprised they didn’t treat you to the story of that little spree” (Chapter 7). In New York, Tom continues to cheat on Daisy with Myrtle, a mechanics wife. Daisy and Gatsby reunite through Nick, who is Daisy’s cousin and Gatsby’s neighbor. Daisy begins seeing Gatsby, behind Tom’s back. This further proves her dishonour, as she clearly has no respect for marriage and the commitment that she made to Tom. If she were a woman of integrity, then she would have remained faithful to her vow in spite of Tom’s infidelity.
As Daisy continues having an affair with Gatsby, she leads him on to believe that there is hope for their future together. Although throughout chapters five, six, and seven, Daisy appears to genuinely care for Gatsby, her true colors are revealed later on in chapter seven. When Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Nick, and Jordan go to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Gatsby and Tom get in an argument over Daisy. Gatsby insists that Daisy never loved Tom. When Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy is leaving him, Daisy openly admits that she is. However, when Tom begins to put down Gatsby and make claims that Gatsby’s wealth is from organized crime, Daisy retracts her loyalty to Gatsby. In response to Tom’s words, Gatsby begins “to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible” (p. 134). The boldness that Daisy previously displayed disappeared. “Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage she had had, were definitely gone” (p. 135). Afterwards, Tom sends Daisy home in a car with Gatsby because he knows that he has won her heart back. Tom’s wealth offers Daisy more security because it is “old money” that was not earned by Tom. As soon as she learns that Gatsby’s money could have been attained through risky measures, she no longer aligns herself with him. This proves that her love for Gatsby was conditional and therefore not true love at all. Her thirst for wealth once again superseded any emotional attachment or obligation she felt toward a man.
Daisy further displays her dishonor and lack of integrity when she strikes and kills a pedestrian (who happens to be Tom’s mistress) with Gatsby’s car. When Nick confronts Gatsby after the accident, he asks if Daisy had been driving. Gatsby replies, “‘Yes… but of course I’ll say I was…Well first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back. The second my hand reached the wheel I felt the shock–it must have killed her instantly’” (p. 143-144). He continues, “Daisy stepped on it. I tried to make her stop, but she couldn’t so I pulled on the emergency brake” (p. 144). Not only does she flee the scene of the accident, she also fails to admit to her involvement, which leads the victim’s husband, George, to believe that Gatsby had been the driver. This shows that Daisy is immoral enough to ignore her legal responsibility, as well as emotionally cold enough to kill someone and not feel ethically obligated to come forth with the truth. Her lack of confession leads an enraged George to murder Gatsby. Afterwards, he feels so guilty and so depressed about his wife’s death that he kills himself as well. Ultimately, Daisy’s callous actions get three people killed. While all of this is taking place, she is cowering in Tom’s wealth. She does not even attend Gatsby’s funeral. This, above all of her other actions, shows her true lack of care, respect, and feelings for Gatsby.
Throughout The Great Gatsby, Daisy’s actions consistently demonstrate that her main objective in life is to be wealthy. Daisy represents people who take the American Dream to a far extreme–people who say “get rich at all costs, regardless of the consequences.” She values being rich over her relationship with Gatsby and more highly than finding a faithful husband. Daisy chooses to remain married to Tom, instead of leaving him for Gatsby, because of Tom’s secure wealth. To Daisy, the value of anything–even love–does not compare to the value of money. The American Dream is based upon a principle that everyone is entitled to find fulfillment in life. Many people correlate fulfillment with success and success with wealth. Daisy’s actions suggest that she believes wealth equals fulfillment. There are many other virtues along the road to fulfillment that Daisy completely neglects. While she does attain wealth, she does not do so in a successful manner. Her route to riches was lined with turmoil, confusion, destruction, pain, deceit, and other negative attributes that would suggest she actually lost more than she gained.