Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993. [In the following essay, Wershoven notes that Daisy Buchanan is a prototypical "child bride" whose "purchase" is required by a society of commodity.] Undine Spragg [in Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country] is only one in a series of girls whose appetite mirrors a nation's desire. In four novels that followed The Custom of the Country-The Great Gatsby, [Wharton's] Twilight Sleep [and Ellen Glasgow's], The Sheltered Life and In This Our Life-versions of the insatiable girl appear, and so, too, does a recognizable pattern. The desiring/desired girl stands at the center of a vortex. Around her swirl instances of failed marriages, blocked communications, social disorder and decay. Like The Custom of the Country, each of these four novels is set in a world of deception, where illusion and role-playing supersede reality and emotion. But a new element appears in the pattern: a crime. In these novels, there are two shootings and two car "accidents" (hitand-run). In each case, the innocent heroine is either the culprit or is indirectly responsible, and, in each case, society helps to cover up the deed. These conspiracies of evasion are the logical outcomes of the crimes, as those around the heroine are her accomplices. They have created the atmosphere in which the child bride flourishes; they have, in essence, created her. And those around her perceive that she cannot be held responsible for her actions, for she embodies the pure freedom of endless choice without consequences. She is the consumer who need never pay. She is an icon of desire and damnation. Like Undine Spragg, she is what men want, and she is full of discontent: forever attracted to a new amusement, a new toy, a new man, and forever bored, disappointed, seeking a new deal. Men strive to pay for her, and they pay twice. They work to acquire her, and they assume the responsibility of owning a delinquent child, one who smashes things and people with the petulance of a spoiled little girl. The price of the child bride never seems to be too high. In these novels, even when the beloved child is revealed as a manipulator, betrayer, or murderer, she is carefully shielded from the consequences of her desires. This icon of longing must not be shattered, for if she is gone, what is left? Only the Valley of Ashes that created her. In the middle of The Great Gatsby, Meyer Wolfsheim, who has ingeniously transformed human molars into jewelry and the dirty deal into a corporate empire, offers Nick Carraway a business connection. His offer encapsulates most of the relationships of the novel, for F. Scott Fitzgerald's book is largely about deals. Tom Buchanan has bought his wife, and Jay Gatsby wants to exercise his prior option on the merchandise. Nick, the novel's moral center, is learning to trade in stocks and bonds. Gatsby sells liquor in the guise of medicine, Tom Buchanan and George Wilson dicker over the sale of a car, Myrtle Wilson sells herself, and Meyer Wolfsheim bought the World Series. At the center of the trading is, of course, the golden girl, or more accurately, as Michael Millgate notes, the gold and white girl. Daisy is the golden girl in the white palace, the "Daisy" with a gold center and white petals, the princess dressed in white, driving a white roadster. She is, then, the color of money but also the color of the "absence of all desire." The white palace is remote and inaccessible, Millgate says, and Daisy's white innocence is life-denying (111). Daisy wants things and people, but she feels no true sexual desire, and thus there is no space inside her that can be filled, no unfinished part of her that can be completed by another. She is a trick of blankness. Even her golden color, the color of money, is also the color of brass, the imitation. It is the color of the brass buttons on her dress the day she reunites with Gatsby, himself resplendent in a silver shirt and golden tie. At the center of all the deals, then, is a bad bargain. Daisy is the meretricious beauty to which Gatsby consecrates his life. It is fitting that a book about buying and selling should center on a woman who does not give full value for the money. Most trades involve some deception, or at least some illusion, on the part of buyer and/or seller. And so The Great Gatsby is a novel of lies, filled with open secrets, evasions, deceit, and betrayal. It begins with the open secret of Tom's infidelity and Daisy's dramatic enactment of the role of long-suffering, beautiful fool. The scenario entertains Jordan, a professional golfer who is a liar and a cheat. The first scenes introduce the keynote of deception that continues throughout. Tom lies to his mistress about his wife's refusal to divorce him; Myrtle and her sister deceive Myrtle's husband, poor George; everyone suspects Gatsby is lying about his genteel past; and a series of deceptions lead to Gatsby's murder. As the Houyhynhms said, a lie is "the thing that is not," and this is a novel about the love of "what is not." In The Great Gatsby, appearances are worshipped as if they were real, things are substituted for emotions, things provoke emotion, and people become things.‘ The central characters, Daisy and Gatsby, drift from role to role, almost as if they were searching for the most appropriate one. Daisy is first seen in an elaborate tableau of elegance and lassitude, posed on her sofa, gazing motionless at some invisible object, a figurine in a cool, lush setting. In the space of a few hours, she attempts two new roles: the injured wife and the adoring young mother. Her lover, trying to explain his past to Nick, also posits a series of roles, from which Nick can choose the one he finds most plausible: war hero of Montenegro, white hunter in the colonies, Oxford man. Daisy is drawn to Gatsby's flair for drama. As Marius Bewley notes, what Daisy likes best at Gatsby's party is the empty gesture of an actress and her director (278), slowly moving toward one another in a pantomime of love, a parody of her own slow movement back to the lover who wants to dominate her life. And the love that supposedly binds these two is frequently represented as an uncontrollable feeling prompted by an object. Gatsby beseeches Daisy's green light in the darkness; she is where the light is, but somehow the light evokes the feeling. Daisy loses control and weeps, not on first re-encountering her lost love, but when she sees the piles of pastel-colored shirts he flings, like tribute, into her lap. Betrayal is also revealed by a thing: George Wilson discovers his wife's adultery when he finds a jeweled dog leash in her room. The lines dividing people, images and things become increasingly blurred. Daisy's little girl, charmingly dressed and adorably (but briefly) exhibited to Nick, seems like her mother's doll, or a prop in Daisy's drama of marital virtue wronged and affronted. Daisy's attitude towards Gatsby is most tellingly revealed in the words of passion that give the game away. Tom is certain that Daisy has been unfaithful when she lovingly compares Gatsby, so fresh and clean and beautifully dressed, to the image of a man in a shirt advertisement. There seems to be no higher tribute in this world of illusion than to compare one's beloved to an advertisement. It is a dead world, a place dominated by a pair of eyes on a billboard, eyes that are sightless but forever peer out, looking for something. Like the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg, the innocents of the novel keep looking for something, something new and better, for they are bored with the things they have already bought. Daisy wonders what they'll do each day, and the next day, identifying the dilemma of people who can have whatever they want, as soon as they want it. Tom, too, is bored, seeking excitement first in sport, then in infidelity, seeking identity in a book of racist political philosophy. Myrtle is bored with her husband and looking for a better deal; George, too, dreams of moving to a new place where business will be better. Gatsby, more than anyone else, is eternally hopeful, confident that one more purchase will save him. Malcolm Bradbury says Gatsby aims "to transform money into love" (65) by buying Daisy. For, as [Judith] Fetterley says, Daisy has become the embodiment of the things Gatsby has craved for so long. Her family's rich house in Alabama, where he first sees her, is "the house of romance which he can only enter through her," and she is "the ultimate object in it. It is she for whom men compete, and possessing her is the clearest sign that one has made it into that magical world" (74). Fitzgerald's comment on his relationship to his wife Zelda is relevant to Gatsby's motives. In his notebooks, Fitzgerald discussed his marriage to Zelda, a dream fulfilled only after much frustration. Zelda had broken their engagement because Fitzgerald had no money, and she married him only after he had become rich and famous, with the publication of his first novel. Fitzgerald describes the bitter lesson learned from both denial and subsequent gratification of his longing: The man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl a year later would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity, toward the leisure class-not the conviction of the revolutionist but the smouldering hatred of a peasant. In the years since then I have never been able to stop wondering where my friends’ money came from, nor to stop thinking that at one time a sort of droit de seigneur might have been exercised to give one of them my girl. (Qtd. in Spindler 152) His fear describes the plot of The Great Gatsby, and Spindler says the statement reveals Fitzgerald's awareness that "money was the dynamo which powered the bright lights of the leader class" (152). But the comment also reveals Fitzgerald's understanding that women are property, prizes to be won. And so his greatest character, Jay Gatsby, perceives Daisy as "that which money exists to buy," as Fetterley says. To own her "both indicates the fact of money and gives point to its possession" (74). Fitzgerald seems to say that Daisy is the source of Gatsby's doom, that she brings him down. Critics of the novel generally agree that Daisy's destructive power is not willed or conscious, that Gatsby has simply invested too much in a property that cannot appreciate in value. Nevertheless, our general sense of Gatsby's story links his fall to his choice of the golden girl. Perhaps if he had found some other embodiment of his dreams, if he had purchased something else, his life might have been otherwise. The being who created himself, this Son of God, is incarnated, made fallible and vulnerable, when he makes the wrong consumer decision. As Gatsby remembers it, the fatal choice is his decision to commit himself to Daisy. On that autumn night, as he and Daisy walked on a sidewalk "white with moonlight," he turned to Daisy and noticed that "the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees." The moment of choice arrives, for Gatsby can reach the secret place if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. 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. So he waited. . . . Then he kissed her . .. and the incarnation was complete. (112) Gatsby has bought the definitive item; given the choice between the stars and the earth, between a secret place of endless wonder and the blank, white face of mortality with its "perishable breath," Gatsby comes down to Daisy, who must lift her face to reach him. God has been made man; anticipation, infinite promise have been reduced to a limiting realization. It seems that God has become man not by becoming a child, but by loving one. The passage is not so straightforward. For the alternatives of Gatsby's choice are not clear. From what heights did Gatsby fall? And to what has he been reduced? Without Daisy, Gatsby thinks, he could climb that white ladder to the sky and be safe in a solitary spot, free to suck the milk of wonder, to romp. This choice is a child's choice, a consumer choice. Gatsby perceives this secret world as a place of dependency and drift, where the maternal breast of dreams is ever-available, where he can suck the milk of wonder endlessly as he romps in innocence. To get there, he must take a white sidewalk and climb a white ladder to live on the white liquid of dreams. In a novel filled with negative images of the white princess in her white world, the world relinquished by Gatsby seems remarkably similar to the world he chooses. Gatsby's "fall" into Daisy's perishable world is no Fortunate one. There is no moment of transition from that secret world of play to the mature world of guilt, sorrow, and perhaps redemption. If Daisy indeed brings Gatsby down, she brings him down to reality. The fallen Gatsby is not so much diminished as revealed. He has chosen Daisy not as an alternative to that playful world of wonderful white dreams, but as an embodiment of it. As Fitzgerald points out, Gatsby makes himself, and he creates his own destiny as well. Like that first selfmade man, Ben Franklin, Gatsby methodically and systematically designs his regimen of self-improvement. His diary, like Franklin's, allocates each moment of the day for one more step on the way to wealth. Gatsby learns and studies under a more modem version of the self-made man, the predator/pioneer Dan Cody. Gatsby learns to believe in his mentor's values of power, possession and control. He becomes exactly what he wanted to be-the latest incarnation of an old American dream. By Gatsby's time, the self-made man is no longer creative and inventive like Franklin, nor rapacious and atavistic, like Cody. He is polished and charming, a con man. But Gatsby's misfortune is to be the con man duped by his own yearnings. Gatsby is brought down by his refusal to see the nature of his own dreams, and that is why he must remain faithful to Daisy until he dies. As Fetterley says, Gatsby has invested himself in Daisy (76-77), so to recognize her emptiness is to recognize his own. It is easier to remain in a world of lies, to die waiting for a call that will never come, a declaration of love from a girl who cannot love. The dream must be sustained by deception, of others and of oneself, so that identity can be sustained. It is easier for all those in Gatsby's world to go on as they began than to confront the evil inside their dreams. When the golden girl kills, her crime must be concealed, and Gatsby, Tom, and even Nick conspire to cover up the truth. And so the novel ends as it began. It ends in falsehood, from Gatsby's lie to save Daisy, to Jordan's lie to save her pride. It ends in deception, from George Wilson's tragic mistake, to the revelation of Gatsby's real name, to the Buchanans’ re-assumption of the role of united married couple. And, most of all, it ends with a final picture of the power of money. Money can buy the innocent bride, and enough money can keep her safe in a white palace. Money can sustain the illusion that, somewhere, there is one new thing, one new pleasure or one new person that, purchased, will fill the emptiness inside. And so the story of the Buchanans ends with two more purchases, as Tom buys jewelry to adorn his new mistress, his latest acquisition. Business continues as usual. Note 1. This blurring of polarities is very like the blurring of subject and object in Sister Carrie. Works Cited Bewley, Marius. The Eccentric Design: Form in the Classic American Novel. 1957. New York: Columbia UP, 1963. Bradbury, Malcolm. The Modem American Novel. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983. Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction, 1978. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby, 1925. New York: Scribners, n.d. Millgate, Michael. American Social Fiction: James to Cozzens. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1964. Spindler, Michael. American Literature and Social Change: William Dean Howells to Arthur Miller. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983.