Jordan Baker: Immoral vs. Balanced
In every story, there are characters which serve to give the text purpose and drive the plot. Whether the character is dynamic, complex, round or flat, successful pieces of literature must include well-developed characters to propel the story. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway’s love interest, Jordan Baker, has very distinct characteristics which make her a confusing character to understand. Fitzgerald depicts her as a lying and deceitful professional golfer who is not only a cheater in her sport, but also cheats in her life. However, throughout the novel, Nick Carraway describes her as a balanced human being; this duality makes her development hard to comprehend. The reader begins to question why Fitzgerald contradicts his depiction of Jordan, since he describes her as immoral, yet stabilized at the same time. Jordan Baker is not actually balanced. On the contrary, throughout the book she struggles to stabilize her life as professional golfer and socialite, and uses this duality to mask her immorality. Jordan Baker initially appears as maintaining her moral balance, yet with some effort.
At the beginning of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway meets Jordan Baker for the first time at Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s house. Nick immediately describes her as laying on the couch with Daisy, wearing a white, flowing dress, giving the illusion of a goddess in a gilded world. He further describes her placid qualities: “She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall” (Fitzgerald 8). The calm and heavenly qualities capture her attempt to mask something she is not. For instance, she is effortlessly elegant, as if she wants to be seen as a picturesque, rich princess. On the other hand, Nick describes her arrogant qualities: “If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it — indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in” (Fitzgerald 8). Jordan is a professional golfer and has a great deal of money, which is apparent through her actions. She is a socialite, like other young adults of West-Egg, whose vanity manifests a sense of arrogance, and this ends up intimidating Nick. Accentuating her vanity, Jordan attempts to mask her amorality, which is depicted through her actions. Later in the chapter, Nick and Jordan begin to talk, “At any rate, Miss Baker’s lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly, and then quickly tipped her head back again–– the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright” (9). Nick Carraway describes Jordan’s attempt to maintain her appearance of balance, through the metaphoric imagery of a tottering object. This is the first time Jordan speaks to Nick, yet she has trouble maintaining her sense of stabilization. Therefore, her attraction to Nick disrupts her effort to represent her elegance ultimately becoming a symbol of West-Egg. For example, West-Egg represents ‘New Money.’ The people of West-Egg flaunt their money with gaudy parties and clothing, and all have a lack of social connections, unlike those of East-Egg. They also represent young adults who have recently made their fortunes. Motionless, Jordan Baker appears as a mannequin, desperately trying to savor her rich youth and mask her amorality. In addition to maintaining her outward aesthetic, Jordan Baker struggles to strike an internal balance. To examine how she tries to keep composure, one must analyze her characteristics.
Nonetheless, Jordan Baker is one of the most immoral characters in The Great Gatsby. She is a dishonest cheat, capable of incredible cynicism. Additionally, she only cares about herself and values materialism. For instance, Fitzgerald portrays Jordan Baker as a lying golfer: “At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers—a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round” (57). This poor trait of Jordan highlights her immoral qualities. Similarly, Fitzgerald accentuates her immorality by characterizing her as a bad driver: “‘You’re a rotten driver,’ I protested. ‘Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.’ ‘I am careful’” (58). Jordan’s reckless driving is a symbol of her immorality since it metaphorically depicts her carelessness. When Nick and Jordan are in the car, she nearly kills pedestrians on the side of the street. Although she is a thoughtless driver, she still worries about the way people see her and, in turn, covers up her imperfections, denying her bad driving. Jordan knows she is in the wrong, but she uses it to her advantage, since her amorality pushes her success. However, she realizes that she must cover up her unethical attributes in order to maintain her role as a woman of East-Egg. For instance, women of East-Egg, like Daisy, appear to be glamorous and pure. Furthermore, they often appear as flat characters, but there is more to them. Jordan clearly lacks some of those deeper qualities: “With Jordan’s slender golden arm resting in mine, we descended the steps and sauntered about the garden” (43). Jordan is described as having a golden arm, essentially referring to her tan skin. Consequently, she is not pure like the other women of West-Egg, since her skin is not pale. Therefore, she is trying to balance her life as an immoral professional golfer and as a rich East-Egg woman.
Some readers may disagree with the belief that Jordan is conflicted and conclude that Jordan Baker actually is composed. After all, Fitzgerald has many descriptions of her throughout the book that depict her poised and stable characteristics: “Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented face” (11). The eyes are known to be the windows to the soul and the color gray is known to be an unemotional, neutral, and balanced color. For instance, in art, the color gray it is used to balanced a composition, otherwise known as color correction, making the piece more aesthetically appealing. Therefore, Jordan’s gray eyes depict her balance. Additionally, throughout the book, Jordan winds up in uncomfortable situations, similar to Nick, essentially becoming a buffer. For example, whenever Tom and Daisy erupt into a fight, Jordan and Nick are present, and they end up calming the situation. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald completely contradicts Jordan’s immorality with a sense of equanimity. Nick notes Jordan’s attempt to maintain composure through her appearance. She is not a balanced character since it completely counters her amoral habits. On the contrary, Fitzgerald portrays this stabilization to depict Jordan’s struggle to maintain her poise as a rich professional golfer of East-Egg.
Jordan Baker, in parallel with the other characters in The Great Gatsby, is a well developed individual, a fact which results in endless complexities. The reader often confuses her as a stable character, since Fitzgerald illustrates her as such. For instance, she has gray eyes, she is motionless with her head poised, and she offers a sense of balance throughout situations. However, her strong sense of amorality contradicts this equity. Thus, Fitzgerald’s descriptions of Jordan’s balance throughout the book simply represent her struggle to maintain a sense of equilibrium as an immoral professional golfer and as a woman of the upper echelons of 1920s society.
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