The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Daisy Buchanan

“I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.”

These are Daisy’s first words in the book, spoken in Chapter 1 to Nick upon his arrival at the Buchanan residence. Preceded by what Nick describes as “an absurd, charming little laugh,” Daisy’s affected but playful stutter suggests that she is a constant performer in social situations. Rather than express her happiness to see Nick in an earnest way, she performs happiness, and she does so ironically, which makes the reader suspicious as to just how “p-paralyzed with happiness” she really is.

[She had] the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. . . . [T]here was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

Nick frequently comments on Daisy’s voice, and this first instance appears in Chapter 1. Instead of describing the quality of her voice, Nick emphasizes the effects her voice has on others, and particularly on men. Daisy’s voice has an enticing mystique that captures the listener’s attention and compels them to follow the musicality of her speech. In this sense, Daisy recalls the Sirens of Greek myth, who use their enchanting voices to lure sailors into shipwrecks. Like the Sirens, Daisy’s voice issues a vague but entrancing promise of “gay, exciting things” to come, but instead her voice eventually leads to tragedy.

They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but [Daisy] came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because she doesn’t drink. It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue, and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care. Perhaps Daisy never went in for amour at all—and yet there’s something in that voice of hers. . .

In Chapter 4, Nick tries to describe what sets Daisy apart from the rest of the affluent, “fast crowd” she consorts with. Her “perfect reputation” makes her seem flawless, and Nick links this to her self-restraint around drinking. But Nick does not actually think that Daisy is as perfect as she seems, only that she gets away with being less than perfect because everyone around her “is so blind that they don’t see or care.” This fact, coupled with her enchanting voice, simply makes her seem untouchable, even though she’s as flawed as the rest.

“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of—” I hesitated.
“Her voice is full of money,” [Gatsby] said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.

This exchange between Nick and Gatsby occurs in Chapter 7, just after Tom catches Gatsby and Daisy exchanging loving glances. Once again Nick brings up Daisy’s voice, this time characterizing it as “indiscreet”—that is, careless and rash with information that should remain secret or private. When Gatsby responds that Daisy’s voice “is full of money,” Nick suddenly understands the source of its dangerous mystique. Daisy’s voice echoes with affluence. Its “inexhaustible charm” makes exciting promises, but as Nick learns, such promises cannot be kept.

Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes.

This quote appears in Chapter 8, when Nick recounts the story of what happened to Daisy after Gatsby initially left for the war. Following his departure, Daisy launched herself to the “artificial world” of affluent society and reveled in what that world had to offer. Nick’s use of a musical metaphor is significant. His reference to “new tunes” recalls the music of the Jazz Age. High-energy jazz styles created a soundtrack for the Roaring Twenties, expressing both “the sadness and suggestiveness of life.” Daisy therefore abandoned herself not just to wealthy society, but to the atmosphere of popular jazz that animated it.