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Best Character Analysis: Jordan Baker - The Great Gatsby

Posted by Halle Edwards | May 7, 2016 2:00:00 PM

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feature_jordan.jpg

You know that friend of yours who loves to gossip yet always downplays any drama they get into themselves? Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby is like that friend. A close friend of Daisy Buchanan’s, Jordan dates Nick Carraway during the novel and plays a crucial role in reuniting Daisy with the titular Jay Gatsby.

A couple of years younger than Daisy, Jordan is single and a professional golfer, which sets her apart from her married friend. In fact, Jordan is Daisy’s opposite in many ways, as we will explore in this guide! Read in for a complete guide to Jordan’s appearance, plot points, major quotes, and character analysis!

 

Article Roadmap

  1. Jordan Baker as a character
    • Physical description
    • Jordan's background
    • Actions in the novel
  2. Character Analysis
    • Quotes about and by Jordan
    • Common discussion topics and essay ideas
    • FAQ answering often-asked questions about Jordan

 

Quick Note on Our Citations

Our citation format in this guide is (chapter.paragraph). We're using this system since there are many editions of Gatsby, so using page numbers would only work for students with our copy of the book. To find a quotation we cite via chapter and paragraph in your book, you can either eyeball it (Paragraph 1-50: beginning of chapter; 50-100: middle of chapter; 100-on: end of chapter), or use the search function if you're using an online or eReader version of the text.

 

Physical Description of Jordan

The younger of the two was a stranger to me. 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. 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. (1.28)

I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. Her grey sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming discontented face. It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a picture of her, somewhere before. (1.57)

Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read aloud to him from the "Saturday Evening Post"—the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in her arms. (1.121)

The first thing Nick notices about Jordan is her placement and posture. Only after that does he notice her appearance, which he finds attractive. Nick tells us a lot about Jordan’s appearance, in fact more than he does about Daisy’s – with Daisy he often focuses on immaterial qualities like her voice. But we clearly see Jordan’s gray eyes, her wan, charming face, the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, her small breasts, the slender muscles in her arms. Clearly Nick spends a lot of time looking at Jordan!

It’s also worth noting Jordan and Daisy have contrasting appearances. Jordan is blond and very athletic, physical, tan, and angular, while Daisy is dark-haired and pale with a musical voice and more delicate figure. Interestingly enough most film adaptations feature a dark-haired Jordan and a blonde Daisy!

 

Jordan's Background

Jordan Baker, who is two years younger than Daisy, grew up with the other woman in Louisville. Daisy refers to this as their shared “white girlhoods” (1.100). Jordan witnesses both Daisy’s initial relationship with Gatsby and how she almost didn’t marry Tom after getting a letter from Gatsby but pulled herself together in time for the wedding.

Jordan doesn’t have any major surviving relatives other than an old aunt who controls her money, so it’s implied she’s the heiress to a significant amount of money but, during the novel at least, she doesn’t have full access to it.

Instead of marrying, Jordan plays golf professionally and dates around, to the point Tom comments that her family “shouldn’t let her run around the country in this way” (1.134).

To see how Jordan's biography lines up with the lives of the other characters, check out our timeline.

 

Summary of Actions in the Novel

In Chapter 1, Jordan meets Nick through Tom and Daisy, who she is staying with. She tells Nick that Tom has “some woman in New York” and shushes him so she can listen to Tom and Daisy’s argument, revealing herself as a gossip (1.100).

In Chapter 3, she runs into Nick again at Gatsby’s party. She is also called to speak with Gatsby, and he tells her about his past with Daisy and how he hopes to meet her again through Nick, Daisy’s cousin.

In Chapter 4, Jordan tells Nick about Daisy and Gatsby’s history and gets him to help arrange their meeting, igniting Daisy and Gatsby’s affair.

In Chapter 7, Jordan is invited to the lunch party along with Nick, Tom, Gatsby, and Daisy, when Gatsby hopes to have Daisy to confront Tom. The group ends up going to New York City. Jordan rides up with Tom and Nick in Gatsby’s yellow car. They stop at the Wilson’s garage, and Myrtle sees the trio and takes Jordan to be Tom’s wife. Later than night, she drives back with Nick and Tom, but this time in Tom’s blue coupe. They come across the scene of Myrtle’s death: she has been run over by the yellow car.

Despite witnessing this awful scene, she seems surprised Nick doesn’t want to come into the Buchanans’ afterward for tea. The next day, she calls Nick at work, telling him she’s moved out of the Buchanans’ house and wants to see him, but they end up arguing over the phone and breaking up.

Finally, in Chapter 9, Nick seeks her out to more formally break things off, and she tells him she’s engaged.

 

body_engagementring.jpgNick doesn't appear to have liked it enough to put a ring on it.

 

Jordan Baker Quotes

“And I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy." (3.29)

This is an early example of Jordan’s unexpectedly clever observations – throughout the novel she reveals a quick wit and keen eye for detail in social situations. This comment also sets the stage for the novel’s chief affair between Daisy and Gatsby, and how at the small party in Chapter 7 their secrets come out to disastrous effect.

Compare Jordan’s comment to Daisy's general attitude of being too sucked into her own life to notice what’s going on around her.

 

"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."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."

"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."

"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you." (3.162-169)

Here we get a sense of what draws Jordan and Nick together – he’s attracted to her carefree, entitled attitude while she sees his cautiousness as a plus. After all, if it really does take two to make an accident, as long as she’s with a careful person, Jordan can do whatever she wants!

We also see Jordan as someone who carefully calculates risks – both in driving and in relationships. This is why she brings up her car accident analogy again at the end of the book when she and Nick break up – Nick was, in fact, a “bad driver” as well, and she was surprised that she read him wrong.

 

“It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people.”  (4.144)

Another example of Jordan’s observant wit, this quote (about Daisy) is Jordan’s way of suggesting that perhaps Daisy’s reputation is not so squeaky-clean as everyone else believes. After all, if Daisy were the only sober one in a crowd of partiers, it would be easy for her to hide less-than-flattering aspects about herself.

 

Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. (4.164)

In this moment, Nick reveals what he finds attractive about Jordan – not just her appearance (though again, he describes her as pleasingly “jaunty” and “hard” here), but her attitude. She’s skeptical without being fully cynical, and remains upbeat and witty despite her slightly pessimistic outlook. At this point in the story, Midwestern Nick probably still finds this exciting and attractive, though of course by the end he realizes that her attitude makes it hard for her to truly empathize with others, like Myrtle.

 

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." (7.75)

In contrast to Daisy (who says just before this, rather despairingly, “What will we do today, and then tomorrow, and for the next thirty years?” (7.74)), Jordan is open to and excited about the possibilities still available to her in her life. As we’ll discuss later, perhaps since she’s still unmarried her life still has a freedom Daisy’s does not, and the possibility to start over.

While she’s not exactly a starry-eyed optimist, she does show a resilience, and an ability to start things over and move on, that allows her to escape the tragedy at the end relatively unscathed. It also fits how Jordan doesn’t seem to let herself get too attached to people or places, which is why she’s surprised by how much she felt for Nick.

 

"You threw me over on the telephone. I don't give a damn about you now but it was a new experience for me and I felt a little dizzy for a while." (9.130)

Jordan doesn’t frequently showcase her emotions or show much vulnerability, so this moment is striking because we see that she did really care for Nick to at least some extent. Notice that she couches her confession with a pretty sassy remark (“I don’t give a damn about you now”) which feels hollow when you realize that being “thrown over” by Nick made her feel dizzy – sad, surprised, shaken – for a while.

 

Common Essay Topics/ Areas of Discussion

Jordan, like Tom, is usually roped into essay topics to be compared with Daisy (the way Tom is often contrasted with Gatsby or sometimes George), or to make a larger argument about the role of women more generally. Since Jordan isn’t as major of a character as Daisy, Gatsby, or even Tom, it’s rare to get a standalone essay just about Jordan. To read some excellent detailed analysis of how to compare Jordan to Myrtle or Daisy, check out our article on comparing and contrasting the novel's characters

Make sure to move beyond the obvious when writing about Jordan – yes, she has a job while Daisy and Myrtle are both married, but what else makes her stand out? Pay special attention to how Jordan is described versus Daisy, Jordan’s dialogue, and Jordan’s focus – it’s clear that Jordan is often focused outward, observing other characters and their interactions, while Daisy tends to be turned inward, with her own emotions.

 

Discuss how Jordan and Daisy illustrate changing women’s roles in the 1920s.

Despite the progress in women’s rights made in the early twentieth century, including the right to vote (won in 1919), most women, especially wealthy women, were expected to marry, have children, and stay at home. Daisy sticks to this prescribed societal role by marrying and having a child. But Jordan plays golf professionally, “runs around the country” and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to marry (1.134). In short, on the surface, it appears that Daisy is a traditionalist while Jordan is expanding the possibilities of a woman’s life.

However, Daisy and Jordan aren’t exactly a straightforward housewife and career woman duo. First of all, Daisy is quite removed from her role as a mother, since her daughter Pammy is mostly raised by a maid. She also seriously contemplates leaving Tom during the novel. Meanwhile, Jordan tells Nick at the end of the novel she’s engaged. Whether or not this is true, it suggests that Jordan will certainly get married one day, and that her current golf career is just a temporary diversion, not a permanent independent lifestyle.

Indeed, both Daisy and Jordan are also both at the mercy of their families: Daisy derives all of her wealth and power from Tom, while Jordan is beholden to her old aunt for money. They don’t actually have much control over their own wealth and would lose everything if they went too far out of line.

So while Daisy and Jordan both typify a very showy lifestyle that looks liberated – being “flappers,” having sex, drinking in public (which before the 1920s was seen as a highly indecent thing for a woman to do), playing golf professionally in Jordan’s case – they in fact are still thoroughly constrained by the limited options women had in the 1920s in terms of making their own lives.

 

Jordan briefly narrates in Chapter 4.  How is Jordan’s narration different from Nick’s? Why rely on her narration at all? What would the novel be like from her point of view?

Jordan’s narration is definitely distinct from Nick’s. Her diction is a bit sharper and she has more blatantly judgmental asides, calling Daisy “drunk as a monkey” (4.136). She also uses more vivid imagery: the red, white, and blue banners on the houses flapping “tut-tut-tut-tut” in a “disapproving way” (4.129), Gatsby’s letter to Daisy coming apart “like snow” in the bath (4.141), etc. Her choice of words is a pretty good insight into her character and how sharply observant she is!

So why is there a section narrated by Jordan at all? Perhaps Nick leans on Jordan because he feels unqualified to talk about Daisy’s past. After all, aside from their conversation in Chapter 1, Nick doesn’t have close conversations with Daisy. But since Nick gets to know Gatsby through several close conversations, he feels comfortable telling about Gatsby’s past. You also get the sense he’s washing his hands of whatever Jordan reveals about Daisy. He doesn’t fully trust in the details or really care about Daisy’s story, using it only as a means of understanding Gatsby.

It’s also notable that Nick uses Michealis’s point of view to talk about the aftermath of Myrtle’s death, which in a similar manner suggests he feels less connected to the Wilsons than he does to Gatsby.

The novel from Jordan’s point of view would likely be much less sentimental when it comes to Gatsby. Nick obviously idealizes him by the end while Jordan doesn’t seem to see him as anything more than a source of fun and intrigue. We would likely get a much better sense of Daisy’s motivations and thought process throughout the novel, something we barely get access to with Nick’s narration.

 

body_flappersofa.jpgDaisy's motto: if you don't have anything nice to say, come and sit by me.

 

Jordan Baker FAQ

These are questions that many students have about Jordan after reading Gatsby for the first time. These are points that don’t come up as often in essay topics or study guides, so give them a look if you’re still wondering about Jordan’s feelings and motivations!

 

Does Jordan actually like Nick?

Daisy professes her feelings to not one but two men in Chapter 7, and Myrtle makes her attraction to Tom Buchanan clear. Jordan, in contrast, is not one to make her feelings so plainly known, so it’s not surprising that many students wonder if she even likes Nick at all.  

Like Gatsby, Jordan seems drawn to Nick because he presents himself as a stable, honest, and grounded personality in the midst of many larger-than-life, overbearing types.

She even says that she’s drawn to him because he’s cautious (there's also that part about her lying and cheating where Nick says that she tends to prefer being with people she can dominate/pull one over on/etc., and he does seem to rely on her for emotional strength at some points (for example in the car when he's thinking about turning 30). They break up right at the moment when she can't control his actions - can't make him go into the house, can't make him apologize for ignoring her.)

By the end of the book, she does admit that she was rather thrown by the break-up, suggesting she came to have somewhat deeper feelings for him. In fact, their break-up scene is worth looking at in full to really answer this question:

"Nevertheless you did throw me over," said Jordan suddenly. "You threw me over on the telephone. I don't give a damn about you now but it was a new experience for me and I felt a little dizzy for a while."

We shook hands.

"Oh, and do you remember—" she added, "——a conversation we had once about driving a car?"

"Why—not exactly."

"You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn't I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride."

"I'm thirty," I said. "I'm five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor."

She didn't answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away. (9.130-136)

“Feeling dizzy for a while” is the closest we’ve seen the proudly unflappable Jordan come to admitting an actual, personal, emotional response to a situation. She also criticizes Nick for mischaracterizing himself as honest and straightforward when he dispatched her pretty coldly over the phone. In short, we can tell she has definitely been thinking their short relationship over and was shocked and hurt by how abruptly things ended.

 

Why does Jordan help Gatsby reunite with Daisy?

In Chapter 3, Jordan attends one of Gatsby’s parties, and is called upstairs to speak with him. We can infer that Gatsby has heard she is staying with Daisy Buchanan, and calls her up so he can find out more about Daisy. In that conversation, Gatsby confesses to Jordan that he’s in love with Daisy and wants to try and see her again.

Gatsby’s motivations are clear. But why does Jordan help?

Well, for one thing, Jordan’s nosy, and likes to be in the middle of things. She tells Nick about Tom’s affair in Chapter 1 and also tells him all about Daisy’s past in Chapter 4, and seems to love being a source of information and gossip. Arranging a Daisy/Gatsby reunion certainly puts her close to some drama!

However, you could also argue that, as someone with knowledge of Gatsby and Daisy’s original relationship, Jordan knows how devastated Daisy was when she got a letter from Gatsby, feels compelled to help the pair reunite.

Finally, Jordan might also see it as an opportunity to expose Daisy as much less virtuous as she comes off. Jordan is consistently the only character who recognizes Daisy as less-than-perfect, as evidenced in her remarks about Daisy in Chapter 4 (“Daisy was popular in Chicago, as you know. They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but she came out with an absolutely spotless 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.” (4.144)). Nudging Daisy into an affair with Gatsby could be Jordan’s way of working to expose Daisy to the scrutiny that everyone else in their circles seems to face for similar behavior.

 

What’s Jordan’s purpose in the story? Is she a necessary character?

Jordan, similar to Nick, is adjacent to much of the main action but is not directly involved, so many students wonder what exactly she’s doing in the book. Especially since Nick does have a crucial role as narrator, Jordan can seem a bit superfluous at times. So why include her?

Well, for one thing, she does have an important role to play in the story. Purely from a plot perspective, she helps connect Nick to Gatsby in Chapter 3, and she also helps connect Gatsby and Daisy. She helps sets the wheels of the affair in motion, and, of course, the affair drives the main action of the novel. Without Jordan, Gatsby would have relied entirely on Nick to reach Daisy, which would have taken some of the suspense out of Gatsby’s motivations (even though Jordan learns Gatsby’s secret in Chapter 3, we don’t learn it until Chapter 4).

But Jordan is also important in how she allows us to understand other characters. She helps us understand Daisy by being such a contrast to her, and of course offers some crucial insights about Daisy herself during her brief stint as the narrator in Chapter 4. Furthermore, Jordan also gives us some insights about Nick since we can see his reactions to her and their relationship. In fact, Jordan’s relationship with Nick is one of our main inroads into understanding Nick’s personal life and feelings.

So while Jordan is not directly involved in the main drama, she is a crucial lynchpin both for the plot and our understanding of the other major characters.

 

Why doesn’t Jordan go to Gatsby’s funeral?

Nick attends Gatsby’s funeral along with Gatsby’s father and Owl Eyes. Tom and Daisy have skipped town due to Daisy’s role in Myrtle’s death, Meyer Wolfshiem also wants to keep his distance since he is painted as cautious and disloyal, and Myrtle and George are dead. So out of the book’s major characters, Jordan is the only one unaccounted for at Gatsby’s funeral. Some readers wonder why she doesn’t show up, given her relationship with Nick and the fact that she at least knew Gatsby, and even helped him reunite with Daisy.

First of all, Nick doesn’t try to invite Jordan to the funeral (that we know of), especially since it seems their conversation late in Chapter 9 is the first they have spoken since Nick “threw her over” on the telephone the morning after Myrtle’s death. Perhaps she hears about Gatsby’s death but avoids his funeral because she assumes Nick will be there.

If Nick invited her would she have considered attending? Likely not. Jordan, like the other characters, is very conscious about appearances and, furthermore, she is a character who likes being involved in gossip and intrigue but manages to mostly remain out of serious trouble or scandal herself. So even were she invited, going to Gatsby’s funeral might be seen as more risky than it’s worth, especially since she wasn’t that close to Gatsby.

 

What’s Next?

Nick and Jordan’s relationship is unique in the novel – they’re not having an affair, unlike Tom/Myrtle and Daisy/Gatsby, and they’re not married, unlike Myrtle/George and Daisy/Tom. So what does their relationship add to the story? Why include it at all? Read more about love, desire, and relationships in Gatsby to find out.

Jordan is a key figure in the first half of the novel as Gatsby moves to reunite with Daisy. Read summaries of Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 to get some in-depth takes of her most important scenes.

We mention here that Jordan is relatively independent in that she has her own career as a golfer. This connects her to one of the novel's more interesting motifs: sports. How does her golf career compare to Tom's football days? Read our article on motifs in the The Great Gatsby for some insights.

 

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Halle Edwards
About the Author

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.



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