In The Great Gatsby, Daisy Fay Buchanan is the object of Jay Gatsby's singular obsession, which means in many ways she is the center of the novel. But despite this, there is quite a bit we don't know about Daisy Buchanan as a character—her inner thoughts, her desires, and even her motivations can be hard to read.
So what do we know about Daisy, and what would a typical analysis of her look like? Learn all about Daisy, The Great Gatsby's most alluring, controversial character, through her description, actions, famous quotes, and a detailed character analysis.
- Daisy as a Character
- Physical description
- Daisy's background
- Actions in the novel
- Character Analysis
- Quotes about and by Daisy
- Common discussion topics
- FAQ about Daisy's motivations and actions
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 the novel, 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.
Daisy Buchanan's Physical Description
First up: what does Daisy look like?
"I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was 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. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth—but there 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." (1.33)
Now and then she moved and he changed his arm a little and once he kissed her dark shining hair. (8.16)
Note that Daisy's magnetic voice is a central part of her description—Nick describes her voice before her physical appearance, and doesn't even include key details like her hair color until much later on in the book. We'll discuss Daisy's voice in depth later in this post.
Also, note that Daisy is modeled after dark-haired beauty Ginevra King. King married another man despite Fitzgerald's love for her (sound familiar?). Oddly, despite this biographical fact—and the clear description of Daisy's "dark shining hair"—all of the films show Daisy as blonde.
Daisy Buchanan's Background
Daisy Buchanan, born Daisy Fay, is from a wealthy family in Louisville, Kentucky. Popular and beautiful, she was courted by several officers during World War I. She met and fell in love with Jay Gatsby, an officer at the time, and promised to wait for him to return from the war. However, she succumbed to pressure from her family and married Tom Buchanan instead. The next year, they had a baby girl together, Pammy.
Although Daisy is happy immediately after she and Tom are married, he begins having affairs almost immediately after their honeymoon to the South Seas. By the time Pammy is born, Daisy has become rather pessimistic, saying that the best thing in the world a girl can be is "a beautiful little fool" (1.118).
The couple move around to anywhere where "people played polo and were rich together"—specifically, they live in both Chicago and France before moving to Long Island (1.17). Despite associating with a partying crowd in Chicago, Daisy's reputation comes out unscathed: "They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but she 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" (4.144).
By the beginning of the novel, Daisy and Tom hope to stay in New York permanently, but Nick is skeptical about this: "This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it" (1.17). Daisy frequently hosts her friend Jordan Baker, and seems desperate for something—or someone—to distract her from her restlessness and increasing pessimism.
To see how Daisy's background ties her in to the biographies of the other characters, check out our novel timeline.
Daisy's Actions in the Book
We first meet Daisy in Chapter 1. She invites Nick Carraway over to her home for dinner, where he is first introduced to Jordan Baker. Tom takes a call from his mistress Myrtle during the evening, creating some tension. Daisy later confesses dramatically to Nick about her marital troubles, but undercuts that confession with "an absolute smirk" (1.120). When Nick leaves he has already predicted Daisy won't leave Tom: "It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms—but apparently there were no such intentions in her head" (1.150).
In Chapter 5, Nick invites Daisy to tea over at his house. This is actually just an excuse for Jay Gatsby to come over and reunite with her after five years apart. After a tearful reunion, she tours Gatsby's lavish mansion. Later, Nick leaves them alone and they begin an affair.
Daisy attends one of Gatsby's riotous parties in Chapter 6 and hates it. This causes Gatsby to stop throwing his parties entirely. He also fires his old staff and brings a new staff sent by Meyer Wolfshiem to his house—in part because of his business but also to help keep his affair with Daisy secret.
In Chapter 7, Gatsby pushes Daisy to confront Tom, say she never loved him, and leave him. They originally plan to do this in Daisy and Tom's house, but end up driving to Manhattan instead since everyone is so agitated. The confrontation ends up occurring in a room in the Plaza Hotel, and Daisy finds she can't completely disavow Tom. This crushes Gatsby, and Tom, certain of his victory, tells Daisy she can drive home with Gatsby—he does this as a show of power; he's confident that at this point Daisy will never leave him, even if she's left alone with Gatsby.
During that drive back to East Egg, Myrtle Wilson runs out in the road (she has confused Gatsby's yellow car with Tom's) and Daisy runs her over and continues without stopping. Myrtle is killed on impact.
The next day, she and Tom leave New York to avoid the fall out from the accident. She avoids contact from both Nick and Gatsby, such that we never see her response to Gatsby's death or even her own response to killing Myrtle. This means our last glimpse of Daisy in the novel is at the end of Chapter 7, sitting across from Tom: "Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement" (7.409).
So Nick leaves Daisy in Chapter 7 just as he did in Chapter 1—alone with Tom, not happy, but not unhappy either. His prediction has turned out to be accurate: Daisy is too comfortable and secure in her marriage with Tom to seriously consider leaving it. We'll dig into more reasons why Daisy doesn't divorce Tom below.
In fairness, fried chicken makes just about any situation better.
Daisy Buchanan Quotes (Lines By and About Daisy)
She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." (1.118)
This deeply pessimistic comment is from the first time we meet Daisy in Chapter 1. She has just finished telling Nick about how when she gave birth to her daughter, she woke up alone—Tom was "god knows where." She asks for the baby's sex and cries when she hears it's a girl. So beneath her charming surface we can see Daisy is somewhat despondent about her role in the world and unhappily married to Tom. That said, right after this comment Nick describes her "smirking," which suggests that despite her pessimism, she doesn't seem eager to change her current state of affairs.
"Here, dearis." She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. "Take 'em downstairs and give 'em back to whoever they belong to. Tell 'em all Daisy's change' her mine. Say 'Daisy's change' her mine!'."
She began to cry—she cried and cried. I rushed out and found her mother's maid and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn't let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.
But she didn't say another word. We gave her spirits of ammonia and put ice on her forehead and hooked her back into her dress and half an hour later when we walked out of the room the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o'clock she married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver and started off on a three months' trip to the South Seas. (4.140-2)
In this flashback, narrated by Jordan, we learn all about Daisy's past and how she came to marry Tom, despite still being in love with Jay Gatsby. In fact, she seems to care about him enough that after receiving a letter from him, she threatens to call off her marriage to Tom. However, despite this brief rebellion, she is quickly put back together by Jordan and her maid—the dress and the pearls represent Daisy fitting back into her prescribed social role. And indeed, the next day she marries Tom "without so much as a shiver," showing her reluctance to question the place in society dictated by her family and social status.
"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.118)
During Daisy and Gatsby's reunion, she is delighted by Gatsby's mansion but falls to pieces after Gatsby giddily shows off his collection of shirts.
This scene is often confusing to students. Why does Daisy start crying at this particular display? The scene could speak to Daisy's materialism: that she only emotionally breaks down at this conspicuous proof of Gatsby's newfound wealth. But it also speaks to her strong feelings for Gatsby, and how touched she is at the lengths he went to to win her back.
"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon," cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?" (7.74)
In Chapter 7, as Daisy tries to work up the courage to tell Tom she wants to leave him, we get another instance of her struggling to find meaning and purpose in her life. Beneath Daisy's cheerful exterior, there is a deep sadness, even nihilism, in her outlook (compare this to Jordan's more optimistic response that life renews itself in autumn).
"Her voice is full of money," he 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. . . . High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.105-6)
Gatsby explicitly ties Daisy and her magnetic voice to wealth. This particular line is really crucial, since it ties Gatsby's love for Daisy to his pursuit of wealth and status. It also allows Daisy herself to become a stand-in for the idea of the American Dream. We'll discuss even more about the implications of Daisy's voice below.
"Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too." (7.264)
During the climactic confrontation in New York City, Daisy can't bring herself to admit she only loved Gatsby, because she did also love Tom at the beginning of their marriage. This moment is crushing for Gatsby, and some people who read the novel and end up disliking Daisy point to this moent as proof. Why couldn't she get up the courage to just leave that awful Tom? they ask.
However, I would argue that Daisy's problem isn't that she loves too little, but that she loves too much. She fell in love with Gatsby and was heartbroken when he went to war, and again when he reached out to her right before she was set to marry Tom. And then she fell deeply in love with Tom in the early days of their marriage, only to discover his cheating ways and become incredibly despondent (see her earlier comment about women being "beautiful little fools"). So by now she's been hurt by falling in love, twice, and is wary of risking another heartbreak.
Furthermore, we do see again her reluctance to part with her place in society. Being with Gatsby would mean giving up her status as old-money royalty and instead being the wife of a gangster. That's a huge jump for someone like Daisy, who was essentially raised to stay within her class, to make. So it's hard to blame her for not giving up her entire life (not to mention her daughter!) to be with Jay.
Daisy Buchanan Character Analysis
To understand Daisy's role in the story and to analyze her actions, understanding the context of the 1920s—especially the role of women—is key. First of all, even though women's rights were expanding during the 1920s (spurred by the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920), the prevailing expectation was still that women, especially wealthy women, would get married and have children and that was all. Divorce was also still uncommon and controversial.
Pictured: the biggest moment Daisy Buchanan could ever aspire to.
So Daisy, as a wife and mother who is reluctant to leave an unhappy marriage, can be seen as a product of her time, while other female characters like Jordan and Myrtle are pushing their boundaries a bit more. You can explore these issues in essays that ask you to compare Daisy and Myrtle or Daisy in Jordan—check out how in our article on comparing and contrasting Great Gatsby characters.
Also, make sure you understand the idea of the American Dream and Daisy as a stand-in for it. You might be asked to connect Daisy to money, wealth, or the American Dream based on that crucial comment about her voice being made of money.
Finally, be sure to read chapters 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7 carefully for any Daisy analysis! (She doesn't appear in Chapters 2, 3, 8, or 9.)
What does Daisy represent? Wealth, unrequited love, the American dream, or something else entirely?
Daisy definitely represents the old money class, from her expensive but relatively conservative clothing (like the white dress she is introduced in), to her "fashionable, glittering white mansion" (1.15) in East Egg, to her background, that "beautiful white girlhood" (1.140) spent in Louisville. You can also argue that she represents money itself more broadly, thanks to Gatsby's observation that "her voice is full of money" (7.105).
She also is the object that Gatsby pursues, the person who has come to stand in for all of his hopes, dreams, and ambition: "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, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete" (6.134). Because of this connection, some people tie Daisy herself to the American Dream—she is as alluring and ultimately as fickle and illusive as the promises of a better life.
Some people also say Daisy stands for the relatively unchanged position of many women in the 1920s—despite the new rights granted by the 19th amendment, many women were still trapped in unhappy marriages, and constrained by very strict gender roles.
For an essay about what Daisy represents, you can argue for any of these points of view—old money, money itself, the American Dream, status of women, or something else—but make sure to use quotes from the book to back up your argument!
Why is Daisy's voice so important?
First, we should note the obvious connection to sirens in The Odyssey—the beautiful creatures who lure men in with their voices. The suggestion is that Daisy's beautiful voice makes her both irresistible and dangerous, especially to men. By making her voice her most alluring feature, rather than her looks or her movement, Fitzgerald makes that crucial allusion clear.
He also makes it easier to connect Daisy to less-tangible qualities like money and the American Dream, since it's her voice—something that is ephemeral and fleeting—that makes her so incredibly alluring. If Daisy were just an especially beautiful woman or physically alluring like Myrtle, she wouldn't have that symbolic power.
Daisy's beautiful voice is also interesting because this is a very chatty novel—there is a lot of dialogue! But Daisy is the only character whose voice is continually described as alluring. (There are a few brief descriptions of Jordan's voice as pleasant but it can also come across as "harsh and dry" according to Nick (8.49).) This creates the impression that it doesn't really matter what she's saying, but rather her physicality and what she represents to Gatsby is more important. That in turn could even be interpreted as misogynistic on Fitzgerald's part, since the focus is not on what Daisy says, but how she says it.
Discuss Daisy, Jordan, and the role of women in the 1920s. Are they flappers? Who's more independent?
This question might seem quite simple at first: Daisy is sticking to her prescribed societal role by marrying and having a child, while Jordan plays golf, "runs around town" and doesn't seem to be in a hurry to marry. Daisy is conservative while Jordan is an independent woman—or as independent as a woman could be during the 1920s. Case closed, right?
Not quite! This could definitely be the impression you get at the beginning of the novel, but things change during the story. Daisy does seem to contemplate divorce, while Jordan ends up engaged (or so she claims). And even if Jordan is not currently engaged, the fact she brings up engagement to Nick strongly hints that she sees that as her end goal in life, and that her current golf career is just a diversion.
Furthermore, both Daisy and Jordan are also at the mercy of their families: Daisy derives all of her wealth and power from Tom, while Jordan is beholden to an old wealthy aunt who controls her money. They don't actually have control over their own money, and therefore their choices.
So while Jordan and Daisy both typify a very showy lifestyle that looks liberated—being "flappers," having sex, drinking alcohol (which before the 1920s was seen as a highly indecent thing for a woman to do in public), and playing golf 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.
Do we really know Daisy as a character? Does anyone really know her?
One argument Daisy supporters (people who argue she's misunderstood and unfairly vilified by certain reads of the novel) make often is that we don't really know Daisy that well by the end of the novel. Nick himself admits in Chapter 1 that he has "no sight into Daisy's heart" (1.17).
And readers aren't the only people who think this. Fitzgerald himself lamented after the novel failed to sell well that its lack of success was due to the lack of major, well-developed female characters. In a letter to his editor, Fitzgerald wrote: "the book contained no important woman character, and women control the fiction market at present."
In any case, I think our best glimpse at Daisy comes through the portion narrated by Jordan—we see her intensely emotional response to hearing from Gatsby again, and for once get a sense of how trapped she feels by the expectations set by her family and society. The fact that Nick turns the narrative over to Jordan there suggests that he doesn't feel comfortable sharing these intimate details about Daisy and/or he doesn't really value Daisy's story or point of view.
So, unfortunately, we just don't see much of Daisy's inner self or motivations during the novel. Probably the character who knows her best is Jordan, and perhaps if Gatsby were from Jordan's point of view, and not Nick's, we would know much more about Daisy, for better or worse.
How would the novel be different if Daisy and Gatsby got together at the end?
The Great Gatsby would probably much less memorable with a happy ending, first of all! Sad endings tend to stick in your mind more stubbornly than happy ones.
Furthermore, the novel would lose its power as a somber reflection on the American Dream. After all, if Gatsby "got the girl," then he would have achieved everything he set out to get—money, status, and his dream girl. The novel would be a fulfillment of the American Dream, not a critique.
The novel would also lose its power as an indictment of class in the US, since if Daisy and Gatsby ended up together it would suggest walls coming down between old and new money, something that never happens in the book.
That ending would also seem to reward both Gatsby's bad behavior (the bootlegging, gambling) as well as Daisy's (the affair, and even Myrtle's death), which likely would have made it less likely Gatsby would have caught on as an American classic during the ultra-conservative 1950s. Instead, the novel's tragic end feels somewhat appropriate given everyone's lack of morality.
In short, although on your first read of the novel, you more than likely are hoping for Gatsby to succeed in winning over Daisy, you have to realize the novel would be much less powerful with a stereotypically happy ending. Ending with Daisy and Tom as a couple might feel frustrating, but it forces the reader to confront the inescapable inequality of the novel's society.
Let's address some common questions about Daisy and her motivations, since she can be challenging to understand or sympathize with.
Does anyone else hate Daisy?
At the end of their first read of The Great Gatsby, many students don't like Daisy much. After all, she turned Gatsby down, killed Myrtle, and then skipped town, even refusing to go to Gatsby's funeral! Perhaps that's why, on the internet and even in student essays, Daisy often bears the brunt of readers' criticism—many forums and polls and blogs ask the same question over and over: "does anyone else hate Daisy?"
But you have to remember that the story is told from Nick's point of view, and he comes to revere Gatsby. And since Daisy turns Gatsby down, it's unlikely Nick would be sympathetic toward her.
Furthermore, we don't know very much about Daisy or her internal life—aside from Chapter 1, Nick doesn't have any revealing conversations with her and we know little about how her motivations or emotions change over the novel. There are also hints that she is emotionally unstable—see her interactions with Gatsby, Jordan, and Nick in Chapter 7:
As [Tom] left the room again she got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down kissing him on the mouth.
"You know I love you," she murmured.
"You forget there's a lady present," said Jordan.
Daisy looked around doubtfully.
"You kiss Nick too."
"What a low, vulgar girl!"
"I don't care!" cried Daisy and began to clog on the brick fireplace (7.42-8).
With her husband in the next room, Daisy kisses Gatsby, encourages Jordan to kiss Nick, and then starts dancing gleefully on the fireplace, only to calm down and begin crooning exaggeratedly as her daughter is brought into the room. These aren't exactly the actions of a calm, cool, collected individual. They suggest immaturity at best, but at worst, emotional or even psychological instability. How can Daisy stand up to the weight of Gatsby's dreams and expectations if she's barely keeping it together herself?
Basically, be careful about jumping to conclusions about Daisy. It's understandable—you could argue even it is Fitzgerald's intention—that the reader doesn't like Daisy. But you shouldn't judge her more harshly than other characters in the book.
Does Daisy really love Gatsby? Does Gatsby really love Daisy?
Daisy openly admits to loving both Tom and Gatsby, and the flashback scene suggests she really did love Gatsby before she married Tom. As we discussed above, it's possible she doesn't leave Tom partially because she's wary of another heartbreak, along with her reluctance to give up her place in society.
Gatsby is in love with Daisy, but he loves her more for her status and what she represents to him (old money, wealth, the American Dream). In fact, Gatsby is willfully ignorant of Daisy's emotions later in the novel: he lurks outside the Buchanans' house at the end of Chapter 7, convinced that Daisy still intends to run away with him, while Nick observes that Daisy and Tom are closely bonded. Instead of loving Daisy as a person and seeking to understand her, he becomes carried away with his image of her and clings to it—a choice that leads to his downfall.
Why doesn't Daisy just divorce Tom?
Divorce was still rate and controversial in the 1920s, so it wasn't an option for many women, Daisy included. Plus, as we've discussed above, part of Daisy still loves Tom, and they do have a child together, which would make it even harder to divorce.
Finally, and most crucially, Daisy is very at home in her social world (as seen by how uncomfortable she is at Gatsby's party), and also values her reputation, keeping it spotless in Chicago despite moving with a fast crowd. Would Daisy really be willing to risk her reputation and give up her social standing, even if it meant being free from Tom and his affairs?
Is Daisy the most destructive character in the book?
You could argue that since Daisy was the one who killed Myrtle, which led to the deaths of George and Gatsby, that Daisy is the most destructive character. That said, Gatsby's obsession with her is what places her in the hotel that fateful night and sparks the whole tragedy.
Nick, for his part, faults both Daisy and Tom, as rich people who smash things up and leave the mess for others to clean up (9.146). However, Nick comes to admire and revere Gatsby after his death and doesn't dwell on Gatsby's role in Myrtle's death.
As a reader, you can consider the events of the novel, the limitations of Nick's narration, and your interpretation of the characters to decide who you think is the most destructive or dangerous. You can also decide if it's worth deciding which character is the most destructive—after all, this is a novel full of immoral behavior and crime.
Love Daisy's style? Check out our list of fun Gatsby-themed decor and apparel.
Want to read even more in-depth about Daisy's marriage to Tom and her affair with Gatsby? Learn all about love, desire, and relationships in Gatsby to find out how her relationships stack up to everyone else's!
Confused about the events of Chapter 7? Don't be ashamed. It's a monster chapter—more than double the length of the other chapters in the book! It also contains several intricate conversations and events that can be a bit hard to follow. Check out our summary of Chapter 7 for a clear breakdown and analysis.
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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.