Why Does Daisy Cry About The Shirts In Chapter 5 Of The Great Gatsby?

Updated 30 September, 2023
In chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald shines light onto Daisy’s superficial character as she has a sudden emotional outbreak only because of the “beautiful shirts,” a representation of merely material goods. Perhaps she realizes that Gatsby now has the status and wealth to match her and only then considers the fruitfulness of a relationship; thus, for Daisy material status trump love.
Detailed answer:

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald acknowledges Gatsby and Daisy’s unstable relationship as a key indicator of the corruption society and class has on romance. Following Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion, Gatsby invites her to his mansion where he showcases his possessions. Upon reaching his bedroom, she bursts into tears at the sight of his varied collection of expensive, tailor-made shirts and explains, “They’re such beautiful shirts … It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such — such beautiful shirts before”. What appears a simple conversation about clothing speaks a great deal about how social status can either make or break a relationship for Daisy. Gatsby is deliberately flaunting not only his wealth, but his ability to spend said wealth in an attempt to awe Daisy and show that he is on the same level as her. He attempts to appear a man of elevated status to mask his humble background and fit into the upper-class society that Daisy is so clearly a part of.
However, Fitzgerald suggests here that wealth will not get Gatsby into the upper ranks of elite society. His romantic outlook has made him oblivious to the reality that status is dependent on factors from the past, not a grand fortune. He may have the ability to alter his appearance, behaviour, and the number of zeros in his bank, but he will never be capable of changing his family background, and that is why he will not be accepted and seen as an equal in the eyes of the Buchanan’s. Furthermore, it is not their previous lengthy conversation or the initial sight of his overly gaudy mansion and celebrations, but this simple display of wealth that causes Daisy to fully break down emotionally. This reinforces her superficiality, shallowness, and materialism. Despite her strong emotional reaction, Fitzgerald never clearly addresses what Daisy is thinking as to reflect her ambiguous motivations and investment in her relationship with Gatsby. His ostentatious facade confirms the social gap between him and Daisy. Contrasting Gatsby’s dreams, Daisy is aware of what she has lost in choosing Tom over Gatsby, yet understands the past can not be repeated. This is poignantly conveyed by her response to the shirts.

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