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The Commodified World - Gatsby and Handmaid's Tale

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Stephanie Hughes

on 14 June 2013

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Transcript of The Commodified World - Gatsby and Handmaid's Tale

The Commodification of People
"The Great Gatsby" vs. "The Handmaid's Tale"
“The Great Gatsby” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” both
include the commodification of people, mainly women.
This is evident because Daisy and Offred (the main female
characters) are valued only for what they represent, The
women of both storieshave very specific, unimportant gen-
der roles, Jay Gatsby and the Commander are valued only
for their social standing. The Commander benefits from
these perks whereas Gatsby suffers.
Daisy is valued only for what she represents. Gatsby used to see her as an amazing young woman that he could spend the rest of his life with. But since the war had changed him, she is now an object of the life he used to have.
Like Daisy, Offred is valued only for what she represents. Because it is illegal to have casual dating and relations in this new society, it is a legal risk against people who choose to rebel. However, rebelling is the source of power throughout the novel.
Daisy and Myrtle are bound by gender roles throughout the plot and remain passive about the most substantial moments. Jordan is the only exception to this rule as she gets involved in Gatsby’s plot.
Com-mod-ify v.
To turn into or treat as a commodity; make commercial
Often times in society, people are treated as commodities rather than actual human beings. In literature, many authors explore this social behaviour which tends to give more importance to oneself and less importance to others
around them. In Margaret Attwood's chilling story
"The Handmaid's Tale" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's
"The Great Gatsby", the commodification
of people is evident.
Gatsby was entranced by Daisy not because of her personality, but because of what she represented. She was Gatsby’s first love before the war and that’s the lifestyle he wants to return to.
“ ‘You can’t repeat the past.’ ‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’ ” (Fitzgerald, p.129)
This transpired after a conversation about Daisy between Nick and Gatsby. Gatsby imagined a new life with Daisy that would be a repetition of the past, and this is what he loved about Daisy, She was a prize for him.
Perhaps another reason Gatsby wanted Daisy so much was because of the appeal of the New Money crowd. There is a class conflict between Gatsby and Tom and she is the prize in the middle of it. Again, Daisy is somewhat of a commoditized person.
“ ‘I can’t speak about what happened five years ago, because I didn’t know Daisy then – and I’ll be damned if I see how you got within a mile of her unless you brought the groceries to the back door. But all the rest of that’s a God damned lie. Daisy loved me when she married me and she loves me now.’ ” (Fitzgerald, p. 152-153)
Tom is utterly offended that Daisy could have loved anyone outside of her own class. Because Daisy is upper-class, she is a valuable person.
Nick is a character known as a “Guardian” (one who works for the Commander but is not yet allowed to marry) in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. When he meets Offred, he openly displays his interest in her in suggestive ways that are against the law. Offred is Nick’s chance at rebelling.
“Then he winks… He’s just taken a risk, but for what? What if I were to report him?... Perhaps it was a test, to see what I would do.” (Attwood, p.22)
Nick begins to take a risk with Offred in chapter four of the novel, but his actions towards her will escalate. A chance at rebellion and having a woman goes beyond any currency in their dystopian society.
The Commander uses Offred to rebel as well. He is already married, but he spends more time than necessary with Offred. This is his means of power through commodifying another person.
“This is like being on a date. This is like sneaking into the dorm after hours. This is conspiracy.” (Attwood, p. 175)
There are powers that even the Commander does not have in this society. His way of reclaiming them is by cheating on his wife with a Handmaid. In this society, it is an act of conspiracy, as Offred describes it.
In “The Great Gatsby”, the women seem to sit around and look pretty while the men discuss the politics. Daisy is the commodity who is passively pulled back and forth between Gatsby and Tom.
“ ‘Your wife doesn’t love you,’ said Gatsby. ‘She’s never loved you. She loves me.’ ‘You must be crazy!’ exclaimed Tom automatically… ‘She never loved you, do you hear?’ he cried. ‘She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!’ ” (Fitzgerald, p.151-152)
Prior to this argument, Daisy practically begged Gatsby not to tell Tom what may have been the truth: that Daisy never really loved Tom. It could have been that Daisy was using Tom as much as he was using her, but in this argument, her opinion is mostly ignored. The two men are verbally battling it out and it almost does not matter that she was the cause of the argument. They argue as though they are trying to claim territory.
Daisy feels the effects of materialism and they wear her down and make her feel inadequate. This is a direct result of becoming a commodity.
“ ‘And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’ ” (Fitzgerald, 29)
Daisy describes herself and her outlook on life through her experience of being a commoditized woman. She wishes her daughter would not have to feel this way, so she hopes that she becomes a "beautiful little fool" and that she will not realize that she has become a commodity.
The Handmaids, by law, have to give birth and go shopping. This is their way of forwarding and preserving their society. These roles are more extreme in terms of gender-orientation and oppression.
The role of the Handmaids in Attwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a simple one: give birth and keep the cycle of reproduction going.
“One of them is vastly pregnant, her belly, under her loose garment, swells triumphantly. There is a shifting in the room, a murmur, an escape of breath… our fingers itch to touch her. She’s a magic presence to us, an object of envy and desire, we covet her. She’s a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved.” (Attwood, p. 32-33)
Pregnancy is coveted by all of the Handmaids because it is their beacon and their given duty. This is the role they must take on.
Another role ascribed to the position of Handmaid is shopping. This is a reflection of common household roles that women used to take on.
“Next we go into All Flesh, which is marked by a large wooden pork chop hanging from two chains. There isn’t so much of a line here: meat is expensive, and even the Commanders don’t have it every day. Ofglen gets steak, though, and that’s the second time this week. I’ll tell that to the Marthas: it’s the kind of thing they enjoy hearing about. They are very interested in how other households are run; such bits of petty gossip give them an opportunity for pride or discontent.” (Attwood, p.34)
This was one of the many shopping trips that Offred and her partner partook in to bring food back to their household. Furthermore, Offred discusses the role that gossip plays amongst the women in her group. Forced with these petty roles, they are subjected to gossip as means of passing along news.
Both Gatsby and the Commander are valued only for their social standing. However, in Gatsby’s case, this hinders his ability to prosper throughout the story rather than help him.
Everyone freeloads off of Gatsby’s parties but not many people have actually taken the time to find out who he really was. Furthermore, Gatsby can never really tell if people truly love and care about him.
“ ‘Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.’ A thrill passed over all of us… ‘I don’t think it’s so much that,’ argued Lucille sceptically; ‘it’s more that he was a German spy during the war.’ ” (Fitzgerald, p. 57)
There was a scene in the novel where many of Gatsby’s party-goers talk about the mystery behind their host. None of them truly knows of Gatsby’s past, and his past plays a huge part in who he truly is.
Materialism will never satisfy Gatsby no matter what he does or how much he buys. The only true thing he will ever want is his humble past to return to him, and he plans on winning it back with Daisy. This can leave him feeling emptier than before.
“ ‘My house looks well, doesn’t it?’ he demanded. ‘See how the whole front of it catches the light.’ … ‘That huge place there?’ she cried pointing. ‘Do you like it?’ ‘I love it…’ ” (Fitzgerald, p. 106-107)
Gatsby included Nick and Jordan in his master plan to impress Daisy with his riches and prove to her that he was not the poor boy who could not earn her hand in marriage. This scene’s sole purpose is to show hope that Gatsby may win her over yet, but this is not the case and Gatsby pays dearly for having attempted the endeavour.
In “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the Commander holds the most authority. It is his right to impregnate women and be married. This makes him a prized commodity, and throughout the novel, his motives are never questioned. This grants him true power that he can benefit from. This differs from Gatsby’s empty materialism.
The Commander, after a session of attempting to impregnate as part of the reproduction program, sent Nick to find Offred for him. This is a highly questionable action to take given the circumstances, but no one reprimands him. This is the commoditized power he accumulated.
“ ‘He told me to,’ Nick says. ‘He wants to see you. In his office.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I say. The Commander, it must be. See me? What does he mean by see? Hasn’t he had enough of me?” (Attwood, p. 123)
Despite being married, the Commander is allowed to spend relational time with any other woman so long as he is discreet about it. This is an example of just that, the way he plots an affair. Offred wonders what this could mean, and she ponders the implications. She comes to realize that in his position, he could have whatever he wanted of her, despite whether or not he had “enough of her”.
As well as controlling where people had to be and when, he could also control what others had to do for him. This position of his is made clear to Offred as he orders her to do something as simple as play Scrabble with him, amongst other things.
“ ‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘For the game.’ Then he says, ‘I want you to kiss me.’ … ‘All right,’ I say. I go to him and place my lips, closed, against his. … ‘Not like that,’ he says. ‘As if you meant it.’ ” (Attwood, p.176)
The Commander shows that, as dehumanizing as the view can be, it is not always bad to be a commodity. His commodification grants him the power to direct others in what they do and the way that they do it. Unlike Gatsby, he is able to control the implications of his commodification.
Various characters (mainly Daisy, Offred, Gatsby, and the Commander) show that the world is a commoditized place. These characters are commodities because of how they are transformed into symbols, the functions that they are forced to take on, and the effects that commodification have on them show that they are, in fact, commodities.
This painting is an original that was designed to express the two different worlds origin-ating from the two different novels. Despite these completely opposite settings juxta-posed, the two tales share the commodity aspect. Both Offred and Daisy are silenced in this painting to represent their loss of voice resulting from their diminished importance.
Attwood, Margaret. The Handmmaid’s Tale. Toronto: Random House. 1985. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York. 1925. Print.

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don't care about clever I don't care about funny
I want loads of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

And I'll take my clothes off and it will be shameless
'Cause everyone knows that's how you get famous.

I'll look at the sun and I'll look in the mirror
I'm on the right track, yeah I'm on to a winner.

I don't know what's right and what's real anymore
And I don't know how I'm meant to feel anymore
And when do you think it will all become clear?
'Cause I'm being taking over by The Fear

Life's about film stars and less about mothers
It's all about fast cars and cussing each other
But it doesn't matter cause I'm packing plastic
And that's what makes my life so fucking fantastic

And I am a weapon of massive consumption
And it's not my fault it's how I'm programmed to function



Forget about guns and forget ammunition
'Cause I'm killing them all on my own little mission
Now I'm not a saint but I'm not a sinner
Now everything's cool as long as I'm getting thinner

This song pertains to the overall theme of commodification by the way the singer expresses her need for materials. She feels the need to become a prized commodity and she will stop at nothing to become this. This song, of course, is a satire of the materialistic commodified life, but it does hold true for many people. Daisy could easily be seen as the character in this song as she chases men with money as opposed to men with character. Offred expressed more of a lust of commodities in "The Handmaid's Tale" that only the Commander could provide. To Tom Buchanan and the Commander, Daisy and Offred are just prized commodities searching for other materials, like the woman in this song.
"The Fear"
- Lily Allen

Two commodified women stand back-to-back to face their own materialistic world. Daisy cries because of what she has been reduced to while Offred holds a somewhat concerned expression when the Commander shows an unnatural interest in her. These two are prized commodities.
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