The flower imagery in The Great Gatsby provides a direct a parallel to the action in the plot. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald not only assigns flowery names to the two main female characters, but he also uses varying descriptions of flowers to underscore the beauty and tragedy in the novel.
The main character, and also the prettiest, is Daisy Buchanon. Aside from her name, Fitzgerald introduces her with flowery words. Narrator Nick Carraway recalls Daisy “surprising me by opening up again in a flower-like way.” Also in the opening chapter, Daisy’s entrance was the reason “the crimson room bloomed with light.” Flowers appear when Gatsby kisses Daisy for the first time since their teenage affair, when “At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
Before meeting Tom Buchanon the forlorn Daisy took several months to recuperate after Gatsby had left her to go to the war, a transformation Fitzgerald emphasizes with flower references. “Daisy began to move again with the season;” Carraway points out in a flashback. “Suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed.”
Even Daisy’s house is highlighted by flower images. Nick notes that “We went upstairs, through period bedrooms swathed in Rose and lavender silk with new flowers.” Part of Gatsby’s attraction to Daisy could be attributed to the flower-like prettiness of her home. “The Buchanons’ house floated suddenly toward us,” Nick narrates, “its two second floor windows bloomed with light among the vines.”
That same house, however, becomes less appealing after Daisy’s reckless accident and her rejection of Gatsby. After Daisy unsympathetically hits her husband’s mistress, “The house had a ripe mystery about it, a hint of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered.” As Gatsby watches Daisy and Tom through the window as they go to bed that night, the flowers around him reflect the feeling in his heart. The narrator says, “He broke off and began to walk up and down a desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers.”
Likewise, Gatsby’s fragrant flower gardens are one of the reasons Daisy reunited with the man she loved before marrying Tom Buchanon. “Daisy admired this aspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired the gardens,” recalls the narrator, “the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn and plum blossoms and the pale gold odor of kiss-me-at-the-gate.”
After the accident and breakup, the flowers around Gatsby’s mansion wither as well. Carraway notices that “Fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor.” Gatsby is shocked and disheartened by the daughter, living proof that Daisy must have certainly loved her husband after all. Instead of beautiful flowers, Gatsby stands with “eyes lifted over the rose-beds and the hot lawn and the weedy refuse of the dog-days.” The spurned lover no longer sees any beauty in flowers, as instead “He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is.”
This grotesque Rose was the last image Gatsby observed, for a few hours later he would be assassinated by Tom Wilson. Wilson’s wife, who serves as a foil to Daisy, mistakenly assumes Gatsby to be the driver who killed her. To enhance the contrast between Daisy and her foil, Fitzgerald names her after a flower unlike that assigned to the main female character. He chose Myrtle, a flower most likely to go unnoticed as a shrub. That the “Daisy” would end up killing the “Myrtle” reinforces the theme of the novel, which is that outer beauty always prospers at the expense of the practical but less appealing.
After Gatsby is murdered in his pool by Wilson, the narrator has begun to dislike the flowery, superficial beauty of Daisy Buchanon. She has emerged unscathed from the wreckage of three lives, which leaves Nick realizing that “Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year.” Her unfeeling character becomes even more disdainful by her reaction to Gatsby’s death, for which she was directly responsible. He reports after the funeral, “I could only remember that Daisy hadn’t sent a message or flower.” At the end, then, the absence of flowers sends as powerful a message as the earlier abundance.