The Great Gatsby is a magnificently written story about the loss of love, the problems of American wealth, and the reality of life. With these themes in mind, it is important to remember that in our complex reality, not all men are only sexually attracted to women as some would commonly assume. The character of Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby can be characterized as sexually ambiguous and emotionally insecure. On the one hand, Nick Carraway is a person who came from an upper middle class family and is attracted to Jordan Baker, and on the other hand, he demonstrates a sexual attraction toward Jay Gatsby that is hidden due to his strict upbringing as a child. Added to this, he portrays himself as a bit feminine, all of which bring his heterosexuality into question. The following analysis will be an in-depth investigation into the character of Nick Carraway to determine if his emotional insecurity and sexual ambiguity are a result of his homosexual desires toward Jay Gatsby.
Nick Carraway had an emotionally harsh childhood. His disciplining father, strict and rigid, cautioned him over the years to avoid impulsiveness, which led Nick to carefully guard but secretly indulge in “feminine” tendencies. Nick Carraway confirms this theory when he stated, “I am full of rules that act as brakes on my desires” (Fitzgerald 63-64), which were instilled by his father. These brakes that Nick speaks of prevent him from taking action on his homosexual inclinations.
Nick imaginatively envisions escaping to a another kind of masculinity altogether, one that can suit his “feminine” emotions and occasional attraction to men. For example, when Nick privately confessed to Jordan Baker, “I must have felt pretty weird by that time because I could think of nothing except the luminosity of [Gatsby’s] pink suit under the moon” (Fitzgerald 150), it shows that he does in fact have an attraction to Jay Gatsby. Whether or not it is a sexual attraction, it shows that Nick hides and feels sinful of what he considers unacceptable and dangerous desires, which have been conditioned by society and social interaction. Also, in the beginning of the novel, Nick states, “There was something gorgeous [about Jay Gatsby]” (Fitzgerald 6). In addition, Nick realizes that a man is most powerless among other men when one admits to an inner emotional life, such as when Tom Buchanan expressed his sadistic righteousness over Gatsby during his confrontation of him and Daisy.
Nick’s immediate response to Tom Buchanan’s humiliation of Jay Gatsby was sympathy for Gatsby and fear for himself. Nick feared that if he expressed his sympathy for Gatsby or fear for himself, it would weaken his own pose of masculine invulnerability and also leave himself open for ridicule by Tom Buchanan. It was after this incident that Nick become exclusively devoted to Gatsby and showed a bias in the description of Gatsby’s character. Toward the end of the novel, Nick transformed the character of an emotional bootlegger that acquired his wealth through organized crime into a mythical American hero with a heart of gold. It is these events that reveal Nick’s attraction to vulnerable men. Vulnerability is what Nick views as “gorgeous” about Gatsby.
One of Nick’s greatest fears is to be left alone and trapped his world of sexual ambiguity and emotional insecurity. On his thirtieth birthday, he saw a “promise of a decade of loneliness, [and] a thinning list of single men to know” (Fitzgerald 143). Nick is telling the reader that he has absolutely no plans on marrying a woman when he accepts the fact that the next ten years of his life will be spent alone. Also, Nick tells the reader that he prefers having only single males as friends, which raises concerns about his heterosexuality. Nick knows and accepts that he is trapped for the next ten years between his plan to not marry because of the fact that he is not sexually attracted to women and his inability to act on his homosexual inclinations toward men; however, the fact that he plans to continue to keep a “thinning” list of single men to know shows that perhaps he is still desperately searching for a suitable partner.
Despite all the evidence of Nick’s homosexual inclinations, most readers believe there is evidence of his heterosexuality. His attraction to Jordan Baker, to some degree, shows that he is attracted to women; however, this attraction, under close scrutiny, reveals the opposite. Nick’s attraction to Jordan Baker emerges while he is still writing letters on a weekly basis to the girlfriend waiting for him in his home town that his family expects him to marry. Nick stated, “…all I could think of was how when that certain girl [Jordan] played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip” (Fitzgerald 64). It is Jordan Baker’s masculinity that attracts the attention of Nick Carraway, and if Jordan’s masculinity is what draws the attention of Nick, then it is femininity in a man that attracts him to Jay Gatsby (Fraser 558). This shows that Nick is more emotionally drawn to feminine men rather than masculine women.
To better understand the character of Nick Carraway, we must also examine the character of his creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The femininity of the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, may have reflected upon the narrator of the story, Nick Carraway. In 1935, Fitzgerald told his secretary, Laura Guthrie, “I don’t know what it is in me or that comes to me when I start to write. I am half feminine, at least my mind is” (Kerr 406). This proves that the author’s admitted femininity may have led to the feminization of Nick Carraway’s character. Furthermore, a character that narrates a story is essentially the author of the story narrating it through his own self-created character to suit his own person (Sheppard 3-4). In other words, Nick Carraway and F. Scott Fitzgerald are one in the same; they both are “half feminine.”
In the final analysis, after reviewing all the evidence, it is undeniable that Nick Carraway does, in fact, have homosexual inclinations toward Jay Gatsby. Nick’s harsh childhood and strict father that created his insecurity, his attraction to Jay Gatsby’s femininity, his acceptance of a coming decade of loneliness with no plan of marrying while at the very same time keeping a list of single men to know, his attraction to Gatsby’s masculine vulnerability, and the fact that the author himself has admitted to being “half feminine” all demonstrate the notion that Nick Carraway has a sexual attraction toward Jay Gatsby; however, his insecurity and social confinement keep it well-hidden prevent him from acting on those “unacceptable” desires.
– Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby, 1st Edition. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.
– Fraser, John. Dust and Dreams and the Great Gatsby. The John Hopkins University Press, Vol. 32, No. 4 (December 1965), 554-564.
– Kerr, Frances. Feeling “Half Feminine”: Modernism and the Politics of Emotion in the Great Gatsby. American Literature, Vol. 68, No. 2 (June 1996) 405-431.
– Sheppard, David. “Narration.” Jungian Novel Writing: A Mythological Approach to Story Telling. (2002): 13 pars. [journal online]. Available from http://www.greek-myth.co- m/Novel_Writing/narration.htm; Internet. Accessed 3 May 2004.