When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his novel The Great Gatsby, homosexuality was an unspoken taboo.
Of course, gay men have been around since time immemorial, but in America, it was never mentioned out loud.
If Fitzgerald had spoken of it openly in his novel, the book would have surely been banned.
Did the author sneak in the fact that Nick Carraway was gay? Or is this idea simply a product of more open times?
There is a gray area in this novel where the reader could construe Nick’s actions as being covertly gay, but there are even more words to bring doubt to that arena.
- Related Topic: Famous Nick Carraway Quotes
Is Nick Carraway Gay?
One can say there’s plenty of evidence in the novel that speaks indirectly to Nick’s sexuality, but as mentioned earlier, there are also statements proving otherwise.
Passages that Suggest Nick Is Gay
Nick is 25-26 years of age, and while the novel mentions that he has a girl back home, there is no mention of marriage, a fiancée, or anything other than a woman that he is dating. This was unusual in the 1920s.
When Nick speaks about his breathtaking, beautiful cousin, Daisy, he doesn’t mention her breasts or body shape – nothing about her physical traits except her voice. (Keep in mind that, although Nick says Daisy’s voice suggests she had done “gay” things, it does not mean that Daisy was a lesbian. The word gay in the 1920s meant happy and cheerful.)
Nick does mention Jordan Baker, and he seems to be attracted to her androgynous appearance, noting her boyish hips, her tiny breasts, and later the sweat on her upper lip. This was the stylish look in the 1920s, so you can read this as Nick enjoying Jordan’s boyish appearance or that he simply likes the look of this decade.
Yes, Nick starts dating Jordan, but this was common of most gay men of the era. In order to avoid suspicion, most men would marry females and then have a series of affairs with men.
At Myrtle and Tom’s apartment in New York, Nick gets roaring drunk, but he doesn’t carry on or have sex with any of the women, even though it appears that several of them would have obliged. Nick notes the effeminate nature of Mr. McKee, and without explanation, Nick and McKee leave the apartment together in the wee hours of the morning while everyone else is sleeping.
Nick talks about Mr. McKee shaving, about him being in bed under the sheets wearing only his underwear and looking at his photo album. This passage is what causes many to believe that Nick and Mr. McKee were lovers.
Last, it’s the detailed descriptions of Tom and Gatsby that most people will point to. Nick talks about Daisy’s voice, Jordan’s erect carriage and boyish hips, and Myrtle’s surplus flesh but captivating vitality.
However, when it comes to Tom, Nick goes into great detail regarding his body. Every inch is scrutinized and almost admired.
Nick also speaks about Gatsby’s smile and his calm and unassuming demeanor. What we know about Gatsby comes from Nick’s description.
For every attempt to sexualize Nick Carraway in Gatsby’s story ( read about Nick Carraway Character Traits ), there are equal portions of the novel to suggest otherwise or that can be easily explained.
Passages That Reach a Different Conclusion
While Nick is 25-26 years of age in the novel, the reader should keep in mind that Tom Buchanan was 30 when he married Daisy. It does seem that a 25-year-old man should have been married at that time, but this wasn’t always the case.
Once Nick starts dating Jordan Baker, he immediately thinks that he should do the right thing and break it off with the woman back home that he’s been writing to.
Again, the reader can take this as a sign that Nick was never really interested (or not in love with) the girl back home or that he is simply more attracted to Jordan than the other woman. It doesn’t indicate that Nick is a gay character.
The descriptions of women and men in the novel could mean nothing more than Fitzgerald’s assumption that the reader would want to have a clear picture of the men in this novel.
In the apartment in New York, while the novel doesn’t say that Nick had sex with anyone, it doesn’t say that he did not either.
We know that Myrtle and Tom were having an affair, but the novel doesn’t say that they had sex. Some things must have seemed obvious to Fitzgerald, so they didn’t need to be confirmed in writing.
If you have ever gotten very drunk, you may have done some pretty crazy things. In this instance, the very drunken men Nick and Mr. McKee return to McKee’s apartment downstairs.
Perhaps Mr. McKee had vomited and decided to shower and shave before he got into bed. Perhaps Nick wanted to be certain that Mr. McKee was OK before he left.
Or it could be that these were two drunken guys who went to Mr. McKee’s apartment to get even more sloshed.
As society becomes more open and accepting of gay men, we hear more stories about how formerly heterosexual men were forced to live in the closet and how they passed as “straight.” This leads many to start questioning the underlying content in many novels, including The Great Gatsby.
Did Nick and Mr. McKee Sleep Together?
This is the $64,000 question, and the answer is as clear as mud.
We only know what Fitzgerald tells us, and that isn’t really much. Fitzgerald either didn’t feel that the story required an explanation, or he felt that he had been quite clear.
We know that the pair went downstairs to McKee’s apartment. The novel doesn’t say why. Nick may have decided to go home, but Mr. McKee offered him a nightcap, a common courtesy. We know that Mrs. McKee was still upstairs in Tom and Myrtle’s apartment.
It seems unlikely that the pair would have had sex with the chance that Mrs. McKee (or someone else) could have returned at any minute.
We agree that by today’s standards it appears quite “gay” that an adult man would be in his underwear and have an acquaintance that he barely knew in his bedroom and not have sex involved.
However, we are looking at this scenario through 21st-century eyes, not 20th-century behavior.
It was very normal in the early to middle part of the 20th century for grown men to share a bed with no sex involved.
Poor families with limited funds and limited space often led to bed-sharing. Even hostels and lower-class hotels offered shared beds for those who simply need a place to sleep and didn’t have much cash.
Nick’s character suggests that he is an empathetic young man who fears being impolite. If Mr. McKee had asked him in for a nightcap, Nick surely would have agreed.
The same is true if Mr. McKee had been so drunk that he vomited. Nick may have stayed to be sure that he was OK before leaving. Yes, the novel describes Nick as standing beside his bed, lying half asleep in his underwear, but this doesn’t immediately suggest casual gay sex.
There really is too little information to confirm that Nick’s relationship with Mr. McKee was anything more than casual friendship.
Reading casual gay sex scenes into a novel that was written nearly 100 years prior would be a mistake.
Was Nick Carraway in Love with Gatsby?
Nick Carraway, all-around good guy in this novel, is a bit naive even at age 25.
He seems to not understand what Jordan says when she tells Nick that Tom “has a woman” in New York.
He also seems to not understand how Gatsby, someone nearly the same age as himself, could have amassed such a fortune.
As naive as Nick is, it’s clear that Nick’s impression of Gatsby is one of wonder and admiration.
He may not understand how Gatsby got rich, but Nick definitely admires and is in awe of Gatsby’s fortune.
It’s also clear that Nick is impressed by Gatsby. When Gatsby drove him to New York, Nick was almost in disbelief at the claims that Gatsby had made, but somehow he came to believe that everything Gatsby had told him was true.
It doesn’t appear that Nick is a closeted gay man in love with his neighbor Jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald makes it fairly plain that Nick’s love interest is Jordan Baker, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that Nick had the same type of friendship with Gatsby that he had with Tom.
Nick may have respected Tom and even feared that “cruel body” and the damage it could do, but it would be a stretch to think that Nick admired his college buddy.
Nick’s tolerance of Tom is spelled out in the first chapter, but it’s Gatsby that Nick ends up admiring.
For Nick, Gatsby is the epitome of the American Dream. Gatsby is in it more for love than money. Yes, Jay Gatsby needs money to get the love of his life, but it’s his hope and love for Daisy that attracts Nick, not homosexual tendencies.
Jay Gatsby knows how to make everyone feel special, and Nick notices that from their very first meeting.
You might say that Nick’s attempt to ignore Gatsby’s faults makes him a closeted gay man, but this has more to do with Nick’s ability to withhold judgment than a gay underpinning.
Was Nick in Love with Jordan Baker?
Nick’s willingness to withhold judgment and look the other way when it comes to finding fault means that he doesn’t speak much about his feelings.
We do learn that Nick finds Jordan attractive. At the same time, he finds her lying, self-absorption, and manipulation to be distasteful at best.
Of course, no one is perfect, but especially at the beginning of a romantic relationship, most people tend to see only the good in their new potential partner.
Fitzgerald doesn’t make it clear if Nick is in love with Jordan, but it would appear that, while he may be attracted to her (maybe even infatuated with her), he doesn’t seem to be in love with her.
Nick often describes Jordan as having a “contemptuous interest” in what others are saying or that she has a “bored and haughty” face. These aren’t the descriptions of someone who is in love with someone else.
A person in love would be willing to overlook or make excuses for bad behavior or a lack of morals, and Nick doesn’t seem willing to do either.
While he is initially interested in Jordan, after Myrtle’s death, he is disgusted by Jordan’s selfish nature.
At the end of the novel, Nick sees Jordan in the same manner that he sees Tom and Daisy – wealthy people who do what they want or what will serve them best regardless of how it affects others.
Who Is Nick Carraway’s Lover in The Great Gatsby?
To all accounts, it does not appear that Nick has a lover in this novel.
We know that Daisy has an affair with Jay Gatsby.
We know that Tom has an affair with Myrtle Wilson.
We don’t know enough about Jordan Baker, Myrtle’s sister Catherine, or any of the other characters in the novel to know if they have lovers, and the same is true of Nick.
Who Was Nick Carraway in Love With?
Nick may have had an infatuation with Jordan and even with Jay Gatsby, but it doesn’t appear that he was in love with anyone in the novel.
When Nick meets Jordan and they go out together, Nick thinks about writing to the girl back home and breaking things off. This implies that Nick isn’t in love with the girl in his hometown either!
Poor Nick seems to be one of the few people in this novel who doesn’t have a spouse or a lover.
Is Nick Obsessed with Gatsby?
Obsessed isn’t really the right word to describe what Nick seems to feel for Gatsby. Admiration, certainly. Fondness because of Gatsby’s love for Daisy, yes. And one might say that Nick is fascinated or infatuated with Gatsby but not necessarily obsessed. That would apply more to what Gatsby feels for Daisy.
Some readers might like to think that Nick is obsessed because it fits their narrative that Nick is gay, but there doesn’t seem to be much of anything to support this worldview.
Nick probably loves Gatsby as a friend – someone he can trust, someone he admires, someone he would like to get to know better. However, it’s Gatsby who is obsessed with Daisy. So even if Nick was gay (which is unlikely), his infatuation with Gatsby would be one-sided.
Is Nick in a Relationship with Any Other Character in the Novel?
Other than Owl Eyes and Klipspringer, Nick has friendly relationships with nearly everyone in this novel.
Nick only meets Owl Eyes and Klipspringer for a few minutes, so we couldn’t say that he knew them well enough to call them anything more than acquaintances (he doesn’t even know Owl Eyes’ real name.)
However, Nick doesn’t tell us much about his feelings regarding these other characters. Even Daisy Buchanan tells Nick that she doesn’t feel as if she knows him very well, and Nick is Daisy’s cousin!
Nick wants to be liked and enjoys the company of others, but he doesn’t give us much insight into his feelings or how he sums up his relationship with others.
Why Would It Matter If Nick Was Gay?
At the time The Great Gatsby was published, any hint or suggestion that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s narrator and one of the main characters was gay would immediately have either seen the book banned, or it would have been delegated to the back alleys as “queer reading.”
Today, society wouldn’t think much of the the fact that Nick was a homosexual. The only true change it would make would be in the eye of the reader.
If we discovered that Nick was a gay character, readers would reexamine every relationship that Nick is involved in. We would see that he was using Jordan (and the unnamed girl back home) as a front.
We would believe that Nick did have sex with Mr. McKee, and everything in the novel, from the elevator to the fuss over the lever in the elevator, to Nick’s fascination with Gatsby would take on a different tone ( read more on the tone of The Great Gatsby ).
It wouldn’t change the fact that the majority of people in the novel have few or no morals. That the rich throw the poor under the bus to save themselves and that the wealthy use their money to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions.
Who or What Does Nick Carraway Represent in The Great Gatsby?
Some have suggested that Nick represents part of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life. Fitzgerald grew up in a quiet midwestern town, just like Nick.
Like his character, Fitzgerald went east to New York and felt a bit lost in this town of wealthy people, fast talkers, and big business. Nick states that there is a “quality of distortion” to life in New York, and this lifestyle makes him lose his equilibrium, especially early in the novel.
Gatsby came from a poor family in a midwestern town (if you want to consider North Dakota the Midwest) who sought out fame and fortune to woo the woman he loved.
F. Scott Fitzgerald also wanted to win over the woman he loved, but he was too poor. By the time he found fame, the woman he loved had married someone else, just like what happened to Gatsby.
Unlike Gatsby, however, Fitzgerald didn’t turn to bootleg liquor and become obsessed with his lost love. If you believe the narrative that Fitzgerald was part Nick and part Gatsby, then it makes even more sense that Nick could not be gay.
Isn’t the Lever in the Elevator a Phallic Symbol Indicating that Nick Was Gay?
If you want to look for phallic symbols in this novel, you’ll find plenty. Almost everything could be a phallic symbol, including the dock where Nick first sees Gatsby, the book that Mr. McKee is holding, or the golf club that Jordan is never without.
People tend to see what they want to see. If a reader wants to believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character was gay, they will find many ways to back up those thoughts, including the irritation of the elevator boy.
We’ve read that some readers find that when the elevator boy snapped at Nick and McKee, it was because he was annoyed or irritated with having a gay couple in his elevator car. Not wanting either Nick or Mr. McKee to touch the handle could be interpreted as the elevator boy telling the two men that he was not gay.
This seems like a stretch, but as we mentioned earlier, if you are looking for gay signs or attributes in a novel, you are sure to find them.
Final Thoughts On Was Nick Carraway Gay
One of the best things about reading novels (and reading them more than once in a lifetime) is that the novel actually changes for the reader depending not only on the societal era, but in the maturity of the reader.
When you first see a movie at 10 years of age, you might think it’s funny, but if you watch it again at 20, you could find it childish and you wonder what it was about this movie that appealed to you.
The same is true with The Great Gatsby. Society has changed considerably over the past 100 years, and we no longer read this novel thinking only of heterosexual exchanges.
This doesn’t mean that homosexual encounters exist in this novel, only that we are projecting our 21st-century norms into this novel.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.