Mr. McKee is one of the strange characters that Nick meets in New York. He plays such a small part in the novel that you might wonder why Fitzgerald included him at all.
There are a great many thoughts as to why this character is in the story, but without direct information from the author, these are really nothing more than speculations.
Fitzgerald did seem to have underlying meanings to many of his themes and characters (the green light, Daisy’s white dress). If this is the case, then who or what did Mr. McKee represent?
Let’s take a deeper look into this character and what Fitzgerald may have been trying to tell the reader.
Who Is Mr. McKee in The Great Gatsby?
In Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby (you can find a full summary of Chapter 2 here), Nick goes with Tom Buchanan to New York.
They get off the train before reaching the city where Tom introduces Nick to George Wilson ( you can read The Great Gatsby George Wilson Quotes here ), a mechanic and gas station owner in the Valley of Ashes, and his wife, Myrtle Wilson.
Myrtle gets on the next train and meets Tom and Nick in Manhattan (you can read more on how did Tom and Myrtle meet here ). Nick discovers that Myrtle is Tom’s mistress, and that he has an apartment in town for their trysts.
Myrtle Invites Catherine and Mrs McKee
Myrtle and Tom throw a party, and she calls her sister Catherine and her friend Mrs. McKee to join the party. Mrs. McKee brings her husband with her.
Fitzgerald doesn’t say much about Mr. McKee, but the reader gets the impression that he’s a photographer or possibly an artist.
Mrs. McKee compliments Myrtle on her dress and says,
“If Chester could only get you in that pose, I think he could make something of it.”
Chester is her husband, Mr. McKee, who looks at Myrtle and says he would like to change the light and do something with Myrtle’s hair.
Tom, bored with the conversation, suggests that the McKees have a drink. Mr. McKee then tells Tom that two of his pieces of work are framed downstairs in the lobby.
Again, Fitzgerald doesn’t tell us if he means paintings or photographs, but Chester McKee tells Tom:
“Two of them are framed downstairs.” “Two what?” demands Tom. “Two studies. One of them I call Montauk Point- The Gulls, and the other I call Montauk Point- The Sea.”
Chester McKee continues to try to interest Tom, who seems to think McKee’s work is not worth his time.
Mr. McKee tells Tom.
“I’d like to do more work on Long Island, if I could get the entry. All I ask is that they should give me a start.”
“Ask Myrtle,” said Tom, breaking into a short shout of laughter as Mrs. Wilson entered with a tray. “She’ll give you a letter of introduction, won’t you Myrtle?”
“Do what?” she asked, startled.
“You’ll give McKee a letter of introduction to your husband so he can do some studies of him.” His lips moved silently for a moment as he invented, “George B. Wilson at the Gasoline Pump or something like that.”
Whether Tom was just having a little fun or not, he was clearly making fun of McKee’s work.
We don’t learn anything more about Chester McKee as far as what he does or how he and his wife know Myrtle or Tom.
In summary, Mr. Chester McKee is a photographer or painter, a married man who apparently loves his work but isn’t strong enough to stand up to the boorish Tom Buchanan.
What Happens Between Nick and Mr Mckee?
Here is where the ideas and theories start to flourish.
In the 1920s, homosexuality was a taboo subject, so if author F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to introduce it somehow, the ending of Chapter 2 ( Read The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Quotes) might make sense.
After Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose, all the women begin shouting at Tom and trying to console and fix up Myrtle. Mr. McKee, who has been snoozing off his liquor, wakes up. Nick describes what happened next.
Mr. Mckee turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from the chandelier, I followed. “Come to lunch some day”, he suggested as we groaned down in the elevator. ‘Where?” “Anywhere”.
“Keep your hands off the lever”, snapped the elevator boy, “I beg your pardon”, said Mr. McKee with dignity, “I didn’t know I was touching it.” “All right”, I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”
I was standing beside his bed, and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands. “Beauty and the Beast… Loneliness… Old Grocery Horse… Brook’n Bridge…”
Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania station, staring at the morning Tribune, and waiting for the four o’clock train.
F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn’t say that Nick Carraway and Mr. McKee have sex, but it is implied. It’s interesting to note that the author does make sure he mentions that Mr. McKee was wearing underwear, but why would a grown man be standing next to a bed while another man was tucked between the sheets?
Nick does talk about how drunk he was that night. Was Fitzgerald simply trying to say that Nick was so drunk he doesn’t even remember most of what happened after he left the party?
Some suggest that the elevator lever was symbolic of the male genitalia. Others say that the entire end of Chapter 2 is nothing more than two extremely intoxicated men doing things they wouldn’t normally do.
Here’s something to think about for those who believe that this was the author’s way of explaining that Nick’s sexuality was not heterosexual. Chester McKee invites Nick to lunch, but Nick never returns to see him in any way, even though he works in New York and finding a place for lunch would not be a problem.
Gay relationship or two drunk guys? Only the author knows the answer.
What Is the Purpose of Mr McKee in The Great Gatsby?
You might say that F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to show how homosexuals were forced to live underground, hiding behind wives and pretending to enjoy the beauty of women, even in a big city like New York.
Could it be, however, that the author simply wanted to cast doubt on Nick’s descriptions of Jay Gatsby? If Nick is capable of getting so drunk that he’s standing next to a grown man in his underwear who is leafing through his portfolio, perhaps he’s not reliable when it comes to his future descriptions and assessments of Jay Gatsby.
While Nick says that this party was only the second time in his life that he had gotten drunk, as the novel continues you will discover that Nick drinks at nearly every occasion, including Gatsby’s parties, which could make him quite an unreliable narrator if everything he tells the reader is through his drunken memory.
F. Scott Fitzgerald goes more openly into the homosexual theme in his next novel, Tender is the Night, so it’s possible that he was just dabbling in this subject to see how readers might respond. However, considering the taboo of homosexuality in the era that Fitzgerald lived in, it’s not clear at all if this is what he had in mind.
Whether the author intended to show that Nick Carraway was secretly gay, whether he actually had a sexual encounter with Mr. McKee, or this was simply poor judgment between two very drunk men, remains unknown.
Nick’s description of Tom Buchanan in the first chapter (You can find The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 summary here) is quite detailed and some would say erotic. However, he also describes his attraction to women in equal detail, noting Jordan Baker’s small breasts and the sweat on her upper lip, which he says outright that he finds attractive.
Readers will see what they want to see in reading about Nick’s encounter with the mysterious Mr. McKee, and whatever conclusion they reach, they are correct.
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.