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So much inside an ellipsis...

"...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."
--The Great Gatsby, pg. 38

This sentence is part of a scene that felt a little out of place to me. It takes place after Tom takes Nick and his mistress Myrtle to a party and Tom breaks Myrtle's nose. The party seems to have turned very unpleasant at this point, and when Nick follows Mr. McKee out the door, it seems like for sure he's going to go back home. But in the elevator Mr. McKee invites him to have lunch with him sometime, and one ellipsis later, they're in his room, and Mr. McKee is in his underwear for some reason. Pair that with Mr. McKee being stereotypically described as a "pale, feminine man" (pg. 30) as well as the potentially homoerotic undertones of "'Keep your hands off the lever'" and "'I beg your pardon...I didn't know I was touching it'" (37) and it certainly seems as though Nick and Mr. McKee had some sort of tryst during those ellipsis marks. And yet Nick appears to be heterosexual by all other accounts; he seems to be somewhat attracted to Jordan ("for a moment I thought I loved her", 58). Is Nick bisexual? Did he just have one drunken tryst with a man? Or am I just reading too much into that one passage and their encounter was purely celibate? I don't know. But it seems that if Fitzgerald wanted to portray the narrator of his story as homosexual, he wouldn't have been able to do it very bluntly, given the social mores of the time; the character may not even be willing to admit his homosexuality to himself. But what would be the point of this subtext? From what we have read so far, what seems to be linking all the main characters is that they all have some amount of subterfuge going on in their lives--Tom has a mistress, Daisy is secretly extremely unhappy in her marriage, Nick seems to believe Jordan is a compulsive liar who's covered up a scandal over a golf tournament among other things, and the title character himself has a mysterious background. Since Nick is telling the story, he wouldn't willingly tell us any of his secrets, so it makes sense to include small suggestive details that may clue us in to what he may be hiding. He may claim to be attracted to Jordan, but his initial description of Gatsby's smile is much more enamored than the way he describes any woman thus far--"He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly...It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood...and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey" (48). Nick's attraction to Gatsby may or may not be romantic, but it certainly fixates on an aspect of him all the main characters could readily gravitate to--belief in the facade they are hoping to convey to the world rather than the secrets they are hiding behind the facade.
I don't think Nick's character must be interpreted as homosexual, but it certainly adds an interesting dynamic that resonates with the themes that seem to be present in the novel so far. It at least provides more clarity to me about why Fitzgerald would include such a seemingly incongruous scene on pages 37-38.

Comments (4)

Jennifer Prex:

I guess it's possible that Nick is bisexual. I don't necessarily think that's the case, but if there are enough clues within the text that hint at this, it is always a possibility. You said that you think Nick is hiding behind a facade like everyone else in the story. Was there anything else Nick said or did that you thought suggested he was hiding something? I'm just curious.

Matt Henderson:

This book being published in 1925, I don't think it would have been possible to include an overwhelming amount of evidence of Nick's homosexuality in the book. Nor do I really think it's the main focus of the story. But in looking at this book through 1920's glasses, I can't really point to evidence of homosexual relationships as much as I can point to the absence of meaningful heterosexual relationships. This doesn't necessarily mean that he's gay, but it's a plausible explanation for why he seems to not really be romantically close to anyone of the opposite sex. I do recall when reading it in high school that there were more moments in later chapters that seemed to hint that Nick might have a romantic attraction to Gatsby; maybe I'll bring them up in the next blog. And just to let you know I'm not terribly, utterly alone in my ideas about Nick's sexuality, here's an article from an e-magazine that brings up a couple of the same points I made: http://www.mediacakemagazine.com/cake_spring_07_011.htm

Fitzgerald does slip Gatsby into the book for the first time by describing several different colorful characters, saying "We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl who gave way without the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now" (51). And the laughing girl is not important to the story, instead it's the man who turns out to be Gatsby. So there's a suggestion that Nick was more interested in this girl than in Gatsby. Nick also has a girl back home but doesn't want to marry her; and he says in one brief passage that he did have a "short affair" with a girl in New York during the time the parties are going on next door but before Nick gets involved in Gatsby's life. But Nick obviously finds these relationships not really worth writing about.

Matt has certainly picked a passage that's worth study, and I think the fact that he points out that it's *possible* to combine these details to add another layer to Nick's interest in Gatsby, but Fitzgerald left the question sufficiently open that it's not the only way you can interpret those passages.


I think your analysis is of this ellipsis is right on the mark. It is very interesting how Fitzgerald put this in as if the intention was to allow the reader to ignore it if they chose. It is so vague, with no supporting evidence...yet, there it is. Nick is in another man's bedroom, with someone wearing their underwear..after a party at which they were drunk. The details immediately preceding this event omitted, as if, this line were written cautiously by a lawyer...you can't prove anything. Absolutely, it would have been impossible for the author to make this character an obvious homosexual. Not only would the book not have sold, but the character would not have fit into the story. The quote you used to support this hypothesis is also right on the mark. "It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood...and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey." Beyond obvious discrimination, the biggest fear that homosexuals have is that other people will not see past their sexuality. Whether or not Nick is a homosexual has no bearing on the novel, except for one very important fact. He has an incredibly heightened sensitivity which seems (to me) to stem from sadness. It would make sense to me that this sadness is due to the fact that he knows he has been regulated to the role of an observer in life, he can never be a participant in love. It is very common with people who are "closeted" that their sexuality is only displayed when they are drunk. Considering how carefully this novel is constructed, I'm quite certain there is a reason this appears. It is not important to the plot, but perhaps only to the author. He is throwing a bone to his peace of mind. In his own mind, Nick is a painfully closeted homosexual. Fitzgerald felt he needed to include some reference to this fact, which could easily be overlooked by the reader, for the sake of making his work whole. Anyway, my congratulations to you for this very interesting and insightful analysis.

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