If you are one of the many high schoolers who have been subjected to reading and analyzing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, you might have, like me, found yourself reading certain paragraphs and thinking, “Nick has to be in love with Gatsby, right?”
This classic American novel is set in the gleaming neighborhood of West Egg, a city off the coast of New York where socialites gather for drinks and festivities, held in the enormous manor of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby holds the biggest parties in New York every weekend, in fruitless attempts to attract his former love, Daisy Buchanan. Nick Carraway, a fresh face of New York, coincidentally rents a small cottage next to Gatsby and slowly becomes infatuated with the idea of his secretive neighbor.
Although I’m sure Fitzgerald — notably racist and anti-Semitic — had no intention whatsoever of accidentally making his narrator queer, I’ve had countless conversations with friends that always culminate around one topic: there’s absolutely no way Nick Carraway is entirely heterosexual. Even a modern foreword written by Jesmyn Ward agrees: “They [the readers] pity Nick, too, because they understand he has fallen in love with Gatsby.”
While most of you are probably familiar with the term “queer coding,” — the subtextual coding of a character in media as queer — I like to break it down into a series of tests to decipher if a character is LGBTQ+. First, how does this character depict the people around them? Although Nick leaves a lot to the imagination, his descriptions are always verbose when it comes to Gatsby. There’s the time-honored “there was something gorgeous about him,” not to mention the lengthy descriptions of Gatsby’s smile, hair, and posture. This, juxtaposed with his short and rather rude descriptions of women, — “His wife was shrill, languid, handsome, and horrible” — is evidence in itself.
The second test: How does this character react to romance with the opposite sex? This is where lines get blurred in “The Great Gatsby,” because Fitzgerald is so adamant that Nick has feelings for Daisy’s closest friend, Jordan Baker. That would tie it up with a ribbon, wouldn’t it? However, whenever faced with emotional decisions regarding Jordan, he inevitably backs away. Not to mention, when Daisy and Tom bring up a rumor of an emancipated engagement back South, Nick scoffs the thought away. “I wasn’t even vaguely engaged,” he confesses to the reader, “I had no intention of being rumored into marriage.” Throughout most of the book, Nick generally treats the women he meets with a quiet distaste, and whether you want to chalk that up to sexism, queerness, or both is entirely up to you.
The thing I love most about literature is that it’s open for speculation. You don’t have to believe Nick is queer, but you can also choose to see love where it’s written. Nick Carraway loves Jay Gatsby in every sense of the word. When faced with lines as beautiful as “[Gatsby had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again,” you must wonder, are we ignoring obvious signs of love in places where we simply do not want to see them?