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Tantalizing Taboos: Homoerotic Language in The Great Gatsby

By Catie Summers, V Form

Tantalizing Taboos: Homoerotic Language in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald does a fantastic job of lacing taboos throughout The Great Gatsby. The most common, however, is homosexuality and homoerotica. Of course, the outlook on homosexuality and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community has changed dramatically over the past one hundred years. It was quite negative and derogatory during the time of the story, commonly referred to as the Roaring Twenties. F. Scott Fitzgerald incorporates aspects of homosexuality in The Great Gatsby through the narrator, Nick Carraway, and his interactions with other male characters throughout the novel. Specifically, Nick’s descriptive language carries a homoerotic affect, meaning his presence in the narrative invites, at least, a queer reading of The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald premiers Nick’s homoerotic tone in his description of male characters, particularly in Tom Buchanan. When Nick first meets Tom, Nick speaks as though in reverence of Tom’s physique by stating, “not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his coat” (Fitzgerald 7). This passage has a sexual appeal to it, a climax, one might argue. Fitzgerald alludes to this by tantalizingly and purposely influencing readers to anticipate a sexual reference after “he seemed to fill those glistening…” but then dropping off and finishing with the word “boots.” By primarily setting a homoerotic tone for Nick’s description, it is natural to assume that this phrase should be an innuendo or euphemism. Yet, Fitzgerald’s writing is so meticulous and nuanced that by ending the phrase with the word “boots,” he allows an ambiguous reading of the phrase, implying a simple in-depth physical description of a character or a subtle hint as to Nick’s sexual tendencies and a queer side to his character unrecognizable before that point. 

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