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Last semester, I read The Great Gatsby in one of my classes, and my professor raised this question: Is Nick Carraway a moral character? After a brief discussion, we concluded that, yes, he is; after all, he often criticizes the debauchery of the New York elite, which certainly help guide the reader into the belief that he leads a principled lifestyle. But, after a closer examination of the text, we discover that he is not be as honest as he claims to be.
At the end of Chapter 2, after the ostentatious behavior and conversation at Tom Buchanan’s Morningstar Heights apartment that Nick claims repulses him, he leaves with Mr. Mckee, one of the guests of the impromptu party, and this is what happens in the following paragraph:
" . . . 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 . . . 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."
Notice how Mr. Mckee is only in his underwear in bed with Nick viewing him, and the “great portfolio” that he had in his hands. With no prior mention of any portfolio of Mr. Mckee’s, is it possible that the “great portfolio” he had clasped in his hands was a metaphor for something else? Something far more intimate than a collection of financial investments and hedge funds? Not only that, but after Nick has left Mr. Mckee’s apartment, which is only directly below Tom Buchanan’s, mind you, we see him wanting for the four o’clock train. Considering the fact that Tom Buchanan’s party ended at twelve, what were Nick and Mr. Mckee doing together for four hours? And what other series of events could possibly lead to Mr. Mckee sitting up in bed in only his underwear?
Okay, obviously I’m not making the argument that Nick is immoral just because he had sex with a man, nor am I even saying that Nick is immoral just because he had a fling with a stranger. What we need to take into account is the timing of Nick’s sexual encounters, for what about his “tangle back home”?
Throughout the book, Nick has been writing love letters to a girl back in the midwest. Keep in mind, not only does this overlap with his night of passion with Mr. Mckee, but also with his “short affair” with a girl who lived in Jersey City. According to Nick, he ended the relationship with her on July 1st, yet his night with Mr. Mckee occurred “a few days before the Fourth of July”, and amongst all of this, he was having a relationship with Jordan Baker.
So why does any of this matter? It’s because Nick Carraway has violated the trust of at least three women, making him far, far less morally upstanding than he pretends he is. There is nothing wrong with sexual promiscuity, but engaging in multiple, overlapping affairs is probably as deceitful as one could get, and this realization provides a whole new context to The Great Gatsby.
featured image via blunderbuss magazine
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