Monday, January 7, 2013

Converting me too Lois Tyson-ism, one Queer Theory Reading at a Time

After reading Lois Tyson’s critical readings of The Great Gatsby through other lenses such as Feminism, Psychoanalysis or Marxist, I must admit, I began to resent her.  It always seemed like she was making the text fit the lens, as opposed to using the lens to view the text, and as if she knew the outcome she wanted, far before she ever cracked the text.  While these readings all left bad tastes in my mouth, I was pleasantly surprised by the queer theory analysis.  She seemed more at ease about proving a point, making the possibility of a homoerotic subtext seem plausible, thought out and intelligent.
            What caught me most off guard was Tyson admitting that The Great Gatsby could have such a homoerotic subtext because it’s narrator, (Nick Carraway) is believed to be a closeted gay.  This is quite different than previous readings in which she tries to make everyone fit into the lens, but here instead, she focuses on those who it clearly applies to, (Nick and Jordan) and how it could play into the lives of the heterosexuals in the plot (Gatsby, Daisy.)  The most fascinating aspect of this one part was her write up on Fitzgerald, famed author of the text.  It is no secret that when writing, pieces are often autobiographical, so it was no surprise to think of Nick as a representation of the author.  Tyson proofs her point with clips of text such as one from a letter (Fitzgerald to a friend) stating, “[I want to] go with a young man affectueux (affectionate) for a paid amorous weekend on the coast,” or, “He dressed as a woman and attended a fraternity dance,” and was, “intensely curious about gay life.”  There is no avoiding the fact, the main character of the story most often resembles the author in some form, and the ties that are shown here, would reaffirm the possibility of a homosexual Nick Carraway.   
            Moving on in our quest to out Nick’s sexuality, we see the bedroom scene with McKee.  I was disappointed in myself for not noticing this when I originally read The Great Gatsby, because it seemed so obvious.  The point here is, we do no often read text from a queer theory standpoint.  It simply isn’t a “natural” lens that we have been taught to read with.  But back to proofing Nick’s sexuality- as Tyson says, “McKee’s feminine appearance… a homoerotic attraction between the two mean…Nick’s fastidious attention to McKee’s grooming… McKee’s sitting in bed attired only in his underwear.”  Woah… isn’t that a dead giveaway!  One could argue that someone could simply lounge around in his underwear and it wouldn’t be sexual, but alas, if anything, this is homo social.  In this particular case though, we know both were highly inebriated, had been “checking” each other out, and both ended up in a bedroom.  It all just seems, set up not him a humorous way, but to be reality and to out Nick to the astute readers among us. 
            I was most impressed though by Tyson’s handling of the relationship between Jordan Baker and Nick.  The relationship is always portrayed as struggling in The Great Gatsby, and all of a sudden, it seemed to make sense why this was.  For instance when Nick first met Jordan, he said, “ I enjoyed look at her… [she was] like a young boy a military school.”  Nick enjoys the sight of young males at military school, and finds it attractive?  In fact, it would seem he does enjoy it- but the point here is, he is looking at the characteristics of Jordan that are common of a man, to make his lust for men, “compatible” with living in a patriarchal-heterosexual society.  With a plethora of times that Nick finds the masculine qualities of Jordan, which he finds her most attractive, we can rest assured that he enjoys looking at her, as if she is a man. 
            Out of all the readings, I was thoroughly impressed by this one.  I was blown away by Tyson being open minded to some characters not being homosexual, pulling in historical information (such as about WWI) and including information on Fitzgerald’s life which shed light on the plot.  All in all, if every analysis by Tyson was as informative, clear and factual, myself and many others would have far more positive takes on Critical Theory Today.

Do you think Jordan ever viewed the feminine characteristics of Nick, drawing her closer to him?  Do you think that Critical Theory was at all autobiographical to Fitzgerald’s situation?  Do you think that Fitzgerald intended for the homoerotic subplot, or it simply resulted from his interest in gay life?

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