The Character Assassination of Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby

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1 Jonathan T. Dillon Professor Andrew Strombeck English April 4, 2013 The Character Assassination of Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby Within literary circles, Jordan Baker's sexuality in The Great Gatsby is an area of debate between queer theorists and feminist theorists. In Jordan Baker, Gender Dissent, and Homosexual Passing in The Great Gatsby, Maggie Froehlich offers numerous examples of ways that the text can be read to give a reader the impression that Jordan Baker is a lesbian. In Will the real Nick Carroway please come out?: a queer reading of The Great Gatsby, Lois Tyson also offers up a reading of the novel where Jordan Baker is viewed as a lesbian and his jointly going about her homosexual business with Nick. Veronica Makowsky offers a reader a different interpretation in Bad Driving: Jordan's Tantalizing Story in The Great Gatsby where she shows Jordan's nature as a New Woman trying to come to terms with a male dominated world but still looking for the security of traditional marriage. I believe that Makowsky's interpretation is more apt to fit the text, as both Froehlich and Tyson require the reader to accept secret coded messages within the book in order to make their points and leave out Jordan's implied promiscuity with men prior to her relationship with Nick. Tyson asserts that there are numerous signs within the text that show Jordan to be a lesbian. Jordan Baker, whose name could belong to a man or a woman, is associated with numerous lesbian signs. She makes her living in the, then, male domain of professional gold. And just as Gatsby is frequently described in feminine terms, Jordan is frequently described in masculine terms. (Tyson 346) Jordan, as a New Woman, working in a male dominated sport and world, is bound to pick up certain masculine attributes in order to function in the boy's club. That she is described in masculine

2 terms says more about the narrator's mindset than it does about the inherent sexuality of Jordan. Tyson even concedes this point later in her essay when she writes, Gatsby and Jordan are repositories of gay and lesbian signs because we see them through Nick's eyes. (Tyson 349) Yet we have an instance in the text where, after a romantic date, it is implied that Jordan and Nick have been intimate. This hardly seems like the actions of a lesbian and a homosexual. If both of them are in the know about the secrets each other hold, then to what purpose do they have particularly secret sexual relations? In Froelich's essay, she writes that the scene where Jordan is driving and almost hits someone and confesses that the reason she likes Nick is that he is not careless, acknowledging that she knows he too is queer, and, also like her, not careless but scrupulously discreet. (Froelich 9) This interpretation again relies heavily on coded messages within the text instead of what is actually there. Nick expresses that he felt love for Jordan in the scene, yet Froelich tries to turn this expression of love into an acknowledgment of mutual homosexuality. This reading of that particular passage misses out on the reference to the same conversation at the end of the book, where Jordan expresses that she thought she had met a safe driver but was wrong. If Jordan liked Nick because he was careful of his secret, saying that she found him not to be another bad driver would have to imply he'd revealed her secret of being a lesbian. Froelich also focuses on Jordan's physical description to make her point. Clearly, the repetition of 'jaunty,' like the verbatim repetition of her physical description, serves as a code in the novel, intimating that her 'jauntiness,' her unstudied manner... is itself a kind of pretense. (Froelich 7) Again, for us to accept this premise we have to allow for the use of coded language to be the guiding light for the reading. Instead of being portrayed as a closeted lesbian, Makowsky shows us a woman trapped by the changing times in the role of New Woman. In this reading, Jordan is trying to exercise her independence in a changing world that for the first time allowed women such freedom. Her options are limited by her gender and further complicated by society's unsettled and often contradictory ideals

3 for women: a traditional wife and mother or a self-reliant New Woman. (Makowsky 29) The core of Makowsky's essay is that Jordan is looking for a husband to settle down with, and using the metaphor of a safe driver shows that she is seeking that from Nick who she sees as such a man. In the end Nick cannot distinguish Jordan from the Buchanans and ultimately turns Jordan, not seeing her departure from the Buchanan's home as an act of apparent solidarity with Nick's choice to distance himself from them. Makowsky points out that, Jordan may well be desperately clinging to what she still perceives as the safe harbor of marriage to him [Nick]. (Makowsky 36) Jordan, as a New Woman, still wanted the traditional accoutrements of marriage and family yet had chosen wrong. Both Tyson and Froelich's essays rely heavily on coded language and reading between the lines. Both essays imply that homosexuality is not only present in the novel, but prevalent. Yet, the characters we see being singled out as examples of homosexual characters, such as Jordan, have obvious romantic relationships within the context of the novel that are heterosexual. The issue with coded language is that it says more about the narrator than the character being described, and as narrator Nick is hardly the most reliable of voices. He overlooks the many lies and flaws of Gatsby, yet he doesn't condemn the Buchanans until the end of the novel. Makowsky's interpretation of the novel seems more plausible to me because she does not require the reader to ignore what's on the page in favor of coded messages. She shows Jordan as a New Woman in a changing world, trying to make a way for herself in a world that was only just beginning to allow women to have such opportunities. To Makowsky, Jordan makes the ultimate sacrifice of leaving the security of the Buchanan's home in a last ditch effort to save a relationship with Nick. In the end, I feel it is not simply the fault of the essays that confine Jordan to the role of lesbian, but it is an inherent weakness in the field of queer theory. In relying on coded language, one must accept that those codes are being interpreted correctly and that they are accurate. In a story about marital infidelity where all subjects are portrayed in a heterosexual light, it is only through reading between the lines that one can find the substance for a gay reading of the text. In reading for the

4 subtext, I believe that the authors must overlook the mountain of obvious evidence towards the characters in The Great Gatsby being heterosexual. I side with Makowsky on Jordan Baker, she was simply a New Woman trying to find her place in the world when she ran across another bad driver.

5 Works Cited Froehlich, Maggie Gordon. Jordan Baker, Gender Dissent, And Homosexual Passing in the Great Gatsby. Space Between: Literature And Culture, (2010): MLA International Bibliography. Web. 7 Mar Makowsky, Veronica. Bad Driving: Jordan's Tantalizing Story In The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 9. (2011): MLA International Bibliography. Web. 10 Mar Tyson, Lois. Will The Real Nick Carroway Please Come Out?: a queer reading of The Great Gatsby. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, Print.

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