How are men portrayed in the great gatsby? What standard of masculinity does the text reinforce or construct?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most macho man in The Great Gatsby is Tom.  He is a football stud and a bully and likes to impose his will on others.  He is also abusive, breaking Myrtle's nose with just a quick, reactive hit that takes little effort.  He also is filthy rich.

But he is judged and figuratively condemned by the narrator, Nick, repeatedly and often.  Thus, one could conclude that in the novel Tom's kind of man is established as what a male should not be. 

Gatsby is very much an opposite kind of man.  Gatsby is a romantic and idealist and thoughtful and considerate, for the most part.  He mistakenly believes in a past that never really occurred, and dedicates himself to recapturing a relationship that was never really what he thinks it was.  Daisy never loved Gatsby as much as he loves her.  He is a dreamer, in effect. 

Though Gatsby is certainly presented in a positive light, and he is certainly a better kind of "male" than Tom, one should be careful of holding up any character in the novel as ideal.  This is sophisticated fiction in which people are presented as mixtures of good and bad, if you want to use those terms.  Gatsby is not ideal, either.  He is, after all, a bootlegger and business partner with Wolfsheim. 

stella-lily-rothe | Student

The three main men in The Great Gatsby each represents a different kind of masculinity. 

Gatsby is romantic and poetic, with a whimsical and idealistic view on the world.  Although he is his filled with sorrow, this only further enchances his dreamy nature.  He is living life as a dream, and he is completely unable AND unwilling to wake from it.  He is a romantic idealist.

Tom is a "man's man," although none of the men in Gatsby care much for him.  He is also dangerously aggressive.  He is the type of man who wouldn't think twice about shooting a deer, hitting a woman, ignoring a child, or ruining a life.  His life is based around money, luxery, and an apathetic outlook on the souls of others.  Tom may be a kill-joy, but his presence in the novel is absolutely necessary for the development of the other characters.

Nick (my favorite :)) is what we might call metro-sexual.  He is quiet and reserved, and quite inexperienced in the darker areas of life.  He treasures his friendship with Gatsby, is resentful of Tom's treatment of Daisy, and tries his best to watch over his frail and spoiled cousin.  It is through his eyes that we watch the novel unfold.  He is perhaps as sensitive as Gatsby, but far more sensible. 

An interesting factor about Gatsby and Nick is that they both (at different life stages) fall for frivolous women (Gatsby for Daisy and Nick for Jordan), but Nick has the good sense to walk away; however, Gatsby dies for his love.

All three men are fascinating to study.   Good luck on your assignment!

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The Great Gatsby

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