I'm doing a line by line analysis of The Great Gatsby. In critical commentary, the scene at the end of chapter two is frequently cited as evidence that Nick Carraway is either homosexual or bisexual. Part of the scene:

'Come to lunch some day,' he suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.
'Keep your hands off the lever,' snapped the elevator boy.
'I beg your pardon," said Mr McKee with dignity, 'I didn't know I was touching it.'

Commentators say that lever is an obvious phallic reference. I don't feel that readers in 1925 would see this as a phallic reference.

Is there any textual evidence (outside of TGG) prior to 1924 that suggests that writers or the public were familiar with this?

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    Why do you think readers in 1924 were less aware of sexual innuendo then they are today? I would think many readers of that time would be more aware of sexual innuendo, because this was the only way that authors could talk about sex and/or homosexuality. (On the other hand, if this was intentional, I would expect there to be a few more hints in the book.) Nov 20, 2015 at 2:24
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    Well, the cigar here is that the elevator was operated by a lever which only the elevator operator was supposed to touch. There would have to be other clues to cause one to read this passage other than literally.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 20, 2015 at 2:27
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    @PeterShor Well, that's an interesting side debate...were readers prior to the Film and TV age used to reading texts with symbolism in mind. I'm not so sure. There is a lot of talk about all of the symbolism in TGG and certainly Fitzgerald had read Ulysses and The Wasteland, and included symbols in his book...I'm just not sure that "lever" was an innuendo he intended. I think this is a modern reading and Fitzergerald would be laughing at how much we are reading into his book. Nov 20, 2015 at 2:28
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    Back when they used to have elevator boys, these would run the elevator with a lever. Sometimes a lever is just a lever, even in literature.
    – Robusto
    Nov 20, 2015 at 2:45
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    Any group of people is inclined to claim a well-known person, real or fictional, as their own. I can see how a gay critic would make a comment of that sort, and see phallic structures where straight people wouldn't.
    – Ricky
    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:11

1 Answer 1


People were certainly aware of double-entendre before the Broadcast Age. And due to the (then) criminal nature of homosexuality, people had to speak in codes. Subtle enough to be missed by the uninterested, and obvious enough to be picked up on by a suitable audience.

This article - "Have a gay old time" : Warwick Thompson on the subversion hidden in the old music hall - is about this same topic in popular Anglophone culture in a period preceding Gatsby by decades.

  • Thank you for directing me to the link. If you find any information about "lever" could you include it in your answer? Thanks. Nov 20, 2015 at 14:25
  • That's the thing about coded messages - they are often improvisational and context-specific, requiring a shared experience and a shared interpretation of the experience. And furthermore, that the shared interpretation is only likely to occur to people with a sufficiently-close outlook. It's unlikely that there is much documentation if any, if even then-widespread memes such as green ties are almost unheard of now.
    – Euan M
    Nov 21, 2015 at 0:08

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