The Lost Ballad of Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker

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September 24, 2012 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

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I really don’t read as much as I probably should; I just can’t find anything that captivates me (gee…what an arrogant thing to say).  That’s not to say that I don’t like reading a good book, quite the opposite actually; I even have a favorite.  Since I was 17, my favorite book has been The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which will soon hit theaters.[1]  For those of you who haven’t heard of the book, it’s kinda like the movie One Crazy Summer with John Cusack and Demi Moore, but much darker.  The first time I read the book I quickly found myself relating to Nick Carraway, the narrator.

Nick is an observer, someone who tries to analyze and understand people and why they do things the way they do them.  Nick does this because he has already done this to himself and as a result has an innate comprehension of who he is.  Nick realizes that he is merely a supporting character in this grand epic, and instead chooses to craft his own tale around the main plot involving Gatsby trying to win back the affections of Daisy, Gatsby’s former love.  Even though he partakes in the maelstrom, the reader is never really given any reason to believe that he has lost himself in it as other characters have.  Through it all, he appears to remains true to himself.

Upon reading the novel for a second and third time, I ask myself how I could be so naïve as to believe the preceding sentence.  Then I realize that I was 17, so that answers that.  While I still found that I could relate to Nick, probably more so now than back in high school, my appreciation for both the character and the novel as a whole was taken to a new level.  The reason for this is solely due to Jordan Baker.  She has, without question, exponentially increased my love for The Great Gatsby.

Despite the fact that many critics write her off as a superficial character with little value to the overall climate of the novel, I BEG to differ.  Firstly, she is the bearer of information to not only the reader, but to Nick as well.  She is the first person to relate the many myths of Gatsby to us, and is also the one who piques Nick’s interest in the enigmatic figure.  Consequently, being Daisy’s best friend, she is also the one who reveals the scandalous history between Daisy and Jay Gatsby, thus kicking off the whole premise of the novel.  Superficially, Jordan is also the love interest of Nick Carraway.[2]  She is a professional golfer with a rather large sexual appetite, who likes to party and get drunk.[3]  Jordan Baker is Fitzgerald’s interpretation of the modern (1920s) woman, someone who is independent, clever, sexual, confident/cocky, but at the same time possessing a sensitive side only seen by a few.  She is without question the only equal to Nick Carraway in the novel.  And this is why I love her.  As someone who likens himself to Nick Carraway this shouldn’t come as any surprise.

My favorite scene in all of literature is at the very end of The Great Gatsby where Nick meets up with Jordan for what is presumably the last time they will ever see each other.  The notion of the two of them being equals is never more obvious than in this scene, which I believe in most printings is only about 1 page long, maybe shorter.  Regardless, this takes place shortly after the death of Gatsby (whoops….guess you don’t have to read the book anymore) and involves Nick trying to make amends to Jordan.  He doesn’t really apologize, but instead tries to brush off their break-up as circumstantial, even though he literally forgets about her and doesn’t call her halfway through the book.[4]  The relationship didn’t end because they wanted it to; Nick was so caught up in the drama involving Daisy and Jay Gatsby that he forgot about Jordan.  That still doesn’t answer the question why he forgot about her.

To Nick, seeing a woman like Jordan, one who drinks and sleeps around, and gambles, he wouldn’t assume that she’s too sensitive.  He merely thought he was just another fling to her. So despite his growing attachments to her, Nick still tried to maintain distance.  Jordan not wanting to let on how she had fallen for him also maintained her distance so as to not get hurt.  What you have are two people who are attracted to each other, but still try not to get too close (think junior high crushes where both parties know that the other one likes them).  At the same time, however, they were both waiting on the other one to make some grand gesture of devotion.  Nick, being from the Midwest had never met a woman like Jordan, so he figured that if she so wanted to, she would make the proverbial first move.  Likewise, Jordan, thinking Nick to be a noble and honest man waited on Nick to do the same.  What winds up happening is that instead of a break-up, they just kinda stopped doing what they were doing.  There was no action that ended it; it was non-action.

During their final encounter, Jordan does something that no other character is able to do: give her own (accurate) opinion on who Nick really is.  Nick isn’t a righteous and honest and straightforward man; although he tries his best to be, in reality he did let his situation of partying and drama and drinking and just the overall lavishness of his environment get the better of him.  He succumbed to that shallow yearning that he initially portrayed himself as having risen above.  Nick isn’t a bad person; he’s just not as good and absolute as he leads us to believe.  To prove her point, Jordan uses the context of their relationship as her example, which concordantly brings out her sensitivity.  She’s angry with Nick for making her feel vulnerable and weak for presumably the first time in her life.  In her anger, she basically calls Nick a shitty person, to which he tells her that she’s right to think this of him.  Not only that, but he agrees with her assessment of him and reveals that he’s been aware of the fact, that he is much more like the people of East and West Egg than he’d like to be.  Nick knows this, but he still aspires to be better than it. This time around, he just let it get the better of him.

His final thought regarding Jordan is the most poetic and bittersweet thing I’ve ever read in my life and it goes like this: “Angry and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away”.  From the first time I read the book four years ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that one line and how it means.  Fitzgerald flawlessly summarizes that feeling of wanting something terribly, but not having it because it’s not what is best.  It perfectly conveys a sense of lifelong regret over the right decision.  It probably was the smarter decision to not be with her, but it’s the harder of the two choices.  After the death of Jay Gatsby, Jordan is the only person on Long Island who could possibly make Nick stay, which attributes itself to the fact that she had an emotional connection to him that no other character had.

I may very well be mistaken, but I think everyone at some point in their lives wants to have a conversation similar to the one Nick and Jordan had in their final meeting.  Think of your first love, best love, or someone who you really liked at one time and all of the things that you didn’t get a chance to say to them.  I think that in order to at least partially justify the feelings we had at one time for that person, we want to know the effect that we had on them.  Not only that, but we’d also want to know why they in turn fell for us and how they interpret us and understand us to be.  To quote Chuck Palahniuk, “you’re a different human being to everybody you meet”.  What we want to be disclosed from a past love is who we were to them, and that’s what Jordan did for Nick.  She revealed Nick to himself in a way that no one else but a girlfriend or a boyfriend could.  As Nick sees people for who they really are, Jordan saw Nick for who he was but still wanted him around, and that’s why he loved her.  And I guess that’s why we fall in love with whomever we do, because they see us for who we really are and still want us around.


[1] I’m very apprehensive about it as Baz Luhrman is directing it.  See here for further details.

[2] It’s explicitly implied (if there is such a thing) that Nick is only with her because she’s there and willing…..by the end of the novel, his sentiments have seemed to change.

[3] Not unlike Tiger Woods.

[4] What a dick, I know.

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One thought on “The Lost Ballad of Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker

  1. Nerissa says:

    When I chanced upon this page, I assumed you were a female twenty-something year-old, like most of the bloggers I’d read, analysing The Great Gatsby. I watched my dvd again today which piqued my interest in Nick/Jordan.

    Not being American, I’ve never read the book esp. with my schooling days long gone, but I wanted to thank you for writing this. “Think of your first love, or best love, someone you really liked…” -just amped up the building, sweetly wistful nostalgia I couldn’t shake off after watching, and these words transported me further into my bittersweet recollection of highschool crushes.

    On the line that you’re hung up on “Angry…etc” I think I can explain it completely. Nick’s angry she’s such a vapid almost coldly callous person, he’s frustrated that this is what she is and can never be changed, but he’s still somewhat deeply attracted to her for her physical beauty, elegant poise and gracefully feminine “heroicly feminist” sense of confidence and determination- and because he hasn’t got anybody else in his life. Then he is deeply sorry for hurting her ‘cos he’s a ‘nice guy’. Finally he turns away since he is a passive effeminate kind of guy (as portrayed in the film), who has no willpower to heal or mend their relationship due to: 1.being traumatised by Gatsby’s death;2.possibly broken-hearted at the loss of Gatsby (did he ever love him? I WANT TO KNOW);
    3.he never truly loved Jordan due to her flaws.

    Hope that helps 🙂

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