“The Great Gatsby” – About Nick Carraway

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Despite the title, Nick Carraway is the first character we meet, and appropriately his role in The Great Gatsby is crucial; without him the story would lack balance and insight. The first chapter is primarily dedicated to establishing his personality and position in the book, then moving on to Tom and Daisy. Nick is our guide in The Great Gatsby; he relates the story as he has seen it and from what others have told him. He strives at all times to be objective and to make balanced comments just as he said in the beginning of the book, ‘I’m inclined to reserve all judgements.’ The role of Nick Carraway is so important to the book that the character of Jay Gatsby could not exist. His objectivity is reinforced throughout to us by his scorn of Gatsby which becomes known to the reader when he says he, ‘represented everything for which I have unaffected scorn.’ He registers contempt for much of what Gatsby stands for; the falseness, the criminality, but he still likes him. His ability to laugh at Gatsby and his false beliefs shows he’s neither charmed not wholly disgusted by Gatsby. Nick’s amusingly contemptuous remarks show his sense of humor, and although he is straight-laced, he does not bore the reader. Fitzgerald tells the audience of his age, thirty, which makes the them take his opinions seriously, as he is not some immature man. Nick is introduced directly, but Gatsby remains a distant and unknown character for a good while. The establishment of Nick’s reflective, tolerant personality is essential, as are his limitations, so we just don’t dismiss him as a character speaking the words and feelings of the author. The fact that he disapproves of Gatsby so early on helps us to go along with his judgements when he tells us of Gatsby and unfolds the story. Nick is unlike the other characters of the book; he is not one of the ‘careless people.’ He has a conscience, he is not selfish, and he has decency that is well demonstrated in his efforts for Gatsby’s funeral. His down to earth character shows how superficial Daisy and Tom are. Daisy and Tom are ruthlessly practical, where Gatsby’s just a dreamer. Nick guides us between these two extremes, an indifferent observer while being involved in the action. This is evident when Nick said, ‘I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by! the inexhaustible variety of life.’ Nick’s aim to be truthful and objective makes the reader trust him. When he says that Gatsby has a ‘rare smile with a quality of eternal reassurance in it,’ we know Nick isn’t being charmed by his riches or parties; but is telling it to us straight. His contempt for much of what Gatsby says, but also Nick’s tolerance, is emphasized when Nick doesn’t mock him. The reader has no choice but to become acquainted with Nick. The other characters lack the dimension for us to trust them, which is what Fitzgerald is trying to demonstrate. Seeing Gatsby through Nick’s eyes makes the reader sympathize with him and his unattainable life long dream. Without Nick we would perceive Gatsby as a corrupt mad man trying to disrupt an old girlfriend’s life. This would not be the whole truth and not what Fitzgerald would want us to see. While Gatsby and what he stands for is clearly the focus of the book, there is an argument for saying that Nick is the main character. Gatsby doesn’t speak till the third chapter and he dies after three-quarters of the book. Nick is the more in depth character and since practically every part of the story is related to us with his thoughts and his perceptions, it is hard for him not to be. He is the character the reader leaves the story feeling they understand and whose actions and judgements they support, unlike Gatsby. He is the narrator but his involvement in the events, no matter how much he tries to stay objective, make a difference. Fitzgerald sets up Nick Carraway’s role as a character in his own right, not just Fitzgerald’s mouthpiece.

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