Fitzgerald casts Nick Carraway as our narrator and guide throughout the Novel, The Great Gatsby. Immediately we discover that he is from an affluent socio-economic background and makes attempts to prove that he is from “good stock”, boasting about his family being descendant from “The Dukes of Buccleuch” illustrating the American obsession with lineage, and how it was often used to measure whether you possessed the “fundamental decencies” that made you a worthwhile member of 1920’s American society.
Contrastingly though, before we find out about his own heritage, Nick himself quotes his father on saying that; “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone – Just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had all the advantages that you’ve had” This really sets a standard of expectation that we have as readers for our guide; that we expect him to be impartial and indeed “inclined to reserve all judgements” upon the characters in the Novel.
At first one can suppose that his narration would be reliable, from a non-biased stance, yet it becomes increasingly clear that due to his personal involvement with others, there is no way that Nick as an omniscient narrator could possibly detach from his predisposed views and biases. To outline this, he talks of Gatsby as having;
“Something gorgeous about him” and “a romantic readiness such as I have never found in a person and which is not likely I shall ever find again” This is indicative of Nick over exaggerating to us as readers (or Fitzgerald using hyperbole to match Gatsby’s own eccentricity, channelled through the narrator).
It is unlikely that Nick thought that Gatsby was especially gorgeous in the literal sense of the word, nor that it would be impossible to find romantic readiness in another person – which allows us to dispute his reliability once again. In fairness towards Nick, by doing this he sets the tone for the rest of the story, and creates an area of suspense for what one should expect the protagonist (Gatsby) of the book to actually be like. Nick also mentions;
“Life is more successfully looked at from a single window”
Which one could use to interpret as Fitzgerald again trying to mislead the reader into believing that what Nick says represents the whole truth – when it is actually more of Nicks own attempt to produce a truthful account of the story.
However, it also demonstrates his desire to be worldly and have an open mind, whether or not his opinions conflict with the actions of others. Despite this, I believe that many readers would still trust what he says about the events and characters whilst reading the book, then eventually coming to make their own informed judgements once they had reached the end, having seen the full picture.
One is also introduced to Nicks overwhelming sense of propriety, issued as an effect of returning back to America after spending his formative years at war in Europe (WWI). He talks of his desire for the “world to be in uniform” and “at a sort of moral attention forever”, making his former life seem whimsical and facetious. Nick wanted to abandon all that lacked seriousness, only regard himself with practices and past times that he felt were proper for a man of his age – getting a job in the Bond Business and reading books on subjects such as investment securities and banking – all in pursuit of becoming “the well rounded man”.
From what he tells us of his life before he went to war, one learns his candid nature lead him to become “victim to not a few veteran bores” implying that he was often bombarded by “the secret griefs of wild, unknown men” of which he made clear his distaste and detest, adding that “most of the confidences were unsought”.
The idea that he was surrounded by men who possessed a hedonistic streak in their nature had driven him further towards morality and even to a point, seclusion. During the first chapter, one gets the impression that his relationships are not very strongly tied, “two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all” referring plainly to Tom and Daisy Buchanan.
He appears to be very much alone on the island, whether on West Egg or East Egg, and doesn’t quite fit in with his neighbours, as he lacks the excessive wealth and status. Interestingly though, he appears to be accepted into the community by others with better assets than he, even if Tom does insist on pointing out that he is “stronger and more of a man” than Nick. Regardless of this, Nick is docile to the irreverent comments made by Tom and takes them on the shoulder.
He also seems to gravitate particularly more towards Daisy, possibly having
something to do with the fact that they are distantly related (“second cousin once removed”) or that he found Tom physically intimidating but equally lacking in intellect. In fact, the couple themselves are almost juxtaposed in the physical description that Nick gives of them, for Tom; “A rather hard mouth” And “Two, shining arrogant eyes.” Whilst for Daisy;
“Bright eyes and a bright, passionate mouth.” These comments show that even though his judgements were meant to be reserved and not imparted, by giving a less than flattering description of Tom and a slightly more flattering one for Daisy, in spite of its truth or lack of, Nick has given us an insight into his own opinion of the couple. He even goes as far as suggesting that the first thing he thought that Daisy ought to do “was to rush out of the house, child in arms”.
This appears to me as a subtle way of him suggesting that Tom is an unsuitable husband and father, due to his racist remarks and very little attempt at hiding the fact that he has a mistress – who rings the house whilst they are all having dinner. In a rather satiric tone, Nick finds it more surprising that Tom “was depressed by a book” than discovering that he had “some woman in New York”.
I think that it is this blunt, ironic, almost “matter of a fact” kind of humour that makes him attractive as a narrator even at times when it may not be necessarily funny. He tends to write in a complex kind of way, not always using basic conversational language. Some of his descriptions suggest decadence and their elaborate nature gives us a rich insight into his experiences, both when he talks of the past and also his current situation. It could be argued that if Fitzgerald had not written in such a way then it may not have been considered to be such a literary exploration and more of a drab fable.
The description that Nick gives as he drives towards the Buchanan’s house is a majestic one, describing the lawn as; “Running toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun dials and brick walls and burning gardens” Of course, a lawn doesn’t really “run”, or “jump”, for that matter, but the sheer imagination that you would need to have to personify what is essentially an extensive piece of grass is relatively impressive. And for that, he deserves some amount of recognition for what may be the most exciting description of some grass that I have yet to of read.