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The Great Gatsby Essay

Fitzgerald decided to employ a narrator who was a participant in the story, but was more an observer than an actor. This creates a complex point of view, which involves us, as readers, in acts of interpretation, which eventually lets us make judgments about the narrator. The qualities that Fitzgerald has given to the narrator, Nick Carraway, are those of a privileged background. But from the advice that was given to him by his father, this makes him aware that some people may not have the same privileges and opportunities as himself, which allows him to make good judgments, for example, “In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments.” So from this the reader can see that he looks at all sides of opinions, and does not make snap decisions, which allows people to tell him their secrets because he is trustworthy, impartial and holds back his judgments. Which is why in the story, so many people open up to him. This impartiality allows the characters in the novel to be open with him, which is a good quality for a narrator, because he has their confidence, “Listen, Nick; let me tell you what is said when she was born. Would you like to hear?” This proves that he is the ideal listener and as such is accepted by the reader.

In the opening Nick has returned to the Midwest, and is writing a book about events that occurred during a period that he had spent on the East Coast of America. He begins his narration with some self-analysis, trying to pin down relevant aspects of his own character. He remembers his father’s advice to show tolerance towards others, and to reserve judgment, adding that, “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” Here the reader can see that Fitzgerald uses a narrator who is aware of his own limitations, so that it gives the impression that he is not biased. However it does reveal that Nick is privy to intimate revelations and secrets, therefore he can make an analysis on what he has been told. Fitzgerald also says that Nick stands back, so Nick does not allow his own judgment to prejudice his own opinion, which means he is confident in his judgments.

Later although Nick describes how scornful he is of certain aspects of Gatsby’s character and behaviour, other attributes of Gatsby’s “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life” and his “extraordinary gift of hope” make the reader aware of Nick’s ability as a narrator to show not only the negative but the positive sides of a character. Despite his dislike of Gatsby it does not interfere with the unlimited respect he also feels for the man. Therefore the reader aware of this can respect Nick’s role as the narrator. It is the romantic dream that Nick admires and stimulates his curiosity about Gatsby, “what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.” Although this is a subjective judgment the reader now trusts the narrator in Nick Carraway sufficiently, to become as interested in Gatsby as Nick himself.

But Nick does say little about his own family, although his father runs the hardware business, at the time of the American civil war, in which he avoided service. Nick, on the other hand, was caught up in the First World War, and that had caused considerable disruption in his life. On his return from Europe, he found that the Midwest that was once, “the warm centre of the world” now seemed “the ragged edge of the universe.” Nicks experience of the world has grown therefore when he comes back he naturally sees things that he does not like, “makes me restless.” This makes Nick more aware of life, so due to his experiences he is more understanding to other people, and their problems, which makes him sympathetic. The privileged background shows the reader that Nick’s family is well educated, for example he was well read, “one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the Yale News.” But despite all these things, it makes him less critical of other people, which makes him more tolerant and open minded, and these are good qualities, and establish his character.

Fitzgerald uses Nick Carraway as the narrator, because it allows the reader to feel closer to the action, “I enjoyed the counter raid so thoroughly that I came back restless.” At the same time, it is clear that the act of telling is part of the process by which he comes to terms with those experiences and develops his understanding of them. Nevertheless, it is immediately noticeable that Nick’s style of writing is challenging: his sentences can be grammatically complex, and his vocabulary is at times obscure. For example, “frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or hostile levity when realised by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon.” Which means, that he sometimes pretends to be asleep, when someone always wants to confide in him. Fitzgerald gives Nick pretentious literary qualities, to emphasise that he is well educated, enjoys writing and is intellectual. This is good for a narrator, as it gives a voice of authority to the reader to inform, educate and entertain, so the reader will respect and listen to Nick, and not question his ability as a good storyteller. Nick also establishes at the start that he is writing an account and Fitzgerald has attributed to him a certain amount of self- consciousness as a writer.

Nick’s self analysis of his own character reveals to the reader his open mindedness and therefore he appears to be more impartial, an important skill for a narrator, convincing the reader of his worthiness and ability in telling a story from an unbiased view point. “Now, don’t think my opinion on these matters is final,” he seemed to say, “just because I’m stronger and more of a man than you are.” So the information he offers to the reader, although coloured by his own character, allows Nick’s narration to be more neutral. However this is also a reminder to the reader that Nick’s assessment of the other characters in the novel is inevitably going to be coloured by his own analysis. He even says, “after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit.” But by openly placing Nick as the narrator, Fitzgerald is allowing Nick to express his own limitations, and this allows the reader to access Nick’s ability as a storyteller.

Nick’s reference to his father’s advice establishes one of the novel’s major themes, that of the relationship between the present and the past and with what is transferred from one generation to another. It is also relevant to the twentieth century history of America, for having broken away from the father-like rule of European monarchy, it declared itself a new country, free from the limitations of the past. So this American commitment to the future, where anything might happen, is also suggested by Nick’s evidence on “reserving judgment” as a matter of “infinite hope”. The national faith that it is never too late to start again continues. We can see that it is Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift of hope”, which ultimately draws Nick to him. So whatever Nick is drawn to, so is the audience, because of his skill as a narrator, he makes them read the story.

What attracts Nick is the dream of a new beginning, which has long been associated in the American mind, with movement westward. After moving east in order to seek material success, Nick has now returned to the Midwest, to the heart of America, where he is able to pause and reflect upon the past few years. Nick declares with irony, that in going east he “was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler.”

Nick and Gatsby both live in the New York suburb of West Egg. It is less fashionable than nearby East Egg, and its name carries with it implication of America’s Frontier past. Here the suggestion is that both Nick and Gatsby preserve American ideals that have been lost in the modern cities of the East. This is, of course, ironic, as both Eggs are located on the East Coast. There is even more irony from the name “Egg’s” as they are supposed to promise new life, when in fact they are lifeless rocks. Because both Nick and Gatsby share a common ideal, these values allow Nick as a narrator to let Gatsby confine in him and give more credence to his role as a narrator in the eyes of the reader.

In my opinion the success of the novel is due to Fitzgerald’s control of how the figure of Gatsby is presented to the reader through Nick’s narration. The character and personality of Gatsby has been filtered through Nick’s narration at a suitable pace and with appropriate emphasis to maintain the reader’s interest without eliminating the enigmatic qualities of Gatsby. When Nick expresses his doubts as well as his pride at the beginning of the novel we appreciate that he has his faults too. However his honesty as a narrator overcomes this and the reader can believe in him. So as the reader is piecing together the puzzle of Gatsby, he at the same time has to adjust to the values that are being put forward by the narrator Nick Carraway, who is telling Gatsby’s story. It is easy to imagine that if Fitzgerald had been too hasty in the narration, or had revealed too much at the wrong time, we could have a very different book, one in which Gatsby appeared a ridiculously comic or unambiguously threatening character. It is Nick’s skill as the narrator which is partially responsible for this.


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