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Nick Carraway

Books: The Great Gatsby

Genres: Novel

Authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald


In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway serves dual roles. The first one introduced, Nick Carraway is the novel's most well-developed character. The opening paragraphs of the novel reveal Nick's morals and ideals as a person. Though believing himself to have been given a fair amount of the "fundamental decencies [that are] parcelled out unequally at birth", Nick still is inclined "to reserve all judgements" (6, 5). With that inclination, he is then able to get to know most of the characters quite intimately, thus being able to see all the situations as a whole. An example that exemplifies his habit of reserving judgement is just before he meets Gatsby himself. At the first party of Gatsby's that he attends, he had not yet met the host, when already he hears of several rumors concerning Gatsby's past. Unaffected by rumors such as "[Gatsby has] killed a man once" and being "a German spy during the war", Nick still gets to know Gatsby quite well, helping the plot as well as Gatsby's character development (47, 48).

Nick's personality qualities qualify him for being a good narrator. The most honest of all characters in the story, Nick is also honest with himself. For example, although Nick cares for Jordan, he admits to himself that Jordan is dishonest and selfish, thereby not letting emotion cloud his judgement. Nick seems to be The Great Gatsby's only uncorrupted and disillusioned character. Every other character, including Gatsby himself, uses money for every need or want, such as trying to buy happiness. For example, Gatsby, who "[turns] out all right in the end," thinks he can win Daisy over by impressing her with his grand exhibitions of wealth and that it is completely possible to "fix everything just the way it was before" with it (6, 117). In contrast to Gatsby's distorted view of life, Nick retains his perspective. As he says, he "[is] within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life." (40).

Besides being a pivotal character in the plot itself in facilitating the reunion between Daisy and Tom, Nick fills his role as a narrator for the plot very well. He relates the story as he has experienced, and what others tell him. At all times, he presents the information he receives, while always striving for objectivity. His neutrality is strengthened throughout the plot to us by his disdain of Gatsby, which becomes apparent when Nick comments that "Gatsby [represents] everything for which I have an unaffected scorn" (6). He exudes such contempt for almost everything that Gatsby stands for "“ materialism, superficiality, and dishonesty "“ but is still rather fond of Gatsby. Nick's ability to criticize Gatsby and see the faults in him indicates that he judges the entire person, not just from first impressions because he is charmed into their smile, even those that are "one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it" (52). The mere fact that Nick disapproves of Gatsby helps the readers to accept Nick's reliability as a narrator "“ to present both the good and bad side of a person or a situation.

Of all the characters, Nick's personality is the most developed, and since the plot itself is told from his perspective and thoughts, he is critical to the book's story line. Fitzgerald chose wisely when he set up Nick Carraway's dual roles "“ both as a pivotal character, as well as the narrator.

Nick makes the distinction between Gatsby, whom he loves because of his dream, and the other characters, who constitute the "foul dust" that "floated in the wake of his dreams." Nick has such scorn for these "Eastern" types that he has left the East, returned to the Midwest, and, for the time being at least, withdraws from his involvement with other people.

Having told us about his relationships, Nick now introduces us to the world in which he lived during the summer of 1999: the world of East Egg and West Egg, Long Island.

Fitzgerald designed The Great Gatsby very carefully, establishing each of the locations in the novel as a symbol for a particular style of life. West Egg, where Nick and Gatsby live, is essentially a place for the nouveau riche. There are two types of people living here: those on the way up the social ladder who have not the family background or the money to live in fashionable East Egg; and those like Gatsby, whose vulgar display of wealth and connections with Broadway or the New York underworld make them unwelcome in the more dignified world of East Egg. Nick describes his own house as an eyesore, but it is a smaller eyesore than Gatsby's mansion, which has a tower on one side, "spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy." Words like new, thin, and raw describe some of the reasons Gatsby's house is a monstrosity.

By contrast, East Egg is like a fairyland. Its primary color is white, and Nick calls its houses "white palaces" that glitter in the sunlight. The story actually opens in East Egg on the night Nick drives over to have dinner with Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Since Daisy is his cousin and Tom, a friend from Yale, Nick has the credentials to visit East Egg. Their house is "a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial Mansion" overlooking the bay. And the owner is obviously proud of his possessions.

Our first view of Tom Buchanan reveals a very powerful man standing in riding clothes with his legs apart on his front porch. He likes his power, and like the potentates of Eastern kingdoms, he expects the obedience of his subjects. We are ushered into the living room with its "frosted wedding cake" ceiling, its wine-colored rug, and its enormous couch on which are seated two princesses in white: Jordan Baker and Tom's wife, Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald controls the whole scene through his use of colors- white and gold mainly- that suggest a combination of beauty and wealth. Yet underneath this magical surface there is something wrong. Jordan Baker is bored and discontented. She yawns more than once in this very first scene. There is something cool and slightly unpleasant about the atmosphere- something basically disturbing. Tom talks about a book he has read, The Rise of the Colored Empires by Goddard. It is a piece of pure Social Darwinism, advocating that the white race preserve its own purity and beat down the colored races before they rise up and overcome the whites. Daisy, who seems not to understand what Tom is talking about, teases him about his size and about the big words in the book. The telephone rings, and Tom is called from the room to answer it. When Daisy follows him out, Jordan Baker confides to Nick that the call is from Tom's woman in New York.

The rest of the evening is awkward and painful as Tom and Daisy try unsuccessfully to forget the intrusion. Daisy's cynicism about life becomes painfully clear when she says about her daughter's birth: "'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'"

In Nick's eyes, Tom and Daisy belong to "a rather distinguished secret society," whose members have powers the outside world can neither understand nor control. Nick finds both of them smug and insincere. The evening ends early, around ten o'clock. Jordan Baker, a competitive golfer, wants to go to bed since she's playing in a tournament the next day. Before Nick leaves for West Egg, Tom and Daisy hint that they would welcome his attention to Miss Baker during the summer.

Nick arrives home, and (in the final paragraph of the chapter) gets his first glimpse of Gatsby. Gatsby is standing on the lawn, stretching out "his arms toward the dark water in a curious way." Nick, from his own house, believes that he can see Gatsby trembling. As Nick looks out at the water, he can see "...nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock."

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