Great Gatsby - Reply to Linda Daley's Article 'Nick the Flawed Narrator'

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NICK THE FLAWED NARRATOR

NICK CARRAWAY has a special place in this novel. He is not just one character among several, it is through his eyes and ears that we form our opinions of the other characters.

Often, readers of this novel confuse Nick's stance towards those characters and the world he describes with those of F. Scott Fitzgerald's because the fictional world he has created closely resembles the world he himself experienced. But not every narrator is the voice of the author. Before considering the "gap" between author and narrator, we should remember how, as readers, we respond to the narrator's perspective, especially when that voice belongs to a character who, like Nick, is an active participant in the story.

When we read any work of fiction, no matter how realistic or fabulous, as readers, we undergo a "suspension of disbelief". The fictional world creates a new set of boundaries, making possible or credible events and reactions that might not commonly occur in the "real world", but which have a logic or a plausibility to them in that fictional world.

In order for this to be convincing, we trust the narrator. We take on his perspective, if not totally, then substantially. He becomes our eyes and ears in this world and we have to see him as reliable if we are to proceed with the story's development.

In The Great Gatsby, Nick goes to some length to establish his credibility, indeed his moral integrity, in telling this story about this "great" man called Gatsby. He begins with a reflection on his own upbringing, quoting his father's words about Nick's "advantages", which we could assume were material but, he soon makes clear, were spiritual or moral advantages.

Nick wants his reader to know that his upbringing gave him the moral fibre with which to withstand and pass judgment on an amoral world, such as the one he had observed the previous summer. He says, rather pompously, that as a consequence of such an upbringing, he is "inclined to reserve all judgments" about other people, but then goes on to say that such "tolerance . . . has a limit".

This is the first sign that we can trust this narrator to give us an even-handed insight to the story that is about to unfold. But, as we later learn, he neither reserves all judgments nor does his tolerance reach its limit. Nick is very partial in his way of telling the story about several characters.

He admits early into the story that he makes an exception of judging Gatsby, for whom he is prepared to suspend both the moral code of his upbringing and the limit of intolerance, because Gatsby had an "extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness". This inspired him to a level of friendship and loyalty that Nick seems unprepared to extend towards others in the novel.

Nick overlooks the moral implications of Gatsby's bootlegging, his association with speakeasies, and with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man rumoured to have fixed the World Series in 1919. Yet, he is contemptuous of Jordan Baker for cheating in a mere golf game. And while he says that he is prepared to forgive this sort of behaviour in a woman: "It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame too deeply - I was casually sorry, and then I forgot," it seems that he cannot accept her for being "incurably dishonest" and then reflects that his one "cardinal virtue" is that he is "one of the few honest people" he has ever known. When it comes to judging women - or perhaps only potential lovers - not only are they judged, they are judged by how well they stand up to his own virtues. Again, Daley implies, wrongly, that Nick' has given the reader to expect he will not judge. Daley overlooks the self-deprecating character of this statement. She has broken up the quote. Here it is: "Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.

Daley again is failing to read a passage in...
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