Point of View in the Great Gatsby

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Point of view is a critical narrative technique that F. Scott Fitzgerald frequently manipulates throughout The Great Gatsby (1925) to manipulate and shape the reader’s response to the various issues explored. Point of view (in fictional writing) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story being told. Through the first person and sometimes third person limited retrospective narrative voice of Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald invites us to condemn or condone various aspects of “the roaring twenties” in American society. Some of the issues explored include class dichotomy, the position of women within society and prejudice. Nick’s character is constructed so as to have a biased and judgmental nature and throughout the text his descriptive account of events are often subjective, distorted by time and unreliable. Other characters provide opinions and accounts within the text such as Jordan Baker’s narration for example “one October day in 1917.” However our response to other characters narration is filtered through Nick’s retrospective account of the entire plot. As readers we experience the events of the plot through Nick Carraway’s character but in terms of individual response Nick merely acts as a filter in terms shaping out understanding of 1920’s America and the issues questioned by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The pivotal issue of class dichotomy is shaped by Nick Carraway’s descriptive narration and distorted by his own character construction and participation within the plot. Nick’s portrayal and subjective opinion of class is effected by the fact that he is from a wealthy family “my family were prominent well-to-do people” and even though he recognizes himself as being “snobbish” he still actively condones the concept of class distinction evident when he says “I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.” Nick is fully aware of how important class is to personal identity, especially in the society in which he lives. He knows that he was born into a life of privilege and a certain amount of wealth. The rich may be "above" him, but there are many people "below" him, and Nick keeps the influence of class in mind with everyone he meets. Through the bias persona of Nick Carraway I believe Fitzgerald both condemns and condones aspects of a class based society. Nick Carraway’s character is not always a neutral observer throughout the text and his opinion is often coloured by emotion. This confuses the reader in regards to which response to shape so we begin to formulate our own. Throughout the novel the inferior working class is very rarely mentioned in fact the attendants throughout the novel are dehumanized for example when Nick states that Miss Baker “addressed the four cocktails just in from the pantry” and later when he is describing the valley of ashes who’s “impenetrable cloud” conceals the working class from sight as if they are non-existent. The entire novel is focalized around the new social class or “new money” portrayed through the character Jay Gatsby and challenged by the “traditional wealth” or “cruel rich”(as Fitzgerald referred to them as) class portrayed by the characters Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Nicks portrayal of Daisy and Tom’s character is negative in most aspects and therefore positions the reader to react negatively to their characters and the values and attitudes they represent (Daisy and Tom being the epitome of the stereotypical female figure and male figure within society retrospectively). The traditional class through Tom and Daisy is characterized though Nicks point of view as careless and money dependent “They were careless people Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or vast carelessness.” As these two characters represent the upper or traditional class, the audience is being positioned to...
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