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How Does Fitzgerald Present the Character of Nick Caraway as a Narrator and Character

By emoskins Dec 13, 2010 1222 Words
In The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald presents a specific portrait of American society during the roaring twenties and tells the story of a man who rises from the gutter to great riches. This man, Jay Gatsby, does not realize that his new wealth cannot give him the privileges of class and status. Nick Carraway who is from a prominent mid-western family tells the story. Nick presents himself as a reliable narrator, when actually several events in the novel prove he is an unreliable narrator. Although Nick Carraway may be an unreliable narrator, he is the best narrator for the novel because he creates the correct effect. 

            Nick Carraway wants the reader to think his upbringing gave him the moral character to observe others and not pass judgment on them. If this were true he would be a reliable narrator. A hint to Nick's true moral character is given on the first page of the novel when he misunderstands his father's advice. His father said, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages you've had." Clearly his father was telling him of the importance of not criticizing others, but Nick interprets this as a judgment on others . This shows how Nick's upbringing has actually made him a judgmental snob toward others. He is not partial; he judges and condemns nearly every character in the novel. He says Tom Buchanan has "Straw hair, a hard mouth, a supercilious manner, and a cruel body with which he pushes people around." Daisy Buchanan is described as insincere and snobbishly thinks she "has been everywhere, and seen everything and done everything." Myrtle Wilson is said to "carry her excess flesh sensuously. " and the rest of her friends and even her sister, are judged by Nick simply because they consort with Myrtle, who Nick holds in very low regard. These are but a few examples of the judgments Nick passes about the characters in this novel. When Nick does this to the other characters it shows how he cannot resist the temptation to be critical of every little fault with each character whether it has to do with their appearance, personality, or actions. 

            Nick is an unreliable narrator mainly because he is partial to certain characters in the novel. Currently this is most prominent with Daisy’s character who Fitzgerald shows as snobbish, self centred and not very likeable. Nick however, due to an obvious love, or maybe lust for Daisy doesn’t seem to register her flaws, or so does but chooses to ignore them. Also his ever evolving opinion of Jay Gatsby shows us how our knowledge depends on his, as the more he learns about Gatsby (even though most are conflicting and mostly gossip related) his views change and so, so do ours. His almost Romantic view of him seems to cloud his other Judgements that Gatsby is a shady character, who’s rumouring stories all seem to pain him in a dark light, but again Nick seems not to acknowledge this face, similar to how he is with Daisy. Maybe he does this because he admires Gatsby's passion and commitment to his dreams, something he himself is afraid to do. Gatsby's biggest dream ( as we can tell by this point but also due to reading ahead) was to have his true love Daisy Buchanan as his own. He was in love with her but could not have her because they were not on the same social level. This does not stop him from pursuing her anyway. 

            While Nick is willing to overlook Gatsby's shady practices and Daisies selfish nature and even Toms violence towards Myrtle , He is very critical of What seems to be the lower classes, showing Nicks snobbish side to be rather more prominent that he first lets the reader realise

            In chapter two Nick gets drunk with Tom Buchanan and several other people at Myrtle's apartment. The majority of chapter two is distorted because Nick gets more intoxicated as the chapter goes on. He even admits to the reader that he is not completely clear on what is happening: 

“I have been drunk just twice in my life and the second time was that afternoon, so everything that happened has a dim hazy cast over it... When I came back they had disappeared so I sat down discreetly in the living room and read a chapter of "Simon Called Peter" either it was terrible stuff or the whiskey distorted things because it didn't make any sense to me”.

How can the reader be sure Nick was in his right mind throughout the rest of the novel? Other parts like this could be distorted to. 

            Nick Carraway may be an unreliable narrator but he is the best narrator for the novel because he creates the correct effect. He is a first person narrator who is involved in the action of the novel. This method lends "compactness and unity" to the novel since the reader only knows what Nick experiences. Everything is filtered through his mind. Nick's personality causes him to continually morally judge himself and the other characters. Since these judgments come from a character involved in the action of the novel they seem to arise "spontaneously" from the action itself. This makes for a more "unified and self contained" effect than if the final moral judgments were imposed from the outside by the author. 

            Throughout The Great Gatsby Nick shows he is an unreliable narrator even though he claims that his upbringing gave him the moral character to not pass judgment on others. In reality he is a judgmental snob who passes judgment on nearly every character in the novel based on personality faults and their actions. He often misinterprets things the characters do. He even gets drunk in chapter two which distorts everything. Nick is partial to Jay Gatsby because Gatsby has the guts to chase after his dreams. Gatsby represents the American dream; he rose up from the gutter to fabulous wealth and gets the chance to pursue the girl he loves.  He will never be able to have her though because he does not have the same class or status as Daisy.

Nicks undeniable loneliness seems to draw him to other characters even if they are particularly unsavoury, such as tom, he clings to them as if he cant let go, but he still drifts on the outside. Nick does stand apart from the others.  He is the observer, the reporter, and ultimately the judge of the others.  He is among the glittering crowd but apart from them.  He takes part in the parties at Gatsby's, Mrytle's apartment, and at the Plaza Hotel, and yet he stands aloof.  He weakly tries to connect with Jordan, but he does not seem to be trying to accept her flaws.  He is, perhaps, in his own way as lonely as Gatsby.  Part of what causes his loneliness is sense of moral superiority.  It would be interesting to discover whether or not Nick

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