Nick's Role as the Narrator in the Great Gatsby

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we examine Nick Carraway's ability as the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic, ''The Great Gatsby'', and analyze some of the drawbacks of having a character as the narrator.

Nick Carraway as Narrator

Many books are narrated from a third-party or third-person perspective - the 'Voice of God' narrator, some call it. This type of perspective is all-knowing and all-seeing. Some authors make their books a more personal experience, with the narrator the focus, the story revolving around transformational changes in their life. F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic of American literature, The Great Gatsby, isn't really either. Though it's written in first-person, the book straddles the line between these two perspectives. In this lesson we will examine the style and strengths and weaknesses of the book's narrator, Nick Carraway.

Nick as a Character

Nick's capacity as the narrator is interesting because, as noted above, he is not the focus of the book. Though the story is told from his perspective, it is Jay Gatsby and his attempts to re-win the heart of Daisy Buchanan, that are the true focus of the book. This grants him a bit of the third person perspective which we discussed above. Nick is emotionally uninvolved in the love triangle that evolves between Gatsby, Daisy, and her husband Tom. This allows him to view the situation clearly and judge events dispassionately.

This is aided by any real lack of interesting or transformational storyline on Nick's part. Nick tells us he is struggling through the bond business while half-heartedly pursuing the golf star, Jordan Baker. Neither are of particular interest to the reader because they are not important to Nick either. He freely admits this when he breaks up with Jordan over the phone near the end of the book. This allows the story of Tom, Daisy, Gatsby, and the social circles they move in to take center stage. Nick attended university with Tom and is Daisy's cousin. This helps us trust the moral judgments he makes of the characters involved and further lends credibility to Nick's positive response to Gatsby's manners and actions.

Drawbacks

Nick's capacity as a character presents interesting challenges for the reader. Although Nick often appears above the fray, he is still human and susceptible to the same human failings as other characters in the novel. This is perhaps best exemplified by Nick's relation of the party in the New York apartment in Chapter Two. Nick is largely disgusted by his company and the entire affair, and he combats this feeling by getting belligerently drunk. As he relates the end of the party, his memory, and therefore the images of the party, are highly fragmented and viewed through Nick's drunken and disgusted lens. It changes and colors the narrative.

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