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Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby


Despite the title, Nick Carraway is the first character we meet, and
appropriately his role in The Great Gatsby is crucial; without him the
story would lack balance and insight. The first chapter is primarily
dedicated to establishing his personality and position in the book,
then moving on to Tom and Daisy. Nick is our guide in The Great
Gatsby; he relates the story as he has seen it and from what others
have told him. He strives at all times to be objective and to make
balanced comments just as he said in the beginning of the book, ^I^m
inclined to reserve all judgements.^ The role of Nick Carraway is so
important to the book that the character of Jay Gatsby could not
exist. His objectivity is reinforced throughout to us by his scorn of
Gatsby which becomes known to the reader when he says he, ^represented
everything for which I have unaffected scorn.^ He registers contempt
for much of what Gatsby stands for; the falseness, the criminality, but
he still likes him. His ability to laugh at Gatsby and his false
beliefs shows he^s neither charmed not wholly disgusted by Gatsby.
Nick^s amusingly contemptuous remarks show his sense of humor, and
although he is straight-laced, he does not bore the reader. Fitzgerald
tells the audience of his age, thirty, which makes the them take his
opinions seriously, as he is not some immature man. Nick is introduced
directly, but Gatsby remains a distant and unknown character for a good
while. The establishment of Nick^s reflective, tolerant personality is
essential, as are his limitations, so we just don^t dismiss him as a
character speaking the words and feelings of the author. The fact that
he disapproves of Gatsby so early on helps us to go along with his
judgements when he tells us of Gatsby and unfolds the story. Nick is
unlike the other characters of the book; he is not one of the ^careless
people.^ He has a conscience, he is not selfish, and he has decency
that is well demonstrated in his efforts for Gatsby^s funeral. His
down to earth character shows how superficial Daisy and Tom are. Daisy
and Tom are ruthlessly practical, where Gatsby^s just a dreamer. Nick
guides us between these two extremes, an indifferent observer while
being involved in the action. This is evident when Nick said, ^I was
within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by! the
inexhaustible variety of life.^ Nick^s aim to be truthful and objective
makes the reader trust him. When he says that Gatsby has a ^rare smile
with a quality of eternal reassurance in it,^ we know Nick isn^t being
charmed by his riches or parties; but is telling it to us straight.
His contempt for much of what Gatsby says, but also Nick^s tolerance,
is emphasized when Nick doesn^t mock him. The reader has no choice but
to become acquainted with Nick. The other characters lack the
dimension for us to trust them, which is what Fitzgerald is trying to
demonstrate. Seeing Gatsby through Nick^s eyes makes the reader
sympathize with him and his unattainable life long dream. Without Nick
we would perceive Gatsby as a corrupt mad man trying to disrupt an old
girlfriend^s life. This would not be the whole truth and not what
Fitzgerald would want us to see. While Gatsby and what he stands for
is clearly the focus of the book, there is an argument for saying that
Nick is the main character. Gatsby doesn^t speak till the third
chapter and he dies after three-quarters of the book. Nick is the more
in depth character and since practically every part of the story is
related to us with his thoughts and his perceptions, it is hard for him
not to be. He is the character the reader leaves the story feeling
they understand and whose actions and judgements they support, unlike
Gatsby. He is the narrator but his involvement in the events, no
matter how much he tries to stay objective, make a difference.
Fitzgerald sets up Nick Carraway^s role as a character in his own
right, not just Fitzgerald^s mouthpiece.


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