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Nick Carraway’s Look at Man

Nick Carraway, the first character introduced in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, is primarily acts as the “guide and pathfinder”; he relates the story from what others have told him. He strives at all times to be objective, and his comments are balanced. His amusingly contemptuous remarks show his sense of humor, and although he is straight-laced, he does not bore the reader. Nick is introduced directly, but Gatsby remains a distant character for a good while. The establishment of Nick’s reflective, tolerant personality is essential, as are his limitations, so the reader doesn’t just dismiss him as Fitzgerald’s mouthpiece. The fact that he disapproves of Gatsby so early on helps the reader to go along with his judgments when he tells of Gatsby and unfolds the story.

The first mysterious glimpse of Gatsby prepares the reader for much of what is to come. The imagery of “silhouette,” “moonlight,” and “shadow” in this passage prepares the reader for Gatsby’s shadowy, dark character. Many more of his actions appear to the reader, and Nick, as “curious.” The fact he is‘ trembling’ shows he is intense in his emotions-- and none of this is for show; Gatsby believes he is alone. His concentration on the “single green light” represents his determination to succeed, his constant drive; everything is designed so he can be with Daisy. He then vanishes; echoing the end of the book.

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-- he has decency, which is well demonstrated in his efforts for Gatsby’s funeral. His down-to-earth character shows how superficial Daisy and Tom are. They are ruthlessly practical, where as Gatsby is a hopeless dreamer. Nick guides the reader between these two extremes while remaining a detached observer whilst being involved in the action-- “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 Nick says Gatsby has a “rare smile with a quality of eternal reassurance in it,” the reader knows his riches or parties, but is telling it to the reader straight aren’t charming Nick. His contempt for much of what Gatsby says, but also Nick’s tolerance, is emphasized when Nick doesn’t mock him-- ‘“I lived . . . trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.’ With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter.” The reader trusts Nick to judge what is genuine about Gatsby and to uncover what is a facade.

The reader has no choice but to identify with Nick. The other characters lack the dimension to trust them, which is what Fitzgerald is trying to demonstrate. Nick feels sympathy for Gatsby and his unattainable dream. Without Nick, the reader could perceive Gatsby as a corrupt man trying to disrupt an old girlfriend’s life. This would not be the whole truth, and not what Fitzgerald wants the reader to see.
While clearly Gatsby is the focus of the book as well as and what he stands for-- hope, romance, the twisted American Dream-- there is an argument for saying Nick is the main character. Gatsby does not speak until the third chapter, and he dies after three-quarters of the book. This of course is the only way Gatsby can go since his whole life was wrapped in Daisy and his dreams, and as he failed, there is no future for him. His unbalanced obsession left no room for anything else in his life. Nick is the more in depth character as practically every part of the story is related to the reader with his thoughts and his perceptions. He is the character the reader leaves the story feeling he understands and supports, unlike Gatsby. Nick acts as narrator, but his involvement in the events, no matter how much he tries to stay objective, make a difference. The skill of Fitzgerald shows when he establish Nick as a character in his own right, not just Fitzgerald’s mouthpiece.

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