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In The Great Gatsby, describe the ambiguity in Nick's initial descriptions of Gatsby in...

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flakita | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 3, 2009 at 9:22 AM via web

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In The Great Gatsby, describe the ambiguity in Nick's initial descriptions of Gatsby in Chapter I.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 3, 2009 at 9:32 AM (Answer #1)

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Nick discusses Gatsby twice in Chapter I, in the beginning of the novel and at the conclusion of the chapter. His first references seem both ambiguous and contradictory. He points out that in some way he thoroughly disapproved of Gatsby: "[he] represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn." However, Nick adds that "Gatsby turned out all right at the end." The only clues Nick gives us in understanding this contradiction are Gatsby's "extraordinary gift for hope" and his "romantic readiness."

Nick sees Gatsby for the first time at the end of Chapter I. Gatsby stands alone on his lawn, reaching out "in a curious way" toward the ocean and a green light across the bay. It appears to Nick that Gatsby trembles. Again, Nick's description of Gatsby creates many questions for the reader. Gatsby is presented as a mystery from the very beginning of the novel.

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rshaffer | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted March 3, 2009 at 9:53 AM (Answer #2)

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On the one hand, Nick  says that Gatsby “represented everything” for which he had “an unaffected scorn."  At the same time, he finds in him “something gorgeous,” a dream quality with “some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.”  This sets up the ambiguity in Nick's description because it is a paradox.  Nick sees Gatsby as a racketeer, which morally goes against everything that Nick represents, but also he see Gatsby as an "incurable romantic" who acquired his corrupted wealth for the sole purpose of winning Daisy's love.  The ambiguity is that Nick detests the ill-gotten wealth in most, but in Gatsby, he sees him as a great man and tells him that he is worth the “whole rotten bunch put together.”

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