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Explain what Fitzgerald achieves by using Nick's point of view to tell Gatsby's story.

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zoeyy | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted September 12, 2011 at 9:13 PM via web

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Explain what Fitzgerald achieves by using Nick's point of view to tell Gatsby's story.

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted September 13, 2011 at 2:19 AM (Answer #1)

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Numerous answers exist to your question about what the author gains by creating Nick as the narrator of The Great Gatsby.  He gains a narrator, a narrator who is a part of the action, and a narrator who on the surface is an outsider who can objectively describe the shortcomings of the eastern characters.  The author gains a persona who can contrast his midwestern ways with the eastern ways of the other characters.  The author gains a persona who experiences for the first time much of what he describes:  parties like Gatsby's, mansions like Gatsby's, gangsters, etc. 

Perhaps more interestingly, complexity and ambiguity are gained by the use of Nick as the narrator.  Fitzgerald creates an unreliable narrator when he creates Nick.  Nick is not objective (he judges Tom based on their acquaintance when they were in college, judges Jordan before he's even introduced to her, etc.); thinks he's better than other people (you don't have to try so hard not to judge others if you don't inherently think you are better than them); and is not really an outsider (he knows Tom and Daisy before the present of the novel opens, and is, in fact, Daisy's cousin). 

Nick's personality and character are also questionable:  he dates the amoral Jordan, even though he has judged her as such (as well judging her to be a snob), and he doesn't notify the authorities that Daisy, his cousin, is the person who was driving the car that kills Mrs. Wilson. 

The fact is that everything we know about the characters in the novel is filtered through an unreliable narrator's eyes.  That's complexity and ambiguity.  We don't have a story in the form of a novel, we have a story as seen by and told by Nick.  He, therefore, is central to the novel. 

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