How is Nick, in The Great Gatsby, like Charlie Wales in "Babylon Revisited"?
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While Nick and Charlie are mostly very different (Charlie is an alcoholic, abusive, arrogant; Nick is the opposite), they do have similar roles in their respective novels. Nick and Charlie both perform the narrator's role. They both have money and/or jobs because of the New York Stock Exchange. They both move for the context of the story from someplace westerly in America to someplace easterly. Nick moves from the American Midwest to New York's Long island. Charlie moves from America to Paris. Both are disillusioned in the end by the promise of incorruptible power and wealth alive in America in the 1920s.
In Fitzgerald's two narratives, The Great Gatsby and "Babylon Revisited," there is certainly a jarring sense of time that, along with the lack of perspectives, remove the certainties of life. For Nick Carraway as well as for Charlie Wales, the narratives in which they are involved are affected by these lack of certainties in life. Here are some similarities between the two characters:
- Although flawed, both men are concerned with honorable behavior.
Introducing himself as narrator, Nick declares ironically that he is "inclined to reserve all judgements," and in Chapter 3, he states that he is "one of the few honest people that I have ever known." However, in this same chapter he excuses dishonesty in a woman as "a thing you never blame deeply." And, later in the novel, Nick becomes complicit in dissipated behavior as he accompanies Tom Buchanan to New York where Tom unites with his mistress; then late in the evening, he accompanies Mr. McKee to his room and does not leave until the next morning.
However, later in the narrative, Nick who has become a "bad driver"himself, reclaims his self-respect by disassociating himself from Jordan Baker as well as Daisy and Tom Buchanan, whom he judges as "careless people." His estimation of Jay Gatsby has been elevated because he understands the honorable intentions that underlie Gatsby's actions. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together!" he shouts in Chapter 8. In the end, therefore, the value of honor again prevails for Nick Carraway, although it has been compromised.
Certainly, Charlie Wales vacillates in integrity, also. Having abandoned it in the days of his wealthy excess as an expatriate in Paris, Charlie costs himself his wife and child. So, years later he stops his drinking (except for one a day) and returns from Prague to Paris in the hope of honorably presenting himself to his sister-in-law in order to reclaim custody of his little girl. His mistake of having one drink a day in the Ritz, however, re-introduces friends from the past who encroach upon his present honorable intentions. For, Marion rejects his custody claim on Honoria. This result leaves Charlie alienated, just as Nick has become alienated from the East Egg crowd whose only value is wealth and its accompanying materialism.
- With both men, there is a subjective consciousness
Shards of the past impeding Charlie's success in attaining his daughter Honoria, leave him damaged and alienated, as he seeks some guiding structure by which he can prove himself. At the story's end as Charlie sits in the Ritz, he ponders subjectively,
He would come back....they couldn't make him pay forever. But, he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now....He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn't have wanted him to be so alone.
Certainly, Nick is not as objective a narrator as he claims to be, having been complicit in some of the activities of his neighbors. In the end he, like Charlie, is also damaged; similarly, Nick resorts to critical sentiment in his disillusionment with the superficiality of the wealthy, the "careless people."
Gatsby believed in the green light....It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms father....And one fine morning--
- With the elusiveness of time, both men are in pursuit of a goal that moves farther away.
At the conclusion, Charlie considers, "He wasn't young anymore...and dreams to have by himself." Nick observes, We beat on...against the current."
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