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What do Nick's judgements reveal about himself in "Chapter III" of The Great Gatsby?

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cassiejean | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 14, 2009 at 9:24 PM via web

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What do Nick's judgements reveal about himself in "Chapter III" of The Great Gatsby?

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cfett | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted May 15, 2009 at 10:57 AM (Answer #1)

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First, remember that Nick is consistently a judgmental narrator, though chapter three does reveal some aspects of his character that we as readers have not seen until this point in the novel.  During chapter three, Nick encounters quite the motley crew; because he, for the first time, attends one of Gatsby's parties, he has the opportunity to judge many new people at once.  At first, his overall response to the number of guests at Gatsby's parties is one of awe and intrigue ("[...] men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars"), then he begins to make more critical judgments as he meets additional characters.  For example, when Nick and Jordan encounter "Owl Eyes" in the library, they listen to the drunk man in astonishment, then interrupt him as he begins, for a second time, to tell them about the books.  Their abrupt escape from the library suggests Nick and Jordan share a mutual feeling of indifference when it comes to Owl Eyes. 

Nick, as narrator, also conveys judgments and emotions that are unique to his character.  At the beginning of chapter three, Nick describes the scene at Gatsby's as full of people who "[...] [conduct] themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks."  However, after he "[...] [takes] two finger-bowls of champagne [...], the scene [changes] before [his] eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound."  Though Nick continues to be leery of most of the party's guests, one -- the host, Gatsby -- actually impresses him.  Once he meets Gatsby, even before he realizes who Gatsby is, Nick finds his smile one of the friendliest he's ever known, and after their introduction, Nick continues to narrate, "It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life."  Nick's fascination with Jay Gatsby begins.

The champagne doesn't completely hinder Nick from sharing his more negative judgments, however.  Once he, with a crowd from Gatsby's party, sees Owl Eyes and his drunk driver have managed to amputate the wheel from their car in a careless accident, it is apparent that Nick has some distaste for the whole situation.  He would most likely compare these party-goers to Tom and Daisy, when he, at the end of the novel, analyzes the married couple as being careless.

After Gatsby's party, Nick becomes more romantic in every sense of the word.  He begins to love New York, "the racy, adventurous feel of it, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye."  Also, by the end of chapter three, Nick begins to develop romantic feelings for Jordan Baker, though she is "incurably dishonest." 

Overall, in chapter three, we as readers realize -- even more -- the extent of Nick's critical nature, but we realize even more that Gatsby suddenly has a profound influence on Nick's outlook on life.  After the party, Nick seems to approach his new life differently and with the same sort of hope for the future that we, later in the novel, realize Gatsby has, too.  Though Nick's attitude and tone change depending on the circumstances, he remains critical of others and confident in the alluring power of Gatsby.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted May 15, 2009 at 11:11 AM (Answer #2)

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Nick's judgements about Gatsby's party and Jordan Baker both reveal the same thing:  Nick is an honest and honorable Midwesterner who finds the recklessness of the "Roaring Twenties" to be disconcerting.  This chapter deals mostly with the crazy antics at Gatsby's parties, so Nick's judgements about them are interesting to say the least.  Nick doesn't speak of these events as if they are "normal," "usual," and "everyday" as many of the attendees of Gatsby's parties might.  Instead, he reports each fact or event with a sort of surprise that I interpret as if his eyebrows were profoundly raised.  For example, even the most mundane thing becomes surprising to Nick:

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York--every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. (39)

This, of course, is not normalcy.  Neither is Gatsby's party scene:

The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names. (40)

Nick, always the objective observer, looks upon these parties with great interest and much the same as we look on them today:  not quite understanding the "roar" of the twenties.  We look at the scene as outsiders and feel for Nick because he is an outsider as well.  These judgements show for sure that Nick is not really a part of this crowd and, as we may suspect, he vows to go back to the Midwest by the end of the novel.

Although a totally different situation, Nick's conversation with Jordan leads us, as readers, to the same end.  Jordan, of course, almost kills a roadside worker:

"You're a rotten driver," I protested.  "Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn't to drive at all."

"I am careful."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted.  "It takes two to make an accident."

Here is a stock example of a true twenties flapper conversing with a down-home Midwesterner.  Nick, of course, passes a powerful judgement and Jordan, being as light as a feather (as many flappers were), shrugged that powerful judgement right off.  This shows that Nick takes pride in being "careful" and "honest" and "true."  In the twenties (and perhaps even today) people like Nick are a rare breed.

Noelle Thompson

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