What are the advantages or effects, in The Great Gatsby, of the writer characterizing Nick Carraway as the first person narrator and a character in the novel?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nick has been an eye witness to everything but it is his honesty that makes him a reliable narrator. In fact, Nick prides himself on his honesty, but not to the point of being proud. He gives us an objective point of view, both in narration and in his interactions with the other characters. Nick, the narrator, tells the story from the outside frame, in retrospect. Nick, the character, is actually in the story. It is because of this duality and Nick's honesty that we don't get a biased, character's perspective. What we get is more of the author's perspective. However, using Nick to narrate allows Fitzgerald to use this objective point of view without he himself (Fitzgerald) intruding into the narration and the story. 

Nick reminds himself, in the opening lines of the novel, a lesson from his father which is to “reserve all judgments.” He practices this. It's what makes him a reliable narrator. He also (and this is more Fitzgerald's way of telling the story) allows characters to develop before making any such judgments. For example, he doesn't say a thing about Gatsby's alter-ego until later in the novel, after the reader has had a chance to consider things for herself. He reserves judgment and he reserves information that might lead to prejudgment. 

In this novel, the writer’s characterization of Nick brings out an ‘artistic unity’ to the novel, in addition to his excellence in symbolism. The form and content of this novel unite inseparably in an artistic whole, while the narrative structure spreads as chronology, juxtaposition and point of view.  Nick’s -- the first person narrator’s – involvement in the novel as a character helps the reader to understand the personal points of view of the writer himself. Further, Nick’s characterization gives the novel a condensed form and dramatic vigour to the novel because all the actions of the main characters are filtered through Nick’s over-reserved judgements and through his nostalgia.

At the same time the writer takes the advantage of not allowing Nick to overwhelm the significance of the main character Gatsby but Nick is created as a central figure equally to Gatsby. This limited involvement of Nick in the novel allows him to report the events fully and directly to the reader while remaining outside the events and actions of the socially flawed characters. (“both within and without” – Nick – Chapter 2). For instance, the writer couldn’t agree with the character Gatsby for his belief of redeeming the love of Daisy by his amassed wealth but Fitzgerald respects for his true nature of his love he had on Daisy by arranging a meeting of them in a tea through Nick. In this arrangement of plotting, we are able to understand the sympathy of the writer through Nick on Gatsby.

Next, Nick fulfills the need of the writer of a sincere, flawless character with moralistic excellence to show his grumbling about the betrayal of the American Dream. We hear the reserved judgements of the writer about other characters through Nick. Nick’s moralistic excellence is shown when he refuses the offer from Gatsby of arranging some shady business connection with Wolfhiem. (Chapter 5).

Although Nick comes to East to earn some wealth, he gives up this thought, because he realizes that he can no longer tolerate the moral derailment that lies beneath the wealth and sophistication of the society in East Egg, and returns to the Middle-west. This enlightenment shows Nick as the only enlightened round character in this novel. By sending this round character back to West-egg, the writer portrays his sad plight and the theme of the novel “The betrayal of the American Dream” to the reader very sensitively. His message that the complete selfishness which motivates the society is not going to help in any way not only in the fulfillment of the American Dream but also even in achieving their corrupted materialism. With this notion, Fitzgerald shows Gatsby a better person than the Buchanans, Wilsons and others.

Thus, we can conclude that characterization of Nick serves the novel in getting an “artistic unity”, unison of form and content, chronology, juxtaposition, point of view, a condensed form and the dramatic vigour to it. Further the writer is benefitted in many ways. He focuses the theme of the novel very nimbly, does not allow Nick to overwhelm Gatsby, reports the events through Nick staying outside, shows sympathy on Gatsby and gets a sincere character with moralistic excellence. In a nutshell, the writer himself moves “within” Nick Carraway and saves his impartiality in this novel.                                                               676 (10-06-2012)


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The Great Gatsby

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