Fitzgerald is careful to set the tone from the start in introducing the main characters. Nick is presented as a listener, an observer, a steady, modest Midwesterner who has been taught not to flaunt his privileges. The initial implication is that we can rely on him as a storyteller...
Fitzgerald is careful to set the tone from the start in introducing the main characters. Nick is presented as a listener, an observer, a steady, modest Midwesterner who has been taught not to flaunt his privileges. The initial implication is that we can rely on him as a storyteller and narrator of events.
Nick, however, presents each character through the lens of his own prejudice. He is careful from the start to speak of Gatsby as larger than life, as a "gorgeous" dreamer who transcends the "foul dust" of the people around him. From the outset, Gatsby is cast in a mythic glow. Fitzgerald's technique is to have Gatsby hover as a disembodied presence in chapter one, more concept than person. He is not introduced in the flesh until later in the novel. In chapter one, he is a mystery, mentioned but not concretized.
In contrast, Nick paints Tom Buchanan in a solid and slightly contemptuous way from the start. Tom might be vastly wealthy, owning a string of polo ponies, but his glory days were as a college football player and are already behind him. He is depicted as a man of limited intellect who spreads misery: in chapter one, we learn he is having an affair. Nick shows him to us immediately in all his physicality, from his pose with legs apart, overlooking his domain as its master, to his racist dialogue about "Nordics."
Nick also introduces us to Daisy and Jordan in the flesh, characterizing from the beginning Jordan's cool pose of detachment in the lift of her chin, and Daisy's charm. Yet the women also have an ethereal, otherworldly quality, seemingly blown about the room in their white dresses as if they are on a journey, with the billowing of the white curtains like the billowing of sails and the wine carpet like the "wine-dark sea" in The Odyssey. Similarly to Gatsby, though shown in the flesh, they are both a little mysterious. Daisy, especially, troubles Nick. He returns from his evening feeling she has put on an act and "played" him somehow.
With these four characters, our perceptions will build from our first impressions. We are primed from the start to like Gatsby, dislike Tom, and find the women enigmatic.