Nick is quite drunk as he, Tom, Myrtle, and the others sit in the apartment and drink. He would like to leave but feels he cannot; he tries to but “became entangled in some wild strident argument which pulled [him] back, as if with ropes, into [his] chair” (40). He feels as if everything going on in the apartment can be seen by strangers on the street, and that he is one of those strangers, so that he while he is a participant in this scene, he is also an observer of this. All that he sees seems bizarre, without sense, and rather surrealistic or dreamlike: things happening without clear meaning. The sense of experiencing himself within and without a situation suggests a very modern view of the world, something that WEB Dubois would call a “double consciousness,” and it is brought about by doing something that is meaningless to him and knowing it is meaningless but doing it anyway. He is experiencing an intense alienation, feeling that he is an “insider” to all that is going on because he is part of the group simply by his presence, but he is also an “outsider” because he does not share the values or understand the dynamics. Nick's role as narrator involves this double view throughout: he participates in the events while he also pulls his away to view them and report on them.
Fitzgerald grew up in the poorest house in the richest section of Minneapolis. His house was on the corner and he saw the latest displays of wealth such as nice new cars of his neighbors pass by on the both sides as he felt his place in this society as precarious at best. He was technically “in” but he knew where his family stood. He was described as the kind of kid that would go to a lavish party and have fun but still be stunned about how such a party gets paid for.
This is Nick for us. He is both participant and observer/critic. FSF allows us to both fall into the lavish world and wish we were there, but also feel the disgust at the lack of depth of the people involved. This is what makes great writing. He gives the reader room to choose. Twain, Shakespeare, Crane, Faulkner and Fitzgerald all present the reader the final say, without letting know they are making a choice.
Now just watch for Nick to choose which world he desires more.