Describe Nick in The Great Gatsby. What facts do you know about him, and what do you infer about him? What kind of narrator do you think he will be?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Nick comes from a privileged background. This Midwesterner is a graduate of an Ivy League college at a time when the majority of people didn't graduate from high school. Nick's father bankrolls his start in the New York financial sector. He falls in easily with the wealthy Buchanans: Daisy is his cousin, and Tom is a college friend. Notably, Tom unhesitatingly includes Nick as a "Nordic," part of, to Tom's mind, the superior race.

While Nick is class-conscious, for instance recognizing that Gatsby's pink suits are garish or mentally poking fun at him for claiming to big-game hunt in Europe (the big game was actually in India or Africa), Nick, unlike Tom, is able to transcend class and see the good in Gatsby.

Nick is a lonely romantic who wanders the streets of New York some evenings after work looking longingly into people's windows. He has blind spots, which make him an unreliable narrator: for example, he explains honesty as his "cardinal" virtue in a passage where he essentially confesses to leading on the girlfriend in the Midwest he is no longer interested in.

Nick's sense of the romantic, the possibility and potential for life to be better than it is, leads him to respond strongly to the trait of romantic "readiness" in Gatsby. Nick is the good listener, the person who observes, which makes him an apt narrator of events. In the end, his romantic tendencies lead to disillusion but also the ability to see Gatsby's greatness in his pursuit of his dream.

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e-martin eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Nick presents himself as a person of some ambition, privileged background (snobbishly moral in his description), and discusses how he thinks he was viewed by his peers in college. 

People accused him of being a politician because he was agreeable and was in the confidence of many people. 

Nick does not see this tendency as a strength. In fact, he learns to avoid people through various means when he feels they are about to confide in him. Furthermore, the moral gem that Nick's father once shared with him is challenged by these confessions of "wild, unknown men". 

His father told him that not everyone was born with the same amount of moral sense. 

His father also told him, prophetically, that “a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.”

While Nick suggests he would like to maintain a hopeful view of people, he admits that he has lost patience in this effort. He does not adhere to his father's bit of wisdom in his dealings with people because he has been privy to too many secrets from people who never seem to redeem themselves. 

This complex attitude is expressed at turns implicitly and explicitly in the opening section of the novel. 

Nick also reflects on his somewhat naive aspirations for his summer in the east. This innocent dreaming becomes significant as we later encounter the great dreamer, Jay Gatsby, and Nick finds a connection between himself and this grand figure.

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favoritethings eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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We know that Nick fought in World War I, which he calls the "Great War," and that he "came back restless," no longer thinking of the Midwest as a warm, important place and feeling the need to go somewhere else, somewhere bigger and busier. So, he moved to New York to "learn the bond business." He, likewise, tells us that he has a high tolerance for people, even those who behave badly, because of the advice his father gave him a long time ago: that "a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth."

However, Nick also shares that his patience "has a limit." We can infer that he reached this limit when dealing with many of the people in the story he is about to share, especially as he says that "Only Gatsby . . . was exempt from [his] reaction." Despite the fact that Gatsby embodies "everything for which [Nick has] an unaffected scorn," he credits Gatsby with a kind of hope, a kind of innocence and romanticism and naivety that make him special.

From this information, we might surmise that Nick is not going to be a very reliable narrator. We have inferred that he has grown intolerant of everyone in this story but Jay Gatsby, and so he is more likely to represent them in a negative light while more likely to focus on Gatsby's positive attributes.

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