In the Chapter I of The Great Gatsby, what is the purpose of the introductory section?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The novel begins with Nick Carraway introducing himself to the reader, commenting upon the concept of romanticism, and then turning his memories to a mysterious someone named Gatsby. Nick recalls Gatsby as having possessed "an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness" greater than any Nick had ever encountered and never expected to find again. He then makes this intriguing observance:

No--Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it was what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

The passage acts as a very effective narrative hook in the novel's beginning, raising several questions for the reader: In what way did Gatsby turn out "all right"? At the end of what? What dangerous force "preyed" on Gatsby creating "foul dust" in relation to his dreams? What could have happened that affected Nick so deeply that he was no longer interested in others' pain and brief happiness? The narrative hook creates mystery.

Before telling the story of his experience with Gatsby, however, Nick continues to tell the reader more about himself, his Midwestern background, and the Carraway family. He mentions his college education and his having gone to World War I. He explains why he left home to go to the East and begin a career in finance.

This part of the introductory section is very important because it establishes Nick's character; he is a responsible young man from a traditional family of several generations rooted in Midwestern values. Thus when Nick lives in New York, he is an outsider observing a different culture, viewing it and eventually judging people and events through the prism of his own Midwestern moral code. The contrast between the East and the Midwest/West functions as an essential motif in the novel, and its primary themes are rooted in it.

 

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