In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s main innovation was to introduce a first person narrator and protagonist whose consciousness filters the story’s events. This device was not a total invention since a character through whose eyes and mind the central protagonist is discovered is to be found in two of Conrad’s books : Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. As usual with this device, the main protagonist remains strange and shady. This technique reinforces the mystery of the characters. The second advantage is that the mediation of a character-witness permits a play between the real and the imaginary. This indirect approach is inherited from Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hence, it is difficult to distinguish between true representation and fantasizing. For Emerson, vision was more important than the real world.
The story is narrated through a ‘modified’ first person viewpoint :
it is not the main protagonist (Gatsby) who recounts his own story but a secondary character, Nick Carraway, who is successively suspicious, wary and eventually fascinated by Gatsby. Nick is not trustworthy, not fully reliable : he oscillates.
whenever Nick cannot obtain a first hand version of facts, he does not hesitate to quote other sources. For instance, Gatsby’s love affair is told by Jordan Baker (chap.4 p80). Nick reports her words but the problem is that she is said to be a liar : how far can she be trusted ?
Nick is obliged to reconstruct an event through the collage of different testimonies. Nick uses his logical mind to come up with a definitive story, result of words that have been filtered by different minds.
Nick is not a random choice, it is very well calculated. He was the best possible witness to let the reader discover Gatsby. Indeed, through coincidence, he happens to be Gatsby’s next-door neighbor (p11). Besides, Nick has not vested interest in hobnobbing Gatsby. He has no axe to grind. Yet, without being acquainted with Gatsby, Nick is nonetheless a relative of Daisy and consequently introduced to the Buchanans and to Gatsby’s story.
The introduction of a first-person narrator who reflects the main protagonist’s personality is the best way to conjure up a sense of mystery that cannot be solved. When all bas been said and done the fact is that Gatsby remains elusive, indiscernible and unfathomable. Therefore the character’s myth is never ever broken up.