In The Great Gatsby, what are some ways or examples that Nick conforms outwardly, while questioning inwardly?I am supposed to analyze how the tension between his outward conformity and inward...

In The Great Gatsby, what are some ways or examples that Nick conforms outwardly, while questioning inwardly?

I am supposed to analyze how the tension between his outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the meaning of the book as a whole.

Asked on by daparrot1

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susan3smith's profile pic

susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Throughout the novel, Nick judges the characters somewhat harshly, yet he does not voice his objections. He continues to see Jordan even after he has realized that she is a cheater at golf.  He accompanies Tom to visit Myrtle even though he "wants the world to stand at moral attention;" he helps arrange an illicit meeting between Daisy and Gatsby, knowing that Daisy is a married woman.  He seems to disprove of the drunken party at Myrtle's apartment, but he gets just as drunk as the rest of them.  All these examples show Nick's outward conformity.  He does what he is requested to do without showing his true reluctance.

Nick is a passive character, and there are many instances of that passivity.  He no longer cares for the girl back home, but he continues to write to her and sign his letters "love Nick."  He lets his relationship with Jordan slowly drift away without telling her why he is upset with her.

But perhaps the best example of the tension that you are asking about comes at the end of the novel, when Nick meets up with Tom after Gatsby's death.

I couldn't forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.  It was all very careless and confused.  They were careless people, Tom and Daisy . . .

And yet, with this disproving stand, Nick shakes hands with Tom, never telling Tom the truth about the accident.  This action seems to be the most blatant and inexcusable sign of conformity.  Nick, even here, refuses to take a stand, and goes so far to shake the hand of the man who caused the murder of Gatsby.

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Definitely one time he does this is with Jordan Baker. He senses real dishonesty in her.  In fact, Nick senses dishonesty or some type of corruption in all the characters.  He claims himself as "one of the few honest people he's ever known."  And he rationalizes the situation he is in with Jordan Baker because he's intrigued and/or attracted to her, saying "dishonesty in a woman is a thing you can never blame too deeply."

In general, Nick justifies Gatsby's rash and careless behavior because he sees in him an innocent and naïve boy from the Midwest who doesn't clearly realize the implications of his actions.  In fact, Gatsby is the character Nick most relates to and Nick is quick to forgive any of Gatsby's careless behavior because Gatsby's reason for doing so is out of love, an ignorant, innocent attempt to reclaim the past. 

Nick does eventually come to portray his outward disgust with his inward feelings, notably with Tom at the end of the novel when he refuses to shake his hand. 

So, Nick conforms outwardly and questions inwardly with Jordan but mostly with Gatsby. But, probably the most overt reference to Nick conforming outwardly and inwardly being repelled by a situation occurs in Chapter 2 when Tom strikes Myrtle and Nick is "simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life." 

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