The novel is an initiation story rather than a classic coming-of-age narrative, since Nick Carraway is clearly an adult at the beginning of the novel. He has graduated from college, served in combat in World War I, and gone east to begin his career. During the story he has his thirtieth birthday. Even though he is an adult, however, Nick does grow in maturity and insight throughout the course of the novel as he is drawn into a lifestyle and a culture completely foreign to him. Nick is, in fact, the only dynamic character in the novel.
Since the novel employs a retrospective point of view, Nick as narrator begins the story in his mature voice. He has experienced much and learned from it; it has affected him deeply. Once a very non-judgmental person, Nick has developed deeper insights into human behavior; he has defined for himself a moral code:
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever . . . .
In regard to Gatsby's behavior, Nick says Gatsby "represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn," but he has determined that "Gatsby turned out all right at the end . . . ." The more mature Nick has realized that people are complicated, and their value lies deeper than their social roles or appearances.
As the story develops, the change in Nick occurs slowly but steadily. When he first went to the East, he was impressed with the beauty, glamour, and vast wealth in which Tom and Daisy lived. By the conclusion of the novel, his opinion has changed dramatically. Meeting Tom on the street, Nick does not want to even shake his hand, but does:
I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child.
Nick is no longer impressed with Tom Buchanan or his great wealth. He feels nothing but contempt for Tom and Daisy:
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made . . . .
Nick has changed a great deal from the young man who first drove over to have dinner with the Buchanans at their gorgeous estate in East Egg.
When Nick returned from the war, the Midwest had seemed like "the ragged edge of the universe," and when he first arrived in the East, he found it exciting and was "keenly aware of its superiority to the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio." By the conclusion of the novel, however, he chooses to go home:
That's my middle-west . . . I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name.
Nick turns his back on the East and goes back to the Midwest; he now knows where he belongs.