How can we tell whether Nick is an objective narrator in The Great Gatsby?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While as narrator, Nick Carraway does declare that he "reserve(s) all judgments" and states, "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known," he does not always refrain from giving opinions, especially near the end of his narrative as realizes that he is thirty and he, like Jordan, is also "a bad driver." Nevertheless, he is a fairly objective narrator.

One way in which he attains objectivity is in presenting the reactions and dialogues of others, reserving his own comments and allowing readers to form their own assessments from the characters' own credibility or lack of credibility as they are measured against other characters. For instance, in developing the biography of Jay Gatsby, Nick describes Gatsby's parties and the reactions of various guests; he records the observations about Gatsby of different characters, such as Owl Eyes who remarks on the genuineness of Gatsby's library, but also compliments Gatsby's deception, "It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism!"; further, the racketeer Meyer Wolfschiem states that Gatsby "went to Oggsford College in England." Later, Nick hears from Gatsby that he attended Oxford, but Gatsby's credibility is shaken by an inaccurate timeline.

Likewise, in the character development of Daisy, Nick first gives his impression, then records Daisy's behavior and words; later, Jordan relates the story of Daisy's youthful past and her marriage to Tom. For example, Daisy's carelessness at the end of the novel is indicated earlier as in Chapter Seven when she flirts openly with Gatsby, kissing him while Tom is in another room; when Jordan says, "What a low, vulgar girl!" Daisy exclaims, "I don't care!"  

amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nick seems to be fairly objective and perceptive at the same time. Also, Nick's narration at times sounds like a 3rd person omniscient. Maybe a reason for this is that he is telling the story after it has happened: in hindsight. So, he's had time to reflect and study what's happened, giving more of an outside perspective. If Fitzgerald had Nick tell the story as it occurred, he'd have to have Nick reacting to each event as it unfolded. Instead, Nick is recounting the events with precise description. That's the stylistic reason. Nick himself, is self-described honest guy. And when he says this, it doesn't sound arrogant or pretentious; it just sounds like he's stating a fact about himself, one that actually makes it difficult (in a good way, I think) for him to fit in or conform with the people around him. 

Beginning of Chapter 1:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.

End of Chapter 3:

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

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The Great Gatsby

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