In The Great Gatsby, how does Nick Carraway perceive and construct himself as a subject, the social factors that influence and inhibit the formation of his subjectivity and how he is perceived by...

In The Great Gatsby, how does Nick Carraway perceive and construct himself as a subject, the social factors that influence and inhibit the formation of his subjectivity and how he is perceived by others in the context of his culture?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think one distinct way in which Nick perceives and constructs himself as a subject can be seen in the novel's exposition.  Nick's opening of the novel might reflect how he comes to perceive and construct himself: 

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 the world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Through this, Nick establishes how he refrains from placing judgments on people.  Within the understanding of perceived self- reflective tolerance and taking his father's advice to its natural consequence, Nick's subjectivity reigns supreme.  He does not see beyond his own condition in judging others.  This almost relativistic approach prevents him from judging others while enabling him to move freely amongst people:

In consequence [of what his father told him] 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.

Nick perceives and constructs him as a result of "reserving all judgments" and makes him able to connect significant characters in the narrative.  Since Nick does not pass judgments, he is able to "earn" the trust of the other characters.  This represents the convergence between his own inability to pass judgments and how others perceive him. Nick is able to fluidly enter their worlds and is not precluded because of his tendency to "reserve all judgments."  

Fitzgerald might be suggesting that one of the challenges in the culture of the 1920s, a time period where "anything went," is that individual conviction went with it. In a judgment or a conviction- based belief, something real is evident.  Nick does not display these to others.  Whether it is because of adhering to the conditions of his father or as a result of his own utility in being well liked, the reality is that Nick is in line with the social conditions that prevent a sense of conviction and belief in the time period.  Nick is able to display a sense of relativism towards others that is a significant part of the social condition in the "Jazz Age."  In this light, social factors can be seen as playing a role in the way Nick perceives and constructs himself.

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