How does Nick evolve as a narrator/character throughout The Great Gatsby? 

1 Answer | Add Yours

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

When Nick arrives on the east coast, he has ideas about becoming sophisticated. He even thinks he may become an intellectual. However, as the novel progresses, Nick finds himself identifying with Jay Gatsby.

Nick brings a certain naivete with him to the east, but this innocence of perspective is irrevocably damaged by his experiences in the rich sets of East Egg and West Egg. 

He muses on the loss of his innocence and youth when he is with her on his thirtieth birthday and sees himself driving on a road “toward death through the cooling twilight.” 

Increasingly, Nick finds that the values Gatsby represents (intentionally and unintentionally) are more worthwhile than those represented by the other people Nick encounters (Tom, Daisy, Jordan, etc.). 

Nick comes to see Gatsby as a dreamer who has managed to keep some of his innocence intact. Gatsby believes that he can recapture the past, that he can have a true love with Daisy after all that has gone on, and he refuses to compromise his vision in favor of prudence or practicality. He insists on his dream.

Gatsby is fixated on achieving a very specific and romantic goal. He does not see himself the way others see him, as a bootlegger, a "social striver", and a farce.

His ignorance of his real greatness and misunderstanding of his notoriety endear him to Nick, who tells him he is better than the “whole rotten bunch put together.”

Nick's changing attitudes regarding Gatsby demonstrate the ways that his character evolves. Valuing sophistication and glamour initially, Nick comes to appreciate the elusive virtue of the dedicated dreamer - plain innocence. 

In order for Nick to come to recognize this quality in Gatsby, he has to sift through the lies and the pretense of Gatsby's life, while doing the same regarding Daisy, Jordan, and Tom. This requires a greater willingness to suspend judgement than Nick begins with. It also requires an ability to empathize. 

Empathy, for Nick, is a trait that he implicitly claims from the outset but which really only emerges in Nick after he begins to see the complexities of Jay Gatsby's character. 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,944 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question