How does Scott Fitzgerald create a reliable narrator in the opening of the novel? How is Nick Carraway described as a reliable narrator?Okay.. well basically I have a few ideas but I'm having...

How does Scott Fitzgerald create a reliable narrator in the opening of the novel? How is Nick Carraway described as a reliable narrator?

Okay.. well basically I have a few ideas but I'm having trouble elaborating on them. Here are my ideas:


1) A hint to Nick's true moral character is given on the first page of the novel when he misunderstands his father's advice. His father said, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.” I've wrote how Nick doesn't pass judgement on people and therefore he doesn't give first impressions - meaning this makes him reliable.

2) Nick states he was "Unjustly accused of being a politician" -- politicians in this era were respected so I'm wondering if it would be a good idea to use this as evidence. Elaboration on on the quotation would be nice too.

The points need to be within the first few pages of Chapter I (7-10ish) and I'd appreciate any sort of help. Thank you very much :)


Expert Answers
clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you've started with some great ideas in your first point.  I'd go with what you have there, but I'd change the final point you make about "not giving first impressions."  Everyone gives a first impression - and even Nick Carraway makes initial judgments on the people he meets.  I think instead, what you want to say here is that he never relies on his first impressions as completely accurate, or, he always gives people the benefit of the doubt, or, he is able to basically see people for who they are and still like them.

Think about the dinner party where he reunites with Daisy.  He's introduced to Jordan Baker - and while he finds her attractive, in the same thought, he knows she will never be someone with whom he could maintain a satisfying long term relationship.  In short, she's shallow.  Keep in mind that based on the advice his father gave him as a kid, this characteristic is completely conscious.  As a narrator - he tells us exactly who these people are (immorality and ignorance included), but because he's so likeable and nonjudgmental of everything, they end up trusting him.

Instead of using the 2nd idea about being wrongly thought of as a politician - I'd go to the very next sentence: "Most of the confidences were unsought."  The politician line is in reference to the fact that he seems to be the holder of everyone's secrets - not necessarily that he was "respected" as a politician (and note, political positions have always been respected, but even in the 20s there was corruption in politics).  What Nick is trying to say is that, for reasons he cannot understand, people feel comfortable telling him their innermost secrets.  People are always opening up to him.  He doesn't ask for it.  He certainly doesn't put himself in situations to receive it - but it just keeps happening.

Nick is one of those all around good natured, but somewhat quiet individuals.  He doesn't do a lot of complaining.  He probably enjoys having a good time but is never the life of the party.  In the world of materialism and richness that he is part of he is not very materialistic.  He is not an attention seeker in any way.  These are the small but important details that make people trust and open up to him - and make him a reliable narrator.  He calls things like he sees them, he is smart and experienced, but deep down, nothing really bothers him.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Concerning The Great Gatsby, I'm afraid you're trying to prove an argument that isn't true or accurate.  Nick is not a reliable narrator.  He is an unreliable narrator. 

You refer to the opening pages of the novel as if they prove Nick is reliable.  They don't.  They prove the opposite.  Nick is condescending and thinks he is better than others.  He feels cozy and superior in his Midwestern values taught to him by his father.  The fact that he is always ready to make exceptions for others and not judge others, means that he thinks he is better than others.  You don't have to make exceptions for others because they haven't had the breaks you've had, if you're not better than they are.  Who is Nick to determine who gets breaks and who doesn't?  His attitude is one of superiority.  He is deceived at best and hypocritical at worst. 

He sees himself as the one people confide in, as a peacemaker.  And whose word do we have for that?  Nick's, and Nick's only. 

He judges Tom before he even meets him again, even though he hasn't seen him since college.  He relates his first impressions of Jordan, which are negative, even though he starts out the novel telling the reader that he doesn't make first impressions.  He is an outsider looking in, but he does more than look.  He becomes emotionally involved in the plot.  No emotionally involved first-person narrator is unbiased and objective. 

Everything in the novel is seen through Nick's perspective.  There is no reality in the novel except Nick's reality.  His unreliability is highlighted by his starting his narrative telling the reader how reliable he is!  His unreliability is the point!  Don't underestimate Fitzgerald.  This is a serious work of art.  Nick is not some make-believe, perfect, innocent Midwestern kid with perfect judgment.  He is a multi-faceted literary character representing actual human beings, not fairy tale innocents.  This is a serious, complex work of art. 

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The Great Gatsby

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