Identify and discuss the first person narrative point of view of Nick Caraway and its importance to The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald.
Nick Caraway, Gatsby's next-door neighbor, tells the story of the summer he encountered Gatsby, Jordan, Tom, and Daisy from his own point of view. This enhances the story because Nick is a lyrical writer who pulls us in with his beautiful words.
On the other hand, because the story is told in an "I" voice from Nick's point of view, it's subjective, and we learn that Nick is an unreliable narrator. We're not getting an objective story told by a disinterested party, say a newspaper reporter. Nick, as he tells us, is drawn in by Gatsby in spite of himself, and the story conveys his admiration for Gatsby's charm and his single-minded pursuit of his dream:
If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.… [Gatsby had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.
Nick also hates Tom and seldom misses a chance to take a shot at him for being a rich, racist, and violent man whose glory days were on the college football team. So perhaps we're getting an unfair picture of the characters: is Gatsby worse and Tom better than Nick makes them out to be? Nick also states quite openly that the story he narrates wasn't the central part of his summer: primarily he was at work in Manhattan, not on Long Island. He may have missed important parts of the action. What story might Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, or even Jordan be able to tell that Nick can't?
Finally, Nick is blind to himself in many ways. He says he is honest, that honesty is one of his "cardinal" virtues, but we know he is dishonest about his girlfriend back home. Many people, including Daisy and Tom, have heard the rumor that Nick is engaged to this woman, and Nick himself alludes to stringing her along without being seriously interested in her. He says he doesn't like her so much, remembering the way sweat would form a mustache on her upper lip after a game of tennis. Fitzgerald didn't create this backstory for no reason: he did it to suggest Nick's unreliability as a narrative voice.
In sum, we love the way Nick seduces us with his beautiful words, but we don't always trust what those words say.