Nick Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby, but is he a good observer or is he an "unreliable narrator"?

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dashing-danny-dillinger eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I find that Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is not as reliable as he would have readers believe. Nick's biased perspective becomes obvious within the first two chapters of the text. First, Nick is narrating a series of events in which he remains largely detached from the action. He is merely an observer to the events that surround him. One interesting point that draws attention to Nick's unreliable nature is when he gets drunk in Chapter 2:

"I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it, although until after eight o'clock the apartment was full of cheerful sun" (30).

He admits that the events are "hazy," yet he still narrates.

Next, Nick admires Gatsby openly, and therefore the way in which he frames events should be questioned. He considers Gatsby a hero, and his deep regard and curiosity for the eccentric character shows in his initial description in Chapter 1:

"If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.... It was 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" (8).

This is the first mention of Gatsby. Nick places Gatsby on a pedestal, and this renders his perspective questionable.

Moreover, any first-person narrator should immediately be considered suspect by readers because he or she naturally has a subjective perspective. No matter how fair or objective first-person narrators seem, they tend to show bias in some respects. For more information on unreliable narrators, consult Wayne C. Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction and William Riggan's Pícaros, Madmen, Naīfs, and Clowns: The Unreliable First-person Narrator.

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The Great Gatsby

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