In the prologue of The Great Gatsby, we see that Nick has arrived at a definite point of awareness. How can I trace his developing consciousness in the novel? How does he function as a narrator?
Nick narrates the events of the story after having lived through them all, making him a first-person objective narrator. This means that he was a participant in the story but that he narrates it from a position in the story's future; he knows the outcome, then, at the beginning of the story, and this accounts for his awareness in this first chapter.
The story, in addition to being one about the corruption of the American Dream and the overwhelming disparity between the haves and the have-nots, is also about Nick's coming of age. He seems relatively innocent at the start of the story, conversing easily with Daisy and only sort of "annoyed" by Tom, and very much interested in Jordan Baker. He begins to become more aware of the social distance between someone like Daisy and himself when she
"looked at [him] with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged."
His slow-growing awareness of the corruption in the world intensifies when he spends the afternoon waiting for Tom and Myrtle to have sex as a guest at their cocktail party full of awful people.
By the time of Nick's first Gatsby party, he felt a "tender curiosity" about Jordan, despite her "haughty face" and obvious desire to conceal something. The rumors about Gatsby inform Nick's own opinion of him and the stories he tells of his life, but when Gatsby produces proof by way of some old photographs, Nick thinks, "Then it was all true." He can still be taken in; he is still quite trusting. He allows Gatsby to use him to reunite with Daisy after he hears their sad history together.
After he witnesses the row between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy, and realizes that that very day was his thirtieth birthday, he claims that "Human sympathy has its limits." Then the ugly death of Myrtle, killed by Daisy, but for which Gatsby took the blame (as well as Myrtle's husband's wrath), and finally Gatsby's own death, seem to be more than Nick's innocence can bear. He still wanted to believe that Gatsby's friends -- or at least some of those partygoers -- would show up for his funeral. But when they do not, and Daisy fails to send even a flower, Nick's disillusionment seems complete. He knows now that all of them, except Gatsby, are "a rotten crowd," as he'd told Gatsby on the day he was shot. He sees that they are "careless," that they think of no one but themselves. He sees them as people who
"smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...."
His transition complete, Nick sees the way of the world now, complete with the essential hopelessness of the American Dream, Gatsby's dream. Our growing awareness of these truths parallels Nick's, making him an extremely sympathetic narrator in addition to being a reliable one.