What evidence can you find that shows Nick's opinionated perception of characters and events as he is telling the story?Considering that the entire story was told in the past tense, after Nick had...

What evidence can you find that shows Nick's opinionated perception of characters and events as he is telling the story?

Considering that the entire story was told in the past tense, after Nick had gone through all the events...

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Great question--Nick begins the novel by telling the reader how objective he is, but as one reads the novel, he or she can see that Nick is actually quite subjective (or opinionated).  For example, in Chapter 1, right after Nick discusses his nonjudgmental attitude and explains why he came to New York, he lapses into a description of Tom Buchanan.  His description of Tom is anything but objective.  When he sees Tom on East Egg, Nick uses phrases such as "cruel mouth" and "powerful body." He also seems critical of Tom's wealth when narrating that Tom is so rich that he can travel around with his polo ponies.

Throughout the rest of the novel, Nick's opinion of others is most obvious in his descriptions of their physical characteristics and actions--he doesn't focus on their words. When Nick describes Jordan Baker as being an "incurable dishonest," he cites examples of her ruining a friend's car and her cheating at golf; he does not quote her lying, but instead lets her actions speak for her character.

In regards to Nick's narrating in past tense, this stylistic choice mainly affects Nick's opinion of Gatsby.  One has to wonder if Nick would excuse Gatsby's lies and involvement in bootlegging so easily if he were telling the tale in real time; for some of the objections that Nick has to Tom's character should also be directed toward Gatsby (taking a married woman as his mistress), but because Nick knows how tragicallyGatsby's story ends, he is softer in his criticism of the title character.

dstuva's profile pic

Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Your question concerning The Great Gatsby shows insight on your part.  Many readers miss the fact that Nick is opinionated.  They accept Nick at his word when he says that he reserves judgement on others, not realizing the fact that this is an indication that he, indeed, sees himself as superior and thereby judges others.  One doesn't have to constantly think about reserving opinions about others because they didn't have the advantages that you had, unless you think you are superior.  Many readers miss that.  Nick is not necessarily a completely accurate and reliable narrator.

Examples of Nick's opinions include the following:

  • In college, Tom's "freedom with money was a matter for reproach--..." (10). 
  • Miss Baker, the first time Nick sees her, "...was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall.  If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it--indeed I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in" (13).  This characterizes Jordan as lethargic and stuck up, and this is a first impression, which Nick earlier says he never uses.
  • After Tom expounds on his theories about "Nordics," Nick writes:  "There was something pathetic in his concentration as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more" (18). 

  Of course, establishing that Nick is opinionated isn't the same as saying that Nick is always wrong, not by any stretch.  Most of his opinions may be quite accurate.  But accurate or not, everything in the work is presented through Nick's senses and through his mind, therefore through his opinions.

     

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