What is the impact of the point of view on the narrative of The Great Gatsby?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The non-sequitur of the narrative of The Great Gatsby also makes for a more intriguing plot as the reader does not learn until late in the novel the truth of Gatsby's mysterious past.  Thus, Gatsby, who fascinates Nick, attains the stature of a mythological being who appears one night watching a green light at the end of a pier. Nick describes him as spectacular in his appearance and ownership of a mansion with Marie Antoinette rooms; even his car is described as having "triumphant" boxes and

terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns. 

Later, in his perception of Gatsby as a man who is lavish and expansive in nature, Nick depicts him mythically as Trimalchio, the Roman who gave lavish parties; Gatsby, too is a man who gulps down "the incomparable mile of wonder."

In addition, with the narrative being told from the point of view of Nick Carraway the evolution of Nick's understanding and appreciation of the unjaded idealism of Gatsby does, indeed, make his neighbor "great" in his view. For, Gatsby comes alive as the American hero "delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor" by his idealism that causes Nick, in his comparison of him to his amoral and jaded neighbors and girlfriend, to tell the uncorrupted Gatsby,

"They're a rotten crowd....You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."

Truly, the impact of Nick's narrative upon the text is reflective of what Gatsby himself is.  Romantic at first, the narrative then becomes realistic, just as the demi-god Jay Gatsby sadly becomes no more than a mortal, who dies like all mortals, and senselessly at that.  Disillusioned by his experience, Nick, then, returns to the Midwest, where there is a moral sense, just as Fitzgerald hopes his society will return to old values.

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lorrainecaplan's profile pic

Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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We see all of the story unfolding through Nick's eyes and perspective, a filter of the story that has several effects.  The only person whose thoughts we actually have are Nick's thoughts, his own musings on the feelings and behavior of all of the characters. This lends a certain mystery to the characters, particularly Gatsby, about whom rumors, which Nick reports, swirl.  Because Nick was brought up in a certain way, he also brings a particular "class" perspective to our view of the characters, a means of selecting and sketching in details that allow us to see clearly the class of Gatsby, of Daisy, and of course, of the Wilsons.  This point of view brings the class system and the American dream into sharp focus for us, in a way that is very different from what we would focus on if Gatsby, Daisy, or the Wilsons were narrating the story from their point of view or if the story were told in the third person.  While we have no idea whether or not Nick is a reliable narrator, we have been given a fairly insightful narrator, which is in many ways much better. Nick, in spite of his upper-class upbringing, is able to home in on the worth of the characters, from Jordan, who is dishonest, to Tom, who is a racist and stupid man, to Daisy, who is perhaps not  worth attaining, and finally, to Gatsby, whose character and value as a human being shine through for Nick, even before his final act of chivalry.  Would Gatsby be the hero if someone else had narrated the story or if we had a third-person point of view?  In my opinion, probably not. 

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