What part of Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby could be an introduction/prologue? What is the purpose? What does it reveal about Nick's character?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An introduction or a prologue would be a perfect way to describe pages 1-6 of The Great Gatsby.  In my opinion, it is one of the most important parts of Fitzgerald’s novel and certainly the most quoted.  This is where we meet our reliable narrator, Nick Carraway.  We learn that he is a warm Midwesterner who has been taught from the beginning to walk a mile in another man’s shoes:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” [my father] told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” (1) 

 Nick has come East after the war to seek his fortune.  Ironically, the same Midwest that bores him enough at the beginning bids him return after the events of the  novel.

Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe—so I decided to go East and learn the bond business. (3)

In regards to this “prologue’s” second purpose, this is also the part of the novel that cements the symbolism of the lavish setting.  East Egg is declared to be the home of the “old rich” while West Egg is conversely declared to be the home of the “new rich.”

It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York—and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land.  Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out onto the most domesticate body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound.  They are not perfect ovals--like the egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed and flat at the contact end--but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead.  To the wingless  a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.  I lived at West Egg, the--well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. . . . Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. (4-5)

I find it really interesting that Nick doesn’t mention the other important aspect of setting here:  the Valley of the Ashes.  Perhaps that is because the meat of this novel deals with the interests of the rich, or perhaps it is because Nick isn’t quite an omniscient narrator after all.  Either way, after this “introduction,” Nick begins his adventure on Long Island Sound with an arrogant Tom Buchanan and his flighty wife, Daisy.  What follows is nothing short of history.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening of chapter one could be regarded as an introduction or prologue, specifically, the parts of the text which explain Nick's family history and his reasons for going East. This section of the text is really important because it reveals Fitzgerald's purpose: it portrays Nick as the ideal narrator for the forthcoming events. This is shown clearly by the aspects of his character which are revealed in the text. Firstly, Nick is the sort of person whom people like to confide in, as we learn from his experiences at college. Secondly, he does not jump to criticize people and instead takes a step back from making any judgments. This is based on the advice of his father.

Fitzgerald, therefore, uses this section to present Nick as the narrator and subtly gives the reader a number of reasons as to why he is suitable for such a role.

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The Great Gatsby

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