What are some quotes describing Nick Carraway and his purpose in the Great Gatsby?

Expert Answers
susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"How do you get to West Egg Village?' he asked helplessly.

I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer.  I was a guide a pathfinder, an original settler.

Nick describes an encounter he had a with a man who stopped him on the road and asked for directions.  Nick felt as if he knew the area well enough to give directions, and this knowledge gives him a sense of satisfaction.  Nick serves this role for the reader as well.  He serves as a guide to the lifestyles of the very wealthy living in the Roaring 20s.  He is our narrator, and as such he guides us through the old money of the Buchanans in East Egg, the new money of Gatsby in West Egg, the hubbub of Manhattan, and the deathly pallor of the Valley of Ashes.

Nick considers himself "that most limited of all specialists, the 'well-rounded' man.  And he adds

. . . life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.

Nick is that "single window" from which we see the characters and events in the novel.  We must keep that in mind as we read about the wild parties, the drunken episodes, and the family squabbles.

Fitzgerald gives Nick a certain objectivity and free passage, connecting him both to the Buchanans and Gatsby.  He is related to Daisy, and he lives next door to Gatsby.  So Nick becomes a neutral observer for the ensuing conflicts.  He  knows the background of Daisy and Tom, and from various sources and by association, he eventually fleshes out Gatsby's story.

Not only is Nick a narrator, but he is also a character that we must look at closely.  While he seems to record without bias his observations of others, he is somewhat blind when he describes himself.  He is not as honest or as moral as he claims he is, and he shows us also how easy it is to get caught up in all the glamour and carelessness of those he hangs out with.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because Nick is narrating after the events of the story have taken place—he's thus a first person objective narrator—he has a perspective on the other characters that we lack because he knows how the story ends. He's not telling it as it happens, and so we don't learn with him; he tells it later, and so he's better able to shape the telling of the story so that we like who he likes, sympathize with who he does, and dislike whoever he thinks is worthy of judgment. For example, in the first chapter, he tells us why Gatsby is "great":

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. No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

Nick, then, is our moral compass as well as our guide, and we need him to tell the story because he, alone, can show us that despite Gatsby's willingness to have an affair with a married woman and his criminality, we ought to think he is great. Gatsby is much "greater" than those other characters who may not be criminals but lack his optimism and hope and are, instead, careless and selfish.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question