Extended Character Analysis
Nick Carraway narrates the novel’s events. Nick comes from a well-to-do but unglamorous upper-midwest background. When he moves to New York, where he lives in a cottage next door to the Gatsby Mansion and sells bonds on Wall Street, he is reunited with his cousin Daisy Buchanan. As a crucial link between long-lost paramours Gatsby and Daisy, Nick falls into the rushing current of the plot.
Though Gatsby is the heart of the novel’s narrative, everything readers know about Gatsby is filtered through Nick. The novel is narrated from his point of view as a retrospective look at his acquaintance with Gatsby and the lessons he has learned from it. Nick can be read as an unreliable narrator, especially with regards to his own alleged impartiality. Though he claims to be one of the most honest people he knows, his “truthful” observations often carry undertones of judgement and condescension, and, in the case of Gatsby, affection and awe. Rather than playing the mercenary cynic that Nick portrays himself as, he is ultimately swept up in the same dreamy fantasy that Gatsby is.
At the start of their acquaintance, Gatsby uses Nick to get close to Daisy, and Nick takes pleasure in observing Gatsby’s eccentricity. However, Nick seems to develop a genuine affection for Gatsby, serving as both his greatest supporter and harshest critic. Ultimately, Nick sees something in Gatsby that the world of upper class elites lacks: dreams. Nick is drawn to Gatsby’s naive idealism, finding it admirable in a world that he has come to view as empty and superficial.
Nick’s support of Gatsby can be interpreted in different ways. By one reading, Nick is simply caught up in Gatsby’s machinations to be close to Daisy. His support stems from his proximity to Daisy and Gatsby and a futile desire to see them both happy. Nick admires Gatsby’s idealism and resents Tom’s crude, abusive nature, further spurring his desire to help reunite Daisy and Gatsby. His disgust over Daisy’s refusal to so much as acknowledge Gatsby’s death indicates his genuine belief that they were in love. His steadfast support of Gatsby, even in death, proves that he is a true friend.
By a different interpretation, Nick’s investment in Gatsby and Daisy’s affair is more personal in nature. Nick admits to being jaded and disillusioned with the world, seeing little to admire in the people around him. When Nick meets Gatsby, he is taken in by Gatsby’s naive, straightforward dreams. In an otherwise inauthentic world, Nick craves the earnestness of Gatsby’s dreams. By this reading, Nick uses Gatsby as a means of fueling his own romantic nature. He is blind to the flaws and dangers of Gatsby’s dreams, placing the ideal of love over the practicalities of reality, just as Gatsby himself does.
Nick is a somewhat enigmatic character, foregrounding Gatsby’s story before his own. It is through Nick that readers are introduced to Gatsby, but it is also through Gatsby that readers come to know Nick. Nick is disgusted by both the East Egg elites and the West Egg nouveau riche, viewing them both as superficial and careless. However, Gatsby is the exception to his ire, revealing that Nick, despite his claims to cynicism, is also a dreamer in disguise. However, after watching Gatsby die along with his dreams, Nick is left cynical once again, reflecting bitterly on humanity’s “ceaseless” struggle for things that can never be reclaimed.