How does Nick perceive Gatsby in The Great Gatsby and why is Gatsby considered "great"?

Quick answer:

Gatsby is a man who lets nothing stand in the way of his dream. He has ultimate faith in himself and his vision, and doesn't let such things as fact or law get in the way.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nick's attitude toward Gatsby is paradoxical: early in the novel he seems to frown at Gatsby's excess and lack of manners, but later in the novel he admires, even romanticizes, Gatsby as heroic.

This, of course, makes, Nick an unreliable narrator.  Remember, the entire novel is told in flashback...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

from Nick's home in the Midwest.  Nick takes this opportunity to spin his tale in a certain light: one that makes him look more honest than he certainly is.  He claims objectivity and restrained judgement, but the novel as a whole speaks otherwise: he is as subjective and judgmental about Gatsby asTom is about the white race.

Nick virtually equates himself with Gatsby: they are tied at the hip.  Critics have read the novel in a homosexual perspective; I see it more as a Jesus / Nicodemus relationship.  Gatsby is the "Son of God" to Nick's converted follower.  Just at Jesus invited the Pharisee to seek rebirth in baptism, so too does Gatsby elicit Nick's re-conception of the American Dream.  In short, Gatsby's romantic ideal of himself has rubbed off on Nick by the end of the novel to the point of cult hero worship.  Gatsby is Nick's Byronic Hero.  Gatsby's desires are so focused that Nick becomes jealous of them, to the point that they share the same desire: Daisy.  Nick is complicit with Gatsby in trying to attain her.

Gatsby's excessive desires and beliefs in the American Dream are what make him great...and what lead to his tragedy.  Only in America can one re-invent oneself the way Gatsby does, and this fascinates Nick.  Nick sympathizes with the proletariat working-class, and he respects Gatsby for having leaped across to the bourgeoisie and still kept his boyish, humble ideals.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

Nick explains very early on in the text why he feels that Jay Gatsby is, in fact, "great." Because Nick is a first-person objective narrator—meaning that he is a participant in the story and that he is narrating after the events of the story have taken place—he knows, even before the narrative begins, how the story will end. Of Gatsby, he says, 

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.

Nick judges most of the people he comes into contact with in New York pretty harshly. He eventually comes to the conclusion, for example, that Tom and Daisy are "careless people" who do whatever they want and then retreat back into their money, avoiding responsibility. This is not so with Gatsby. Gatsby seemed to him to be more sensitive, more alive and minutely calibrated to respond to life's possibilities. Further, Nick says that Gatsby possessed

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.

Despite his criminality, Gatsby seems to have possessed a particular kind of innocence in Nick's eyes. He believed that his dreams could come true, no matter the odds, and this kind of hopefulness and even expectation or certainty that his dreams would come true, sets Gatsby apart and makes him great.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

Gatsby was an Ideal of himself (Gatz). He is the manifestation of the American Dream. He is literally a self-made man. He invented his personality. He comes from a small town and has little money, working his way through school as a janitor. He befriends a rich man, Cody, and views him as a mentor. He falls in love with Daisy and vows to become wealthy to win her. When that fails, he buys the mansion across the bay and becomes the socialite in hopes that he and Daisy will one day cross paths. Gatsby gets involved with a drug/bootlegging man, Wolfsheim and does whatever it takes to pursue this dream. Gatsby is in idealization of a man (Gatz) that Nick can relate to. Gatsby forsakes everything for the pursuit of this dream (Daisy). This is inherently selfish and people get hurt because of it. But Nick also sees the tragedy of it because Gatsby is still that naïve kid from a small town, like Nick. Nick can’t agree with Gatsby’s crime ring or his general false self and initially, Nick thinks Gatsby is nothing more than a superficial party-thrower, catering to the aristocratic, thoughtless elite. But Nick does admire Gatsby’s audacity in pursuit of his dream when he realizes all this superficial party-throwing is just a means to the end that is getting Daisy back.

Gatsby is great because he’s not real. It may be infatuation and it may be love. Gatsby is great because Gatz was willing to change his entire persona and alter his life in the hopes that he would run into the woman he loves, who is already married. What are the odds that he would run into her without Nick’s help? What are the odds that she would agree to take him back? She is already married. Gatsby defies these odds . . . for a while. Gatsby is selfish because his actions have dire consequences but his idealism, romanticism and determination against these odds is admirable.

Nick says Gatsby is "better than the whole rotten bunch" because that rotten bunch, the party-goers, only do things for their own status or gratification. Gatsby's simplicity in doing everything for love is what endears him to Nick.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

Nick locates Gatsby's greatness in his "gift for hope." Gatsby has the audacity to dream big—and to expect to realize his dreams. From his teen years, when he takes a wild risk in joining Cody on his yacht, to his over-the-top pursuit of Daisy, Gatsby throws himself wholeheartedly into pursuing his deepest desires.

Gatsby doesn't operate by half measures. To woo Daisy, he engages in criminal enterprises and quickly amasses a fortune. He turns this into a fabulous mansion across the bay from Daisy's house and the weekly throwing of lavish, wild, packed parties. He will stop at nothing to achieve his dream of marrying Daisy and starting over as if the past five years had never happened.

When Nick tries to tell him that this is impossible, that in reality you cannot set back the clock, Gatsby refuses to believe it. His hope in his dream, as Nick says, has no boundaries. He doesn't let details such as Daisy's marriage to Tom or her four-year-old child interfere with his dream.

In the end, Gatsby's stubborn belief in his dream destroys him, but to Nick's mind, he goes down with a purity that sets him apart from the sordid calculations and carelessness of people like Tom and Daisy. To Nick, Gatsby's dream of setting back the clock and getting history right the second time around is the same as the American Dream of the earliest settlers who hoped they could rewrite European history and get it right on the new continent.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

In Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway becomes Gatsby's neighbor and develops an important, memorable friendship with him over the course of the summer. Although Nick does not support Gatsby's business affairs and ostentatious display of wealth, he recognizes Gatsby as a genuine, hopeless romantic with an unattainable dream. Nick Carraway begins to describe his affinity for Jay Gatsby in the first chapter of the novel by saying,

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him...This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament"—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 (Fitzgerald, 4).

Given Nick's description, he is attracted to Gatsby's optimistic, charismatic personality, which is both captivating and unique. Throughout the story, Jay Gatsby is portrayed as the consummate gentleman, who is confident, benevolent, and charitable. He opens his mansion to random guests and goes out of his way to make them feel welcome and comfortable. When Nick meets Gatsby for the first time at one of his magnificent summer parties, he comments on Gatsby's magnetic smile by saying,

He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on YOU with an irresistible prejudice in your favor (Fitzgerald, 53).

As the story progresses, Nick becomes more acquainted with Gatsby and discovers his life story. Nick admires Gatsby's determination and endless hope as he refuses to give up Daisy. He also recognizes Gatsby as one of the few authentic people he knows in the East Coast. Despite Gatsby's fabricated identity, Nick is able to see through his appearance and understand that Jay is simply a hopeless romantic with big dreams and a sensitive heart. Tragically, Gatsby cannot win Daisy's heart, and Tom Buchanan takes advantage of him by telling George that he was responsible for Myrtle's death. Overall, Nick is attracted to Gatsby's charismatic personality, magnetic smile, and endless optimism in the midst of a corrupt, shallow society. Gatsby's sensitive heart and optimistic outlook on life is what makes him so special and inspiring.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

This is a good question. Let me answer in three different ways. 

First, on the most superficial level, Nick thought that Gatsby was great on account of his showmanship and wealth. Not only Nick, but also all were quite taken in by Gatsby. 

Second, on a deeper level, Nick saw behind the exterior and he saw a glimpse of Gatsby's heart. In other words, Nick knew why Gatsby did what he did. All of his achievements and external pomp was for the sake of love. He wanted to impress and gain the love of Daisy. In this sense, he was singular. In chapter six, we get this glimpse:

The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

Finally, Nick realized that the others were far worse than Gatsby. They might seem better externally, but they were deeply superficial and arrogant. In this sense, Jay Gatsby was far better.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

The term "great" as used in the title of The Great Gatsby is part hyperbole, part ironical, and part true, as Nick relates Gatsby's story to the reader.

The story occurs in the roaring twenties, when pomp ruled and money was flowing in and parties like those thrown by Gatsby were popular.  Exaggeration was common place, and this probably contributes to the title.

But calling Gatsby great is also partly ironical.  Does fulfilling the so-called American dream the way Gatsby does make one great?  He is a poster boy for the American dream, but look how he achieves it.

Finally, Gatsby loves like every human should love.  His love is all-encompassing and relentless.  Gatsby is a great romantic.  In this sense, he fulfills expectations of being called great.  Whatever else The Great Gatsby is, it is first a love story.    

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

I think Gatsby is referred to as the "Great" because he has qualities like a magician. Many magicians take a stage name that starts "the great ____________"

He is able to make things disappear (his profession, Daisy's crime, the woman's messed up dress). He is also able to make things reappear (a relationship with Daisy)

He also works with great effort toward every goal. He doesn't do anything half-heartedly. A good magician will make it happen, Gatsby does this throughout the book, but unfortunately to 3 peoples deadly detriment.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

To the extent that Gatsby is great, it is because he represents something that is great to Nick.  Specifically, Gatsby represents a pure desire to improve himself and to get ahead in life.  This is something that both Nick Carraway and the author identify with the Midwest, the "good" part of the country.

Unlike the other people in the book, Gatsby is not a phony.  He is doing what he does because he is pursuing a dream.  Because he pursues the dream intensely, with his whole heart and soul, he is admirable in Nick's eyes.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick perceives him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "Great"?

Nick tells us much of the progression of his perception of Gatsby in his opening paragraphs when he says that even though Gatsby "...represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn," by the end of the story, Nick understood and respected Gatsby.  Nick says he comes to understand that Gatsby fell victim to the society in which he lived and to his unattainable dreams.  When Nick first meets Gatsby in chapter 3 at a party at Gatsby's house, Nick notes something about the way Gatsby talks and the way he looks at people that made Gatsby mysterious and not quite legitimate.  When Gatsby takes Nick to lunch, this feeling is further confirmed by Gatsby's obviously rehearsed autobiography.  As the story progresses, Nick catches Gatsby in lies such as when Gatsby said he earned the money to buy his house in just three years.  Nick reminds Gatsby that he'd said he inherited his money and Gatsby quickly changes the subject.  By chapter 8, Nick realizes that Gatsby has done all that he has because of his true, pure, and simple love for Daisy and his unrealistic dream of attaining her.  Nick tells Gatsby with the last words he ever speaks to him, "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Great Gatsby, how does Nick perceive Gatsby throughout the novel to conclude that Gatsby is "great"?

What Nick seems to appreciate most about Gatsby is his capacity to dedicate himself to a dream and see it through, even though it ends badly.

Both Nick and Gatsby are ambitious Midwesterners, and it may be that Nick sees something in Gatsby that is similar to himself—a man with purpose and forward momentum—and unlike the people with whom Nick becomes close to in the spring and summer of 1922. Neither Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, nor Jordan Baker are people with genuine aspirations. They drift along in life from cocktail party to golf tournament to polo match: purposeless and amoral.

Though Gatsby has acquired his wealth from criminal activities—including bootlegging alcohol during Prohibition—he makes no apologies or excuses for himself. He is proud of his quick rise to wealth and believes it is all he needs to win the heart of the woman he loves.

Ultimately, Nick finds Gatsby great because he sets a goal for himself and reaches it. The sad fact that Gatsby chose poorly in selecting Daisy as the "incarnation" of his dreams is beside the point in Nick's mind. Gatsby is a self-made man—not a passive, cynical, and bored heir to a fortune that he himself did nothing to earn.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Great Gatsby, how does Nick perceive Gatsby throughout the novel to conclude that Gatsby is "great"?

Nick says that it is Gatsby's "romantic readiness"—his ability to hope and dream—and his sensitivity to life's possibilities that allow Gatsby rise to greatness. These qualities set him apart from the "foul dust" that surrounds him.

Likening him to earliest settlers of North America (and hence to the American Dream), Nick perceives in Gatsby an ability to harbor dreams: he, like the early settlers seeing the "green breast" of the New World for the first time, wants to set back the hands of time, start afresh, and make everything right. In Gatsby's case, he wants to erase the five years during which he and Daisy were parted and start over with her as if nothing had happened in between. Nick calls it a "colossal" dream. Gatsby's single-minded pursuit of Daisy and his purity of purpose set him apart, and, as far as Nick is concerned, make him great.

Nick is himself a romantic dreamer, and it is important that the story is told from his perspective. Another writer, such as Tom Buchanan, might be less sensitive and portray Gatsby as nothing more than a cheap criminal grifter. Nick can, in contrast, perceive and convey what drives Gatsby.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Great Gatsby, how does Nick perceive Gatsby throughout the novel to conclude that Gatsby is "great"?

As the novel develops, Nick observes Gatsby and discovers bits and pieces of the truth about his past, until all of it is eventually revealed. Along the way, Nick is drawn into a personal relationship with Gatsby, who takes Nick into his confidence and shares his deepest feelings. Nick's perceptions of Gatsby change as he becomes deeply involved in Gatsby's life. When he first met Gatsby, Nick viewed him as a larger-than-life presence in West Egg, a young man about his own age who seemingly had "drifted" from nowhere into fabulous wealth. By the time Gatsby died, Nick had come to perceive him as a romantic who had dedicated himself to an impossible dream.

In Nick's estimation, what made Gatsby "great" was not his enormous wealth or extravagant lifestyle, but the purity of his heart in pursuing his "colossal dream" of loving Daisy. Gatsby was great in that his romantic dream itself was great, to take control of life, repeat the past, and write a new fate for himself. Since the novel is structured as a flashback, Nick introduces himself in the beginning and makes his ultimate perception of Gatsby very clear:

. . . 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.

Jay Gatsby, formerly Jimmy Gatz of North Dakota, had come "a long way" and at the time of his death, "his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it." For Nick, it was Gatsby's formulation of that dream and his dedication to it that made him great.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gatsby's character as Nick percieves him throughout the novel. What makes Gatsby "great"?

Fitzgerald submitted several titles to his publisher (among them Under The Red White and Blue and Trimalchio in West Egg) before settling on the simple and alliterative The Great Gatsby.

The title of the book is very much like Nick's presentation of the man: it is initially built up, then dismantled, and then built up again.  In other words, Gatsby is first "great" to Nick, then not so "great," and then "great" again by the end after his death.

So, what made Gatsby "great" to Nick?  His dreams.  Whereas Nick has no clear desires in the novel, Gatsby has only one: Daisy.  Nick idolizes Gatsby's megalomania, his romanticism, and his ability to reinvent himself.  In other words, Gatsby is the embodiment of "The American Dream," which says that anyone (especially a poor farmer boy like James Gatz) can go from "rags to riches" and move up the social class ladder (from the Midwest to West Egg) almost overnight.  Nick wishes these dreams for himself and all Midwesterners too.

But, Nick also realizes that there is "great" risk in a single-minded dream centered around wealth and women.  Gatsby's "greatness," like his name, party guests, and library books is all a facade.  It was a myth invented to give the illusion of greatness.  Really, Gatsby is an opportunist who used Prohibition and his connections (Dan Cody and Meyer Wolfsheim) to amass wealth by illegitimate means (bootlegging, gambling, racketeering).  In the end, Gatsby is murdered, with no friends, family, or lasting legacy (no one, except his father and Nick, attend his funeral).

Gatsby's greatness parallels his dreams.  As it pertains to the American dream, Gatsby is great: he achieved all that he set out to.  But, in a closer examination, he used underhanded means to achieve greatness.  So, the title is a kind of paradox which shows the levels of contradictions (between wealth and success) in Gatsby, Nick, and America.

Last Updated on