Describe the narrator of The Great Gatsby, his family background, and why he came East.

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Another educator has tackled the second two questions, and so I will primarily address the first one. Although Nick admits that Gatsby "represented everything for which [Nick has] an unaffected scorn," he is impressed—even touched—by Gatsby's optimism and hopefulness. Gatsby possesses a kind of innocence that no one else in the book seems to have. Nick admires Gatsby's

extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as [Nick has] never found in any other person and which it is not likely [Nick] shall ever find again.

Some readers claim that Nick is an unreliable narrator: that he likes Gatsby too much and thinks of himself as objective when he is clearly not. Some readers claim that Nick is fairly reliable as a narrator because he is honest, and so at least we get his honest responses to other characters. I think what stands out about Nick is that he seems like a relatively good person who is surrounded by mostly really terrible people. He was clearly changed by his experiences fighting in World War I, but he isn't completed jaded by them. He hasn't turned cold or brutal, only somewhat discontented with home. He recognizes how horrible Tom is, sees how "careless" Tom and Daisy are with others' lives, and seems to see Jordan Baker for who she really is as well. He is attracted to her, sure, but that is not the feeling that triumphs in the end. He is appalled by Myrtle Wilson and her friends, which presents George Wilson sympathetically.

In a world largely gone mad, Nick befriends the one other person who seems to be good at his core. To be sure, Gatsby is morally problematic and has done regrettable things, but that optimism which Nick identifies in the first chapter is real and telling of Gatsby's character, and Nick's appreciation of that quality says a lot about him too.

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Chapter I establishes the basics of Nick Carraway's character and gives us an understanding of his background. Nick tells us that he was born of an old, well established Midwestern family, dating back to the Civil War. His family was financially well off, but Nick did not grow up with the kind of financial excess he later observed in the East. Nick grew up, however, with many advantages, including an education at Yale University. After returning from World War I, where he served in Europe, Nick was restless and no longer content to stay in the Midwest. He decided to go to New York to learn the bond business and establish a career. His family, after discussing Nick's options, agreed to support him financially for one year so that he could proceed with his plan. After one year, however, it was expected that Nick would assume responsibility and support himself. Nick's family had taught him the American work ethic, which he embraced. He expected to work.

Nick had grown up as a person who did not judge others. He was open-minded. As a result, especially in college, others often confided in him, including him in their personal lives. This becomes an important part of Nick's character when he goes East and becomes Gatsby's friend. As Nick looks back on his time in the East, it becomes clear that he admired Gatsby's romanticism and deplored the amorality that "floated in the wake of his dreams."

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