Chapter One of The Great Gatsby begins with a quotation from the father of Nick Carraway, the narrator, in which the father warns his son about judging others too quickly:
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world...
haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Nick prides himself in being from cultivated, solid, undemonstrative roots. His most important characteristic, in his own estimation, is his honesty. His father's words remind Nick that if he judges others too narrowly by his own values, he may miss something fundamental about them:
Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.
The most important example of the truth of Nick's father's maxim is provided by the "Great" Gatsby himself. It seems in a way paradoxical that Nick should grant Gatsby so lofty a title as "Great," and declare that "there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life...." Gatsby is a liar and a fraud who makes a fortune by dubious machinations, and then wastes it on extravagent gestures intended to win the heart of a worthless and materialistic woman who is, moreover, married to someone else. Nevertheless, amidst his corruption Gatsby does manage to embody one ideal to a unique and heroic degree:
...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....
The quotation from Nick's father thus tells us how Nick was able to free himself from a parochial frame of judgment in estimating the worth of Gatsby. In the end, Nick is aware of all Gatsby's faults, but he is also able to affirm that even though Gatsby was a person who had not had "the advantages that you've had," he was still able to rise above himself and give himself up to a quest for an ideal rather than simply wallowing in shallow selfishness. In spite of all his other faults and deficiencies, this devotion justifies the title of "Great" that Nick gives him.