Essential Passage by Character: Nick Carraway
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“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.”
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.
The Great Gatsby, pp. 1-2 (Scribner: New York, 2004)
Nick Carraway introduces himself as an open and honest individual. Through the guidance and influence of his father, Nick has learned to be tolerant of others because, as his father tells him, “…all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” Because Nick and his father can communicate openly (unlike other characters in the novel), Nick’s life has as its foundation a worldview based on compassion.
Nick admits that this level of tolerance has made him vulnerable to all sorts of people and their problems. While he is tolerant of all people, he does not necessarily find all people entertaining or even interesting on the same level. He feels that, in some way, his transparency has made him a homing beacon of the “abnormal mind,” opening him up to a wide range of individuals. This spectrum of acquaintances earned him the reputation of being a “politician” in college, a "politician" in a rather negative sense. He is privy to a variety of secret affairs, necessitating a certain level of diplomacy as well as power.
Nick confesses that his status as a confidant was unsought (and basically unwanted). He tried many times to avoid the situation, usually through deceptive means, pretending to be unavailable in some way or another. Yet he is always found and confided in.
Nick, because of his conventional upbringing, finds many of the “intimate revelations” rather too intimate. Moreover, these revelations are neither original nor genuine, but rather “plagiarized” as the youths seek out their individuality by engaging in the same activities everyone else does.
Yet Nick reserves judgment. Why? Because Nick is something of an optimist, and “reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope.”
In the novel, Nick Carraway functions not just as the first-person narrator: his role is also along the lines of a Greek chorus. He is “on the stage,” so to speak, yet in many ways he is outside of the main action of the story. He receives the attentions of Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, yet they receive very little from him. Thus he can stand removed from the conflicts and provide commentary, serving almost as a backdrop against which the action is played. By being a first-person narrator in this way, he avoids the limitations usually imposed by such a viewpoint. He knows the actions, the conversations, and, to a certain extent, the thoughts of the major players, gaining the ability to reflect on them as a whole.
This ability, as the passage above shows, is due to his father’s statement. Nick stands on the moral high ground throughout the novel. In a certain way, one might even say that he, rather...
(The entire section is 2,402 words.)