With any novel, the narrative stance is important in setting the tone, atmosphere and for determining how the reader will perceive the novel and characters held within its pages. This is especially so in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s skill as a writer and his choice of narrator enables the reader to attain a very favourable position within the story, gaining information as the book progresses as well as allowing for a good deal of excitement and an edge of curiosity.
The book is narrated in the first person, bringing an essential personal element to the story telling as well as opportunities for some very clever construction, characterisation and events for Fitzgerald to place with great care inside the novel – all of which are vital in increasing my appreciation of the text. From the opening pages, it is clear that Fitzgerald’s priority was to make Nick a likeable, credible and trustworthy character: without this, the novel would not work at all for me.
From the beginning, Nick is portrayed as an unjudgemental man, quiet, tolerant, a good listener and seeming a rather pleasant individual. He is also useful as a narrator, being privy to many events and conversations between the characters – especially Gatsby, who trusts Nick and treats him as a confidant. “Within and without” This line perfectly describes Nick’s position as a narrator within the story. He is not witness to all events, often giving him a useful ‘opting out clause’ to use whenever an event happens or some information is revealed which may serve to negatively alter the reader’s opinion of Nick.
For example: he does not know of Jay and Daisy’s past, he finds out from Jordan; he was not present when Myrtle was killed, he learns of the events from the Greek coffee shop owner who becomes a witness in his investigation of events and he also doesn’t see Gatsby’s death, instead forming an ‘imaginative reconstruction’ from the information he posesses. This helped me to relate to Nick, I knew of his character and was discovering unfolding events as he did and by helping the relationship between protagonist and reader, Fitzgerald contributed to my appreciation and fondness of the text.
I also can see that Nick’s position within the web of relationships is perfect; he lives next door to Gatsby and he is a cousin of Daisy’s, therefore has also met Tom before. This position is another aspect of why Nick’s narrative stance increased my liking and appreciation of the book, he is in the ‘loop’ and therefore provides a sufficient place from which I can view the story and yet he is not in too deep … there is still intrigue and excitement as he proceeds to describe the separate stories interlocking into one.
The novel is made up a series of the social gatherings that Nick attends, and it is through these gatherings that the events of the story are gradually unfolded to both Nick and to myself. The first very important gathering is when, for the first time in the novel, he sees Daisy and Jordan together. Here Fitzgerald is able to inform the reader of their past encounters as well as using detailed description with which to introduce the reader to these two characters. Immediately, I had perceptions of both characters yet, as always, there was a hint of something else which encouraged me to read on.
The second important meeting that Nick attends is Gatsby’s party, an event which involves the narrator being privy to a great deal of speculation over who Gatsby actually is.. I found this especially effective as neither myself or Nick had encountered Gatsby, the various -sometimes wild and silly- ideas being of interest to us both. The act of including gossip and guessing helped to build up the tension and suspense which had came before Gatsby was eventually introduced – appearing a polite man with a wholly enchanting smile.
However, Nick and Gatsby did not get to engage in a ‘one to one’ conversation, which planted yet more curiosity within both Nick and myself and the the lack of information served its intended purpose in making both myself and Nick desire to know more about this ‘Jay Gatsby’. The character of Jordan is also expanded upon in the party as Nick talks alone with her. As first seen from the prior meeting, Jordan is a “new woman” and is often cynical, boyish and self-centered; she is described as beautiful yet also as dishonest, having cheated to victory in her first golf tournament as well as being fond of continually altering the truth.
Through his skillful use of social encounters and information drizzled in tantalizing amounts, Fitzgerald compells me to appreciate the novel’s intricacy yet more. Fitzgerald also includes a number of contrasting characters within the novel which further increase my liking and appreciation of the text, prompting me to look further into the way the characters have been formulated.
The contrast between Myrtle and Daisy is quite a clear one: Daisy is described as delicate and almost appears frail in certain places in the book, she is quite emotionally restrained and holds an almost unfaltering control over what image she gives to the outside world. She dresses in white and is of good circumstances and wealth, something which her contrasting character Myrtle is without. When first met, Myrtle is described as “a thickish figure of a woman”, she is “faintly stout” and has a face posessing “no facet or gleam of beauty”.
However, unlike Daisy, she has a distinctly sexual air about her; she “carries her flesh sensually”, the “nerves of her body .. continually smouldering” and proceeds to wet her lips before ordering her husband to fetch some chairs for her guests. Myrtle aspires to be Daisy, changing three or four times in one night to give an air of sophistication and wealth which has eluded her – even in marriage, when she was disappointed to find out her husband was indeed not as gentlemanly as he claimed to be.
These two characters paint a rather bleak picture of the American Dream as the one who has not made the Dream a reality is unhappy as she tries to achieve it while even Daisy, who has attained the Dream, is still not fully unhappy. This sentiment is further emphasised in Gatsby, a man who spends many of his hours dreaming away only to find that the Dream would be better if it stayed that way – the reality proving to be bleak and damaging. The story is also narrated to an extent through the objects within it. Places within the novel tell the story that Fitzgerald intended them to and even the weather has a hand in aiding the book along.
The East Egg represents the old aristocracy, those who appear to be set in their rich ways and are able to control and oversee their wealth to an acceptable standard. The West Egg is the newly rich, excited by their new wealth and yet not quite knowing what to do with it – modern parallels drawn with today’s Celebrities and also, perhaps to a more poignent degree, Russia’s newly rich who pour out of the cities and into the surrounding countryside where they construct their excessively flamboyant gold encrusted palaces.
The Valley of Ashes is those who haven’t attained the American Dream and the social decay caused by supporting those on East and West Egg who do. As mentioned earlier, the weather also matches the current mood of the story without fail. Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion begins amid pouring rain which perfectly symbolises the awkward and somewhat ominous nature of the meeting. Then their love is re-lit as the sun emerges, Daisy even dropping her veil of control and shedding a few tears.
The later confrontation between Gatsby and Tom takes place under the burning sun on the hottest day of the year whereas Gatsby is killed by Wilson on the first day of autumn. Through including these techniques, Fitzgerald has urged me to look more closely at the techniques employed in the text, therefore serving to increase my overall appreciation of the novel. As is evident, the method in which a text is narrated is a vital ingredient when the author wishes for success.
The Great Gatsby is made to stand out through this clever use of narrative and also the multitude of intricate additional features of the book which further serve to encourage the reader to look a little deeper into the text, uncovering even more features to look over. With this book, I have been compelled to dig in amongst the lines and pages, to examine more closely the literary techniques employed and have been rewarded with a much deeper understanding and stronger appreciation of both The Great Gatsby as a novel and Fitzgerald as a writer.