Nick Carraway’s tolerant manner and astute observations, combined with the pivotal position he occupies within the context of the novel, appear to make him the ideal character to mediate a shrewd and decisive portrayal of the people around him. However, this contradictory opinion of Gatsby casts doubt upon the validity of his judgement. Only when the reader compares the character of Gatsby with this “rotten crowd,” does it become apparent that Nick’s ambiguous response has a sound foundation.Although Gatsby is not without faults, Nick observes compassion, generosity and “a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. ” He empathises with the intensity of Gatsby’s dream, which may be impure and unattainable, but never the less elevates him above the carelessness and scepticism of the “foul dust,” that trails in his wake.
Fitzgerald’s decision to write the Great Gatsby from a first person perspective challenges the reader to place their trust in the narrator.Although this technique conveys a strong sense of reality and can arouse a more passionate response to characters, the reader is likely to lose the unbiased and unlimited information that a god-like third person perspective would provide. Fortunately for us, Fitzgerald has managed to combine these two qualities in his fastidious creation of Nick Carraway. Deriving from a respectable family from the Mid-West of America, all aspects of Nick’s background provide him with the qualities to be a good judge of character.Although he has led a privileged life, he is never condescending and remains afraid that he will “forget that a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth. ” This honesty is a result of his upbringing within this prominent conservative family and has been developed by his transition into a man during the periods that he spent at Yale University and on the battlefields of France. Appreciating that Nick’s morals have been conditioned by principled people and varying experiences means that his point of view is more likely to correspond with that of the reader.Nick’s open-mindedness can be recognised when he judges others and we understand his view that “reserving judgement is a matter of infinite hope” epitomises all the attributes that his character promotes.
Combining these aspects doesn’t necessarily mean that a character will mediate all the information that is needed to evaluate Gatsby. However, yet again Fitzgerald has ensured that he has created the consummate narrator. Being an outsider, Nick has a different set of values to those from the East, and is experiencing the “Jazz age” for the first time.
This fact, combined with the self-restraint that he shows, makes him an impartial observer to the events of the novel. But, although he remains objective it is important to remember that he is never isolated and remains at the heart of the dynamic social scene from beginning to end. His position as Gatsby’s neighbour and closest confidant also provides Nick with reliable information and allows him to view Gatsby in a way that would surprise those who know him. It is during the times that Nick spends alone with Gatsby, well away form the frantic parties, that he gains the greatest insight into his personality.
Throughout the novel, Nick witnesses many sides to Gatsby’s character. He sees him in the greatest crisis of his life, while he is awaiting Daisy’s arrival with a “strained counterfeit of perfect ease” and looking “as pale as death,” as well as in the most satisfying moment of his life, when, his dream begins to look like reality and he is “consumed with wonder. ” These images of Gatsby are far removed from the one of him “standing alone on the marble stairs” almost dispassionately, while “looking from one group to another” as if he was incapable of showing emotion.But this is what elevates Nick above the average person at the party. He is not prepared to accept the “romantic speculation” about Gatsby being a German spy until he has found reliable evidence to back this up. This is one of the many reasons why people such as Jay Gatsby and Jordan Baker place their trust in Nick and more importantly is the chief reason why any discerning reader should do exactly the same. When analysing the novel in greater detail, it is easy to see why Nick “disapproves” of Gatsby “from beginning to end. ” Everything that he represents is in direct contrast to Nick and his traits of character.
Where Gatsby is vulgar, immoral and insincere Nick remains dignified, pious and honest, giving him stronger reasons to criticise Gatsby and the “American dream” that has made him. Images of Gatsby dressed in pink suits and driving yellow roadsters only begin to suggest how garish he can be. It is quite tragic that he has become completely self-consumed by status and is so desperate to constantly advertise his wealth. His boasts of “not having time” to swim in his pool and “never being able” to fill all the rooms in his house prompt a feeling of disgust towards his abuse of wealth.It is quite easy for the reader to imagine Gatsby squandering large sums of money on meaningless items, without any effect upon his conscious. When he passes blindly through the “Valley of ashes” it is unlikely that he will ever notice the poverty that grips the area and the difference that his money would make. This attitude symbolises the “jazz age” perfectly and I’m positive that it is the crudeness of this period that Nick sees in his neighbour when he suggests that Gatsby represents “everything for which I have unaffected scorn.
“Another flaw in Gatsby’s character, and certainly a more sinister fault, is his connection with the criminal underworld. His lifestyle may already be viewed as immoral but it is made even more so with the knowledge that it has been financed by illegal activities. It is this negative feature in Gatsby’s character that is almost unforgivable. We may have possibly excused his ostentatious habits but viewing him in this new light undermines any sympathy that we have previously shown towards him.
This criminal element also adds to the uncertainty surrounding Gatsby’s background.Nick notices the fact that “he was picking his words with care” while talking, as if he is keen to project a noble and eloquent image of himself. This is backed up by his overuse of the phrase “old sport,” which seems contrived and gives “an elaborate formality to his speech, which just missed being absurd.
” Dialogue is certainly important in manipulating our ambiguous response towards Gatsby, and is put to good effect throughout the novel. When listening to Gatsby’s explanation of his background, Nick already has doubts about the truth of the statement.”He hurried the phrase..
.. Or swallowed it, or choked on it…
. ” is how Nick interprets the false tone in his voice, which makes him question Gatsby’s honesty. As he points out “with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces,” making Nick wonder “if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all. ” The reader shares this view, and although he proves this to be his true background, there is always a lingering question over the sincerity of Gatsby’s words. With a lack of faith in his honesty and a strong disapproval of his lifestyle, the question of how great Gatsby is becomes inevitable.It is important to remember that Nick voices the same concerns over Gatsby’s personality and only complements him within the context of the novel. The fact that he is “worth the whole damn bunch put together” implies that the other characters really must be a “rotten crowd,” because as Nick says, he already disapproves of Gatsby.
This suggests that they are not only much worse then Gatsby, but there is a redeeming feature to his character that Nick relates to and approves of. Tom Buchanan, more then any one else within the novel, represents this “foul dust” that trails in Gatsby’s wake.He is portrayed as a completely egotistical character, who shows no compassion to those around him and whose actions are solely determined by his selfish needs. Having a mistress may show a complete lack of respect for his wife, but satisfies his lust, and breaking Myrtle’s nose may be brutal, but prevents her from betraying his commands. In both of these cases, Tom has illustrated that he doesn’t give a second thought to the pain he may cause others, and will use any means available to achieve his desires.