'Views on the role of Nick as narrator in The Great Gatsby have varied greatly. How do these two views relate to your own view of Nick's function in the novel? ' I aim to explain effectively my opinion that Fitzgerald's use of Nick as the narrator of The Great Gatsby is a very successful literary technique. I shall do this by the analysis of the two contrasting pieces of criticism, as well as of the novel itself. I feel that the successful use of this technique can be attributed to three main elements: Nick's geographical placing within the plot, his morality, and two aspects of his character.
These are his astute observational skills and outward tolerance to 'unsought…confidences' of others. Nick must be in a position to tell enough of the story to satisfy the reader. To achieve this, Fitzgerald must create relationships between Nick and those characters from whom he is going to get the most interesting or useful information to aid the development of the plot. However, a balance must be struck between two extremes. Firstly, that Nick is so involved in the plot that he becomes noticeably biased.
Also that he, and therefore the reader, is provided with too much information too quickly through the relationships that he has with the other characters. Secondly, that Nick's relationships with characters are too distant therefore, preventing him learning anything from them by the end of the novel. If this learning process is absent, leaving Nick without motive to write the novel, one questions ultimately why Fitzgerald would use Nick as narrator. I feel that Fitzgerald has stuck this balance.
Mizener commends Fitzgerald's achievement of this when Nick is said by Mizener to be '…sufficiently near the centre of things to know all he needed to know…' When Fitzgerald's intentional geographical placing of Nick in the novel is considered, Nick's objectivity becomes a factor. For example, if Nick were an Easterner, in the East, subscribing to the 'careless' lifestyle, then how could he be expected to observe some of 'his own' while being objective? Nick would not have moved anywhere; a comparison could not be drawn between two places, as does the novel between the East and the West.
The East is seen to be sophisticated and affluent yet corrupt and immoral. The West is considered to be freed of the latter yet rural and less affluent. It is from this comparison that the purity and beauty of the American dream can be drawn and the immoral corruption that must pass before one achieves the now sullied soiled dream is realised. Nick concisely and clearly conveys the comparison between the East and West thus allowing this wider theme of the novel to be realised. Mizener observes Fitzgerald's effective achievement of this comparison when considered in relation to Nick's morality. He has come East to be an Easterner…but his moral roots remain in the West. ' The strength of these Western 'moral roots' are shown by their continuing existence after Nick having experienced/subsumed in/surrounded by the immorality of the East. In most novels, it is imperative for the reader to feel they can trust the narrator or as Scrimgeour writes, '(Nick's) honesty…provides the basis of the reader's reaction to the novel'. Honesty is considered an essential element of a basic moral code ('Honesty (is) based on some kind of powerful drive…') that is generally accepted and subsequently adhered to in civilised society.
This drive is an individual's personal moral code. If Nick's honesty is deemed questionable, it follows that his morality is also questionable. I do not doubt Nick's honesty anywhere in the novel and therefore, his morality. Nick's own moral code is illustrated, when Nick meets Jordan for the final time. Although Nick is aware that this meeting will not be an easy one, he feels he cannot simply 'trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away. ' There is undoubtedly a motivation behind his action and, in my opinion, it is a moral one. There was one thing to be done before I left, an awkward, unpleasant thing that perhaps had better have been let alone. But I wanted to leave things in order…' Here, Nick does not abstain from but consciously performs performing a morality driven action. I therefore see no evidence to validate Scrimgeour's claim that '(Nick) is a moral eunuch' Nick’s reply to Tom’s question on 5th Avenue, “Do you object to shaking hands with me? ' is another example of Nick acting to his own moral code. His reply “…You know what I think of you” is bordering on the confrontational.
Nick didn’t leave it at that but “inquired ‘What did you say to Wilson that afternoon? ’ '. Nick must feel some sense of injustice when talking to Tom and that is why he confronts him. Scrimgeour claims that Nick's actions 'have as their motive no nobler desire…to let sleeping dogs lie. ' Therefore implying that Nick is calculatedly lazy and selfishly unconfrontational. Yet, I see no evidence to support this. Why would Nick have sought confrontation with Tom here if Scrimgeour's view were the case? Therefore, I strongly disagree with Scrimgeour's statement.
Nick’s decision to stop probing and shake Tom’s hand was an intelligent, perceptive one as he realizes that a quest for further information would be fruitless. “I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. ” This realization is an example of the advantages to which Nick's father was referring. 'Whenever you feel like criticising anyone…just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages you've had'. In addition, the strength of Nick's morality is notable as Nick takes this advice amidst such immoral behaviour in this case, Tom's refusal to be outwardly from guilty of being responsible for Gatsby's death.
The reader must trust Nick as a good judge of character, including his judgement of others honesty. Jordan's revelations to Nick at the Plaza hotel about Daisy's past in relation to Gatsby and Tom would lack significance if she were considered unreliable by the reader. It could be argued that Jordan seems trust worthy because she and Nick are in a relationship where it is socially appropriate to reveal such information. If it were socially inappropriate, as is illustrated in the speculative gossiping, that surrounds the uncertainty of origin of Gatsby's wealth, it would become unreliable.
Although I believe the reader must rely upon the assumption that Nick would have said something if he had felt that Jordan was being in any way dishonest in her account as he did in a similar situation in chapter one, '…I felt the basic insincerity of what she said'. The unquestioned acceptance of these conditional elements by the reader show Fitzgerald's ability to subtlety invite, persuasively and unconsciously, the reader to trust Nick. This is illustrated again by the trust the reader must give Nick as the storyteller. 'Now I want to go back a little and tell what happened at the garage after we left there the night before. MORE As a reader, one is very aware that Nick is writing the novel after the events have occurred because he emphasises his control over the recounting of the order of events. Yet one does not firstly consider the perhaps, a more obvious fact that Nick's position of power as the storyteller provides him with the opportunity to manipulate the truth itself, not simply the way it is told. In Scrimgeour’s opinion, Fitzgerald uses Nick's reticence detrimentally in the extreme resulting in a lack of faith in Nick's honesty. 'Carraway's reticences verge on falsehood. I disagree with this as I feel that it is through Fitzgerald's astute use of Nick's reticence that the reader is never left in the book wanting more information from Nick about the plot or characters' personalities. For example, Nick never directly says that the way Jordan holds her chin tells us something definite about her character. He describes how she holds her chin 'as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall' and how it makes him feel, ' leaves it open toJordan holds her chin keep suspence for reader
An essential part of the success of Nick's role as an informative narrator is his characteristic tolerance of other people. Fitzgerald purposely allowed Nick to tolerate their foibles but also humanised Nick more by making him conscious of this. expand I consider the beauty of using Nick as the narrator is held in the reader's personal interpretation of the story through Nick's personality (as a charter within the novel)?. These interpretations are highly varied (and dynamic)? as shown in the comparison of Mizener and Scrimgeour's views to my wn. Had Fitzgerald written The Great Gatsby in the third person, he still would have produced a wonderful story. However, I feel that his superbly confident and competent use of Nick as a literary technique greatly aided not only my enjoyment of the novel but primarily my now widened understanding of America and its original Dream. Scrimgeour, unlike Mizner, has obviously and sadly 'missed the point' of this novel. Bibliography Gary J. Scrimgeour, 'Against The Great Gatsby', in Criticism (1966) Arthur Mizener, The Poet of Borrowed Time