The narrator often takes a pivotal role in the development of a story. Narrators are used as a literary device to extract important viewpoints throughout the scenes in a novel. When the “first person narrative” is used, the feelings, knowledge, viewpoint, and bias are revealed correspondingly through the narrator’s experiences. The readers must first understand the narrator’s unique role in order to fully comprehend the essence of the story.
In the novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the first person narrator Nick Carraway effectively engages the readers through contradictions in his voice, corruptions of people, and relationships between people during the 1920s in America. Nick presents contradictions in his voice to clarify crucial events in the novel. The reliability of the narrator is questioned through his self-introductory in chapter one, where he states that he is “inclined to reserve all judgments” (19)1, but later contradicts himself by saying “a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth” (19).
This specious speech creates a doubt that forces the reader to think and make judgments critically when Nick describes something. Nick goes to a party in New York that is hosted by his friend, Tom Buchanan and his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Nick feels uncomfortable, “I tried to show my expression that I had played no part in her past” (43), when Myrtle discursively included him in an argument. However, he still feels obligated to stay since he became “entangled in some wild strident argument” (44).
Nick attracts the readers’ attention by acting as a perfect example of people’s prosperous desires of wealth and attention in the “Roaring Twenties”. As Nick uses his own biased feelings toward every character in the novel, contradiction between his descriptions and their personalities are shown. After George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, finds out she is betraying him, he looks extremely sick. According to Nick’s description, he is “so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty” (111).
A contradiction becomes apparent when Nick compares Wilson to Tom, who seems to juxtapose George’s sickness for being “well” (111). These descriptions by the narrator hints to the readers that the reality of this contrast is the opposite, as Tom should have been the sick one because he lacks spiritual and moral values from what he has done. Readers are also led to see the brutal viewpoints in the 1920s of the strong over the weak, and the superiority of the wealthier, Tom, in this acrimonious encounter. In one of Gatsby’s big parties, Nick describes Daisy’s voice as “music in a husky, rhythmic whisper” (99).
His profound imagination of Daisy’s voice attracts readers’ attention to its pulchritude features, which is just the opposite of the repugnant reality. This obvious contradiction influences the reader to compare the differences between dream and reality. Through these contradictions presented by Nick, exploitations of people are also exposed. Nick manifested the corruptions of people in America by being an active participant in many of these flamboyant events. Nick agrees to accompany Tom to see Myrtle.
On the other hand, he defends his actions by stating that Tom’s determination to have his company “bordered on violence” (36). By being admitted to part of this immoral and public event, the readers are informed that Nick is perceived to share the same apathetic, irresponsible view on such ethical issues as others involved. During the ostentatious party with Tom and Myrtle, strong materialistic people are depicted. Nick describes Myrtle’s footsteps: “sweep[ing] into the kitchen, implying that a dozen chefs awaited her orders there” (41) as she arrogantly walks across the room.
Not only Myrtle’s change of behavior is depicted as shallow, many others are also described in the same sense. “[Catherine] came in with such a proprietary haste and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived here” (40). Nick hypocritically disparages Catherine to cement the superficial characteristics in people attending this party. These criticisms bring the readers to Nick’s point of view to judge with the overall impression given. As a narrator with strong curiosity, Nick stays at the party until Tom gets angry and breaks Myrtle’s nose.
There were bloody towels upon the bathroom floor and women’s voices scolding, and high over the confusion a long broken wail of pain” (45) is the melodramatic scene described by Nick. This debased scene suggests that such relationships have no real values and no sense of respect to pompous men such as Tom. Furthermore, one of the other guests, Mr. McKee and Nick turned their back to the scenery of “Catherine scolding and consoling as they stumbled here and there among the crowd of furniture with articles of aid” (45).
Men in the party showed no sign of sympathy towards Myrtle. Instead, people abandon each other when there are no specific benefits to themselves. Nick again blends in with other characters in the book and pushes readers to view America as a nation with people that are “contaminated” by heart. Another similar party scene is when Nick first attended Gatsby’s garish party. He concludes the guests “were not invited” (48). Nick also discovers that while he tries to find Gatsby, people stare at him in “such an amazed way and denied so vehemently any knowledge of movements” (49).
Nick exploits the cruelty of the guests in Gatsby’s party – they’re there only for their selfish purposes. This cruelty in people is reinforced at the end of the story, where so-called “friends” of Gatsby all refused to go to Gatsby’s funeral. Nick guides the readers from beginning to end to see these people’s reactions after Gatsby’s death. The readers are led to see that these people never had strong ties with Gatsby. Their only reason to adhesively stick to Gatsby is to obtain benefits through his wealth and fame. The readers are drawn to see that most people merely used Gatsby as a tool for success.
Nick not only efficiently shows features of people such as dishonesty and vulgar pursuit of materials, his involvement with other characters are also essential to the novel. Nick exhibits many critical aspects of the novel by having complicated associations with people around him. This includes the only woman he encounters and affiliate with in the novel, Jordan Baker. Nick describes Jordan as “incurably dishonest” and “wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage” (61). These juxtapose to what he expresses later on: “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply” (61).
By presenting his own feelings, Nick brings the readers to see the subjective side of his confessions. The readers are given the chance to be more involved into the story by judging Nick and his surroundings through his intense, personal feelings. However, the relationship ended with Jordan’s regretful remark, “I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person” (152). This personal experience of Nick is presented to the audience vividly, which stresses the superficial, irresponsible relationships between couples. Gatsby, on the other hand, treats love completely differently from Nick.
Nick remarked Gatsby “spoke as if Daisy’s reaction was the only thing that mattered” (126). Nick then immediately followed with a disgusted statement: “I disliked him so much by this time” (126). Nick expresses disapproval towards Gatsby once again later, “I disapproved of him from beginning to end” (134), which contradicts with Nick’s description of Gatsby in the beginning, “I could see nothing sinister about him” (55). This suggests that Nick’s impression of Gatsby taint the moment Gatsby shows his strong devotion for Daisy.
The readers are encouraged to see the weaknesses between Nick and Gatsby’s friendship. These weaknesses clarify the distinct changes in Nick’s attitude and they draw readers to notice the significant differences between the two men in both their values and priorities. Through Nick’s affiliations with other people, the readers are presented with insightful details about the story. The Great Gatsby is often described as a quintessential American novel. One of its successes is the use of Nick Carraway as a narrator.
Nick describes himself using the word “brooding”, which compliments with the eyes of the “God-like observant” Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which “brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (35). This sets Nick seemingly superior to others, yet he is portrayed as a mere observant who seems as guilty as others. Nick is carefully chosen by F. Scott Fitzgerald to reveal corruptions, contradictions, and relationships in this novel. His emotions, relationships and imaginations are brought out with the context to fully direct readers’ attention.