The great gatsby by Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is one of America’s most loved books, sweeping across the nation with controversial thoughts and numerous interpretations of the characters and their true intentions. However one of the downfalls of this admirable novel is the credibility of the narrator. While reading the novel the only proof that we have over Nick’s nobility is his word, therefore allowing the reader to question any judgement that has been made about any of the characters.
Keeping in mind our lack of knowledge about Nick’s past, his inability to keep his promises, the strange gaps in time, and his unnatural favoring towards Gatsby, we are left to conclude that Nick is an unreliable narrator. The first reason that Nick gave us to believe that he is “inclined to reserve all judgments” (Fitzgerald, 5) is because his father told him when he was younger to “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had” (Fitzgerald, 1). Already just by following the advice that his father had given him Nick has proven to be judgemental and arrogant, by thinking of himself higher than others. Nick then continues to praise himself for his honesty by saying “I am one of the few honest people I have known.” (Fitzgerald, 1) but all the evidence throughout the novel points elsewhere. Profesor Winifred Farrant Bevilacqua also agrees, as he writes “He ponders on Tom’s reactionary ideas and infidelity, on Jordan’s androgyny and presumed dishonesty, on Myrtle’s vitality and doomed aspirations, on Wolfshiem’s lawlessness and lack of loyalty to Gatsby.
—— His reactions to Gatsby, instead, are intense and profound” (Bevilacqua 47). Nick demonstrates the complete opposite of his non judgemental claims by inadvertently judging almost all the characters. Although he is in a relationship with Jordan, as soon as he remembers the story on the news about her cheating in a golf tournament he automatically labels her as a liar and tell us that “She was incurably dishonest” (Fitzgerald, 58) making us wonder if anything she has told Nick so far is true. In addition to his judgement over Jordan, Nick also judges Myrtle’s appearance saying that her face “contained no facet or gleam of beauty” (Fitzgerald, 25). Nick even judges Gatsby; the Great Gatsby. Nick claims that he “disapproved of him from beginning to end.
” (Fitzgerald, 162), yet he contradicts himself since when he introduced Gatsby to us he said that “Gatsby turned out alright at the end” (Fitzgerald, 2). His reaction to Tom’s affair, “As for Tom, the fact that ‘he had some woman in New York’ was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.” shows us exactly what kind of man Nick assumes that Tom is. In addition to his judgement on Tom, after Gatsby’s death Nick criticized Tom and daisy together saying that “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (Fitzgerald, 179) and Nick still claims that he is undudgemental.
Whether or not Nick is telling the truth is arguable, however the fact that we don’t know anything about Nick’s past life or story is not. Throughout the novel Nick gives us access to small pieces of information about his past life, yet if you piece it together they don’t add up. When Nick first introduces himself he says “My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in the middle-western town for three generations.” (Fitzgerald, 3), yet later on when he is at dinner, Tom and Daisy ask him about his engagement to a girl out west and he replies “It’s a libel. I’m too poor.
” (Fitzgerald, 19). Although he denies it, it seems as if he knows exactly what they were talking about since he says “Of course I knew what they were referring to, but I wasn’t even vaguely engaged. The fact that gossip had published the banns was one of the reasons I had come East.” (Fitzgerald,19). Why would he lie about his relationship back home? Nick’s mysterious relationship comes up again later on in the story after Nick and Jordan get into a talk about her rotten driving.
Nick determines that he is in love with her and tells us “I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I’d been writing letters once a week and signing them: “Love, Nick, “” (Fitzgerald, 58). So after criticizing Tom for have a lady in New York, and while dating Jordan, Nick still has some unfinished business back home that he merely mentioned twice. Yet he still lies about having any relationship with anyone back home to Daisy and Tom who are practically his family. Throughout the novel Nick develops a bias favoring towards Gatsby.
Whether it was done ignorantly or purposely will remain unknown, but the reason behind this is due to how involved he has become in the situation. From before Nick even begins to tell the story of Great Gatsby he tells us that “there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, —it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” (Fitzgerald, 2). Although Nick finds out about Gatsby’s involvement in crime, he rarely mentions it and it doesn’t impact his judgement on Gatsby’s behavior at all since he claims that Gatsby stuck with his dream and was passionate about it “He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” (Fitzgerald, 95).
When Nick finally mentions Gatsby’s criminality he states them as if they are just some rumors that some girls made up “”He’s a bootlegger,” said the young moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. “One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil.”” (Fitzgerald, 61). Nick tries to hide the facts by exaggerating the quotes to make them seem silly and childlike hoping to cover up for Gatsbys crimes and keep them focused on Gatsbys perseverance. Dartmouth Professor Barbara Will agrees as she writes “For if Gatsby ultimately represents a glorified version of “us,” then he does so only if we forget that he is for most of the novel a force of corruption: a criminal, a bootlegger, and an adulterer.” (Will 206).
If Nick is able to put aside the fact that Gatsby is a bootlegger and may have killed a man and still worship Gatsby then why isn’t he willing to do the same for Tom? After all Tom didn’t directly kill Gatsby, yet he blames Tom for everything as says, “I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused.” (Fitzgerald, 179). Nick’s ability to cover up for Gatsby goes beyond just that, Nick also lies to the the reader in an attempt to carry on Gatsby’s legacy. When Gatsby first meets Nick, Gatsby tells him “My family all died and I came into a good deal of money.” (Fitzgerald, 65), later on we find out that Gatsby made his money by bootlegging but the concept that Gatsby’s family is dead remains believable until Gatsby’s funeral.
However when Gatsby dies Nick tells us that “He’d never told me definitely that his parent were dead.” (Fitzgerald, 165) even though Gatsby clearly told him that they were. If Nick just assumed that since Gatsby lied about his money, then he lied about his family Nick is making an accusation that is invalid since parts of his story was true, like how Gatsby went to Oxford. Which leads to two conclusion, both of which prove that he is unreliable. Either Nick has lied to the reader or he has been keeping information.
The most important thing that we as readers need to consider about Nick is that fact that he is human, and just like all humans he forgets things, and lies, or gets lied to. When he is in New York City meeting Tom’s mistress Nick gets drunk. He tells us so himself “I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it” (Fitzgerald, 29). Nick doesn’t remember much but what he does know is that he woke up in another man’s bed. Now if he is homosexual why wouldn’t he tell us, or Gatsby or Tom and Daisy? Nevertheless there is the possibility that he did, but is just hiding it from the reader due to the gaps of time in his stories, such as that night.
All Nick remembers is his ride down the elevator where Mr. McKee invites him to “Come to lunch some day,”(Fitzgerald, 37) and Nick agrees to. The next thing we know that Nick tells us is that ” I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands. “Beauty and the Beast..
. Loneliness… Old Grocery Horse.
.. Brook’n Bridge…” Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania Station, staring at the morning Tribune, and waiting for the four o’clock train.
(Fitzgerald, 38). If Nick is in fact a homosexual and didn’t tell us then there must be more that he is leaving out. Another thing needs to be questioned about him are his sources. Nick’s information comes mostly from Gatsby, Jordan, and rumors that he has heard. However Nick calls Jordan a liar and cheater, so why should he believe anything that she has told him? In addition to Jordan, Gatsby has a reputation of lying to Nick about his life, making Nick a target of Gatsbys lies. For all we know there may be another story that Gatsby would have told Nick later on if he hadn’t died.
When Nick goes out to eat with Gatsby and Wolfsheim, it seems as if Gatsby is keeping things away from Nick. After Wolfsheim mistakens Nick for another man and Gatsby corrects him, Wolfsheim no longer has any desire to stay for lunch and soon excuses himself and leaves. The fact that Nick is gullible when it comes to Gatsby, and Gatsby is still keeping secrets from Nick then Nick doesn’t have any credibility while telling the story. Nick’s lack of reliable sources as a narrator, his bias favoring towards Gatsby, and his overall judgement towards others is what prevents him from being an ingenuous narrator. A commendable narrator would not allow their own feelings to interfere with the way that they tell the story, but the fact that Nick is human and everything that he tells us is already filtered through his subconscious changes the way he and the readers view on the story.