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The Great Gatsby notes- Character analysis of Nick

Updated on April 24, 2013

The question of the extent to which Nick’s narration is reliable has aroused disputes since the inception of the novella with critics such as Cartwright judging Nick’s viewpoint as “limited” while O Rouke considers “the reliability of Nick’s narration quite surprising”.


Nick as the Moral Conscience

I would be inclined to state that Nick’s reliability is reduced by his priggishness, self-righteously moralistic attitude and “provincial squeamishness”. Fitzgerald immediately portrays Nick as having a sense of moral superiority over the other characters, namely by the fact that “[he’s] inclined to reserve all judgements”. It’s important to note that Nick begins by showing he is loyal to his paternal lineage as he takes the “advice” of his “father”. The traditionally conservative midwestern attitude of loyalty to his family is juxtaposed by Gatsby’s complete disregard for his Jewish heritage leading to him changing “Jay Gatz” and this is a point when Nick’s midwestern values potentially distort the narrative. Moreover despite his promise to “reserve all judgements” he finds Jordan “inaccurately dishonest”, has contempt for Daisy’s “carelessness”, looks down on Tom’s “complacency”, “has an unaffected scorn” for Gatsby and disapproves of Myrtle’s “intense vitality” ; all showing the way in which Nick’s morality influences the readers understanding of the novella. Thus making him an unreliable narrator in my viewpoint.


Ambivalent presentation of Gatsby

Nick’s unreliability is not solely witnessed through his jaded moralistic nature but also his ambivalent presentation of Gatsby. At times he seems to disapprove of Gatsby’s excesses and breaches of manners and ethics, but he also romanticizes and admires Gatsby, describing the events of the novel in a nostalgic and elegiac tone. Within two sentences he refers to Gatsby as “gorgeous” and someone who he has an “unaffected scorn for”, as a result the audience doubts the validity of many of Nick’s claims.


Nick's infatuation with Gatsby

Furthermore the reliability of his perceptions on Gatsby that he is “worth the whole damn bunch” are compromised by his infatuation with Gatsby. It could be argued that Nick’s admiration for Gatsby diminishes the veracity of his interpretations on him and that his admiration has homoerotic undertones. Firstly Fitzgerald presents Nick’s encounter with Mr Mckee “clad in his underwear”, phallic symbols are also used such as the “lever” hinting at his homosexuality. Moreover his focus on the “moustache” of sweat on Jordan and her “boyish” looks are all indicative of his homosexual inclinations; diminishing the reliability of his interpretation of Gatsby. This bias, can be clearly seen in the emotional bond present between them after the death of Gatsby where he is unable to describe the death, contrasting with his graphic description of the Myrtles death.


Conclusion

Despite Nick’s pledge to “reserve all judgements” within a page he comments on the “gorgeous” nature of Gatsby, demonstrating his inclination to become deeply and emotionally involved in events. It appears as if he himself doesn’t abide by the same midwestern values he imposes on the reader as he allows his own selfish passions and judgements to spill through the narrative rendering his narration unreliable.

Is Nick a reliable narrator

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    • Kevina Oyatedor profile image

      kevina oyatedor 4 years ago

      This was one of my favorite books. I read it in the ninth grade and loved it. The cover is my favorite. I agree with what you are saying about Nick and his infatuation with Gatsby can be homosexual. He likes Jordan but wants to get to know Gatsby more, because he is mysterious.

    • sahbam16 profile image
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      sahbam16 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Likewise, I think it's a wonderful novel! Yeah I thought it was a bit abstract but glad you like it

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