The Great Gatsby

Where is he from, why does he go east, and does he describe himself?

chapter 1

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 2
Add Yours

The novel’s narrator, Nick is a young man from Minnesota who, after being educated at Yale and fighting in World War I, goes to New York City to learn the bond business. Honest, tolerant, and inclined to reserve judgment, Nick often serves as a confidant for those with troubling secrets. After moving to West Egg, a fictional area of Long Island that is home to the newly rich.



Character Analysis

While the title The Great Gatsby might suggest that the central puzzle of this novel is “The Great Gatsby,” we disagree. Gatsby himself is, after all, almost shockingly simple once you can put his character together from the various pieces picked up along the way. On the other hand, Nick – seemingly plain, straightforward, “honest” Nick – ends up being the ultimate mystery at the end. Nick changes profoundly over the course of the novel, and his transformation is just as intriguing as Gatsby’s dramatic story.

Who is Nick Carraway (at the beginning)?

We know very little about Nick. The facts he chooses to present are few: he grew up in a respectable Chicago family and went to Yale, he likes literature and considers himself one of those "limited" specialists known as a "well-rounded man," and he works in the bond business (that is to say, in finances) in New York City. He’s connected to wealthy and important people, like his cousin Daisy and Tom, a college acquaintance, but he is by no means one of them. Unlike the people who surround him, Nick Carraway isn't drowning in wealth. His perch on the outside of these lofty social circles gives him a good view of what goes on inside; he has a particularly sharp and sometimes quite judgmental eye for character, and isn’t afraid to use it.

While Nick is fundamentally a pretty honest guy when first we meet him, it doesn’t mean that he’s always a very nice one. He’s skilled in the art of getting along with everyone in public and rather sassily analyzing them in private (that is, to us, his readers). Nick may be polite and easy to get along with on the outside, but he’s not afraid to tell it like it is. Nick still seems to see himself as a good Midwestern boy with high standards for everyone he meets, including himself, and prides himself on maintaining his standards, even in the corrupt, fast-moving world of East coast high society.

Because Nick is tangentially a part of Daisy and Gatsby’s intersecting worlds of wealth and fabulousness, but not entirely immersed in them, he makes a perfect narrator – not quite outside, not quite inside. During the course of the novel, Nick gradually gets sucked into the world he’s observing, both through his friendships (if you can call them that) with Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby, and through his romantic relationship with Jordan. The deeper he is drawn into these relationships, the less honest he becomes – until at the end, Jordan rebukes him for being just as dishonest and careless as the rest of them.

Who is Nick Carraway (at the end)?

So what happens to our narrator? At the end, Nick has come to realize that he’s changed and will never be the same. It seems his character dilemma is never fully resolved. We do not know where he will go ("West" is pretty vague), or what he will do, only that he is leaving the house he's resided in for the course of the book. His observation that all the players in this story were “Westerners” is an apt one – it sums up one of the novel’s main themes, the idea that we might be defined by where we’re from, or the kinds of worlds we grow up in.

Nick ultimately realizes that he has no place in West Egg or in New York, in the callous, judgmental, and fast-moving East; unfortunately, we have to wonder if he can really go back home again, after seeing what he has seen. Though he used to believe that you couldn’t turn back the clock and return to the past, Nick’s perspective has changed: his neighbor Gatsby is gone. Tom and Daisy are gone. Jordan Baker is gone. Nick's greatest fear – that he will be alone – has come true.

The final lines of the text suggest the inevitability of what will overcome Nick: inclinations towards Gatsby's nostalgia and an inability to separate the dreams of the past with the reality of the present. And if you want further evidence for that one, consider the fact that Nick is telling us this story at all, after it has all unfolded – he's still dwelling in the past.