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Character Analysis of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

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Nick Carraway is the perfect narrator for The Great Gatsby because he has close connections with people living in the realm of all-consuming wealth, but he is not a member of that society. Instead, he exists somewhat on the outskirts of this society of wealth. This allows him to look in and describe what he sees without feeling overly sentimental about it. Over the course of the novel, however, this changes. Nick Carraway begins to slip into the Gatsby's world of wealth. A hard-working Midwesterner from a good family, Nick slowly becomes accustomed to the idea of living in an state of absolute wealth (and the interpersonal distance that this wealth seems to create). Nick fears that he will be left alone without his new friends to accompany him in West Egg. At the same time, he worries that some central element of his personality has been radically changed and that he must escape the East Coast. Ultimately, the decision is made for him. After Jay Gatsby, Tom and Daisy, and Jordan Baker have left, he is left alone pining for the past while he makes plans to head west.

Nick Carraway as Narrator

Nick Carraway makes an excellent narrator because of his position in society. At the same time, he has enough self-doubt and reflection to note how interaction with extreme wealth can change a person deeply. Your character analysis should note that this gives him insight into his own state of being, even though this insight is often confused and uncertain of what has truly changed.

When the reader is first introduced to Nick Carraway, the narrator, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Nick explains that he is “inclined to reserve all judgments”.  However, as the novel progresses this is clearly not the case as Nick continually judges the other characters that surround him in various stages and the judgment that Nick applies to other characters is not consistent.

Here are a few examples of Nick's judgments:

  • Initially, Nick judges the other characters he encounters based upon their social status
  • Nick even goes so far as to judge individuals that he doesn’t meet directly in the novel.  For instance, in describing the young clerks in New York who had not yet made a fortune for themselves, Nick states that he “felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others…young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life”.
  • Nick judges Jordan Baker. “I was flattered to go places with her,” he states, “because she was a golf champion and everyone knew her name” (58).  Thus, Nick was more understanding of someone who had prestige than someone without.
  • Nick is not even consistent in the way he judges the same characters throughout the novel.  When Nick first attends one of Gatsby’s parties, Nick is flattered and in awe of the individuals in attendance. He feels that an air of pleasantness exists among the guests.  Yet later in the summer, Nick finds himself at another party with the same guests and notes that he “felt an unpleasantness in the air, a pervading harshness that hadn’t been there before.  Or perhaps [he] had merely grown used to it”.

How to Analyze Nick Carraway

When attempting to analyze Nick Carraway for your research paper, you will want to note that as Nick becomes disenchanted with the wealth of West Egg, he begins to view the world through Daisy’s eyes. Nick notes that Daisy “was appalled by West Egg” and so too did he become appalled by the world that once appeared so glamorous.  Likewise, he was now sympathetic to Daisy, who he was originally disgusted by because of her wealth.  This further demonstrates Nick’s inability to remain consistent to his own criteria for judging others.  By the end of the novel, Nick had returned to his original impression of Daisy stating that she and Tom “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness”.  This having been said after Nick had found a new outlook of West Egg through Daisy’s supposedly caring eyes.

All in all, Nick states that his does not pass judgment and yet he continues to do so throughout the novel.  Furthermore, these judgments constantly change shape as Nick first disliked the wealthy, then came to approve of them as they befriended him and finally disapproved of them again after seeing to the true nature of their ways.  In addition, Nick failed to live up to his own standards of not being judgmental and of valuing wealth.  Nick fails in both cases and would ultimately judge himself on these criteria as well.

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