The Importance of Nick Carraway as Narrator of The Great Gatsby
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald critiques the disillusionment of the American Dream by contrasting the corruption of those who adopt a superficial lifestyle with the honesty of Nick Carraway. As Carraway familiarizes himself with the lives of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker and Jay Gatsby, he realizes the false seductiveness of the New York lifestyle and regains respect for the Midwest he left behind. "Fitzgerald needs an objective narrator to convey and prove this criticism, and uses Carraway not only as the point of view character, but also as a counter example to the immorality and dishonesty Carraway finds in New York" (Bewley 31). Fitzgerald must construct this narrator as reliable. Due to the nature of the novel, the reader would not believe the story if it were told from the perspective of any other character. Fitzgerald cannot expect the reader to believe what the immoral and careless characters have to say, and he spends so much time establishing them as such. Thus, Carraway is deemed narrator and the reader trusts him.
As the practical character in the novel, Carraway is not rash; he is not swayed by the greed and alcohol as some other members of East and West Egg society are. He proclaims, "I have been drunk just twice in my life" (Fitzgerald 33). Fitzgerald constructs Carraway as a follower, not a man of action. He observes Gatsby's parties, never fully experiencing them. He observes the moment before the kiss between the starlet and her director, although Fitzgerald never details the physicality of his relationship with Baker. He observes the affair between Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson, but he never confronts Tom Buchanan, nor does he ever take any steps to attempt to protect Daisy Buchanan. Carraway's passive nature would make him an otherwise weak character, but is ideal for his role as narrator. The reader needs an observer, objective and reliable, to dictate the story, and that is what Fitzgerald delivers in Carraway.
Carraway's honesty is earned through Fitzgerald's characterization of him. Carraway says he is "inclined to reserve all judgements" (Fitzgerald 5). "An objective narrator must possess honesty to be viewed as a reliable source" (Raleigh 101). Also, Carraway establishes his integrity by admitting to the fallacy of his lineage: "The Carraways ... have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother" (Fitzgerald 7). For those families in East Egg who distinguish themselves by their ancestors, acknowledging a lesser line of descent would result in social disaster. Carraway's honesty is highlighted by this contrast of East versus West mentality. Carraway exhibits honesty in the realm of the superficial and pretentious in the choices he makes. He earns a living in the bond business; he does not inherit his money like Buchanan, nor does he steal it like Gatsby....