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Great Gatsby - Reply To Linda Daley's Article 'Nick The Flawed Narrator'

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NICK THE FLAWED NARRATOR

NICK CARRAWAY has a special place in this novel. He is not just one character among several, it is through his eyes and ears that we form our opinions of the other characters.

Often, readers of this novel confuse Nick's stance towards those characters and the world he describes with those of F. Scott Fitzgerald's because the fictional world he has created closely resembles the world he himself experienced. But not every narrator is the voice of the author. Before considering the "gap" between author and narrator, we should remember how, as readers, we respond to the narrator's perspective, especially when that voice belongs to a character who, like Nick, is an active participant in the story.

When we read any work of fiction, no matter how realistic or fabulous, as readers, we undergo a "suspension of disbelief". The fictional world creates a new set of boundaries, making possible or credible events and reactions that might not commonly occur in the "real world", but which have a logic or a plausibility to them in that fictional world.

In order for this to be convincing, we trust the narrator. We take on his perspective, if not totally, then substantially. He becomes our eyes and ears in this world and we have to see him as reliable if we are to proceed with the story's development.

In The Great Gatsby, Nick goes to some length to establish his credibility, indeed his moral integrity, in telling this story about this "great" man called Gatsby. He begins with a reflection on his own upbringing, quoting his father's words about Nick's "advantages", which we could assume were material but, he soon makes clear, were spiritual or moral advantages.

Nick wants his reader to know that his upbringing gave him the moral fibre with which to withstand and pass judgment on an amoral world, such as the one he had observed the previous summer. He says, rather pompously, that as a consequence of such an upbringing, he is "inclined to reserve all judgments" about other people, but then goes on to say that such "tolerance . . . has a limit".

This is the first sign that we can trust this narrator to give us an even-handed insight to the story that is about to unfold. But, as we later learn, he neither reserves all judgments nor does his tolerance reach its limit. Nick is very partial in his way of telling the story about several characters.

He admits early into the story that he makes an exception of judging Gatsby, for whom he is prepared to suspend both the moral code of his upbringing and the limit of intolerance, because Gatsby had an "extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness". This inspired him to a level of friendship and loyalty that Nick seems unprepared to extend towards others in the novel.

Nick overlooks the moral implications of Gatsby's bootlegging, his association with speakeasies, and with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man rumoured to have fixed the World Series in 1919. Yet, he is contemptuous of Jordan Baker for cheating in a mere golf game. And while he says that he is prepared to forgive this sort of behaviour in a woman: "It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame too deeply - I was casually sorry, and then I forgot," it seems that he cannot accept her for being "incurably dishonest" and then reflects that his one "cardinal virtue" is that he is "one of the few honest people" he has ever known. When it comes to judging women - or perhaps only potential lovers - not only are they judged, they are judged by how well they stand up to his own virtues. Again, Daley implies, wrongly, that Nick' has given the reader to expect he will not judge. Daley overlooks the self-deprecating character of this statement. She has broken up the quote. Here it is: "Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.

Daley again is failing to read a passage in detail, with the result that she is misreading it. In the paragraph before this line Nick has been acknowledging a mess in which, in practice, he faults himself for failing in honesty, The most he can be claiming as he closes with ''I am one of the few honest people I have known" is that he is honest at heart. He is able to find himself honest because his behaviour bothers him so that he must right matters. The fact that he is not, as Daley implies, self-satisfied, but self-critical, is shown in the negative, that "he suspects himself" of being honest.

Nick leaves the mid-West after he returns from the war, understandably restless and at odds with the traditional, conservative values that, from his account, haven't changed in spite of the tumult of the war. It is this insularity from a changed world no longer structured by the values that had sent young men to war, that decides him to go East, to New York, and learn about bonds.

But after one summer out East, a remarkable summer for this morally advantaged young man, he "decided to come back home" to the security of what is familiar and traditional. He sought a return to the safety of a place where houses were referred to by the names of families that had inhabited them for generations; a security that Nick decides makes Westerners "subtly unadaptable to Eastern life". By this stage, the East had become for him the "grotesque" stuff of his nightmares.

Daley argues here from a perspective that she imposes on the character - that Nick's wartime experience must have hardened him, given him an 'armoury'. But this is a perception that Daley assumes must be Nick's just because it is hers, for Nick nowhere describes his war in this way. In fact, far from coming back from what he calls "that delayed Teutonic Migration" hardened, Nick refers to it quite cheerfully: "I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless." So Daley doesn't need to puzzle over where Nick's supposed toughness has gone. She is addressing a problem that doesn't exist. She jumps to the assumption that he had to be tough or even was tough. But even if Nick had been hardened by the war, should it make him unshockable? (Deaths in peacetime may well seem more pointless and shocking to an ex-serviceman.)

Don't we perhaps feel a little let down that Nick runs away from his experience in the East in much the same

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