This essay will analyse F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, paying particular attention to how the narrator, Nick Carraway, positions Gatsby as a victim of circumstance, rather than the instigator of tragic events within the novel. To further support this statement the reliability of Nick Carraway’s role as the narrator will be put into question, the various paradoxes and oxymoron’s used to describe Gatsby’s character and the reason why Gatsby is so great.
Nick Carraway is the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which puts into question how reliable his retelling of the story is. He may have chosen not to reveal more personal details about himself, the other characters and the events which took place. Carraway is relaying past events to the reader, events which took place two years ago and his recollection of events therefore, may not be entirely accurate. Nick is also emotionally involved in the story which would make it difficult to be objective while recounting the events. In addition, Nick considers himself an honest person but he also lies and cheats.
While presumably in a relationship with Jordan Baker, he has an affair with a married woman who worked in the accounting department in Jersey City, while he is still in a relationship with a woman in this home town. Nick speaks about his supposed feeling for Jordan and deems her “Incurably dishonest”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 43). These events make Nick a hypocrite as he himself is dishonest and in the novel he states how he disapproats into the safety of his money. He continues to see Jordan and is flattered that he and Jordan are seen going out together which implies that, in Nick’s eyes, Jordan is the betteves of Tom’s relationship with Myrtle and of Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy. Nick knew of the affairs, Tom and Myrtle’s and Daisy and Gatsby’s, but he never says anything about it to either party. Nick also discovers that it was Tom Buchannan who told George Wilson that the yellow car belonged to Gatsby and Tom let Wilson draw the conclusion that Myrtle was Gatsby’s mistress and was therefore the person who ran her over. With this knowledge, Nick never defends Gatsby, a man he called a friend, against the media’s accusations of murder and bootlegging.
Nick never acknowledges or says outright that Gatsby is a criminal. He also never “formally” breaks up with the women in the accounting department, he feels she is of lower status himself, instead he lets the relationship dissolve and , like Tom and Daisy, retrer candidate. A marriage between the two of them would elevate Nick’s status and make him individually wealthier so in other words… Nick is a snob. On the first page of the novel the reader learns that due to misinterpretation of his father’s advice, Nick is inclined to reserve all judgement. When Nick’s father said that not everyone has had the same advantages Nick had, Nick thought this meant that he was superior to other people; that people who weren’t from wealthy backgrounds were of little importance in the world. In the words of Peter Hays, “Nick feels himself morally superior to Tom’s infidelities, Jordan’s lies, to Wolfsheim’s and Gatsby’s criminal acts, yet he’s an accessory after the fact of murder, concealing vital evidence from the police.” (Hays, 2011. page 324).
In the first chapter Nick identifies Gatsby as a victim of circumstance. “When I came back from the East… short-winded elations of men”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. pages 1 & 2). Nick says “Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction – Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.” He has quite plainly said that he despised everything Gatsby stood for and yet he was exempt. This suggests to the reader that something awful happened to Gatsby, that perhaps Nick is forgiving Gatsby out of guilt. Without even being introduced to Gatsby as a character, the reader already feels sorry for him. Nick then speaks about what “what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust…dreams”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 2). The uses of these words positions Gatsby as a victim implying that he was hunted, that some dark force followed him and was his downfall. As said by Nick, Gatsby turned out alright in the end. He speaks about Gatsby’s uniqueness and how he is unlikely to ever meet another person who possessed Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift of hope” and “romantic readiness”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 2). In these words Nick shares the depth of his loss with the reader, creating a welling sadness that the reader can only draw one conclusion from; Gatsby is a victim of circumstance.
Throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby there is evidence that Nick positions Gatsby as the victim of circumstance rather than the instigator of tragic events that take place. For example, it has been expressed numerous times by various characters that Daisy, in particular her voice, possessed a kind of “magic”. Nick goes to see Tom and Daisy, “Two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.”(Fitzgerald, 2008. page 5). And upon seeing Daisy says that she was “looking up into my face, promising that there was no one else in the world she wanted to see more.” (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 7). Nick also mentions Daisy’s voice was unique and spectacular saying that “It was a kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 7). He also said it held a “singing compulsion” that men who cared about her had difficulties forgetting it. Nick feels flustered and has the urge to apologise for everything that he does as well greatly exaggerating how much the people in Chicago miss Daisy yet he hasn’t been in Daisy’s presence for any great length of time.
In 1917, when Daisy was eighteen, Nick expresses, through Jordan’s recollection that Gatsby and Daisy’s romantic relationship lasted six months. Jordan also says how many young officers called, demanding the honour of having Daisy to themselves for the evening or if not for the evening than just for an hour. By this evidence the reader is lead to believe that Daisy could have or would have chosen any officer that took her fancy and, by chance, she chose Gatsby. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 56). After Gatsby left, Jordan says Daisy “didn’t play around with soldiers any more“, within two months of Gatsby leaving had several other relationships, even an engagement, which would suggest that Daisy never actually loved Gatsby and she was just toying with his emotions. The way Nick describes these events, his awe of Daisy upon seeing her and Gatsby and Daisy’s first courtship, leads the reader to believe that he is justifying Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy by saying that she emotionally seduced him; he was a victim of circumstance.
There are various sides to Gatsby that we see throughout the novel and according to critic, Peter Hays, Gatsby’s character in itself is a paradox. “One prominent instance of doubleness… phrases it, “an elegant…roughneck” ”. (Hays, 2011. pages 318 & 319).He is described as an “elegant roughneck”. Based on this, Hays’s assessment of Gatsby and the discoveries made about him in the novel it can be surmised that there are three different sides to Gatsby. There is Jay Gatsby- the secretive criminal-bootlegger who is ruthless, dirty and corrupt in his business dealings and doesn’t lose a night’s sleep over threatening people while making large quantities of money through illegal means.
The other Jay Gatsby is one that Daisy and the public see. They see a suave, charming and handsome young man who is incredibly wealthy and lives a lavish lifestyle. This Gatsby appears relaxed and at ease all the time and acts like everything is effortless. He has a great social network; he knows many people in low and high places, and these people see fit to grant him favours which appear to get him out of unfavourable situations. For example, Gatsby is about to pulled over by a police officer for speeding but proceeds to show the officer a white card which results in Nick and Gatsby being allowed to continue speedily on their way. When Nick made inquiries Gatsby just said that he was able to do the commissioner a favour. However, Gatsby’s sometimes slips.
According to Nick the genuine Gatsby is James Gatz, he is kind, ambitious, at the same time quite shy and doesn’t have much to talk about besides Daisy or rather he doesn’t know how to have a normal conversation with people. This is prominent when Nick invites Daisy to tea. Gatsby is restless and anxious and wants to call the whole occasion off. When Daisy does arrive Gatsby leaves because he is embarrassed and Nick says Gatsby is behaving like a little boy. The way Nick, the narrator, tells the story suggests that he knew Gatsby quite well, all three sides of him, and still considered him a friend.
As to why Gatsby is so great, Gatsby possessed one quality or characteristic that no other character in the novel had; Gatsby had hope. Nothing and no one could sway Gatsby to give up what he believed. He believed in hard work, love and romance. Gatsby felt that anything was possible if you had hope and worked hard; believed he could repeat the past. His dream of marrying Daisy and living happily ever was “incorruptible” and that was his downfall. In is ironic that Gatsby turned to corruption to achieve his “incorruptible” dream. (Hays, 2011.page 320).He did everything wrong for the right reasons; his romantic dream floated on a cloud of money stained with blood, sweat and grime.
“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder… ceaselessly into the past.” (Fitzgerald, 2008.page 134). After Gatsby dies, Nick looks out to the dock and the green light which had been Gatsby’s obsession for many years. He says that Gatsby thought his dream was so close he could almost grab it but what he didn’t know was that over those five years, his dream actually became further and further out of reach, until it was all behind him. His past unrepeatable. His unobtainable “Once upon a time”.
“So we beat… into the past.” (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 134).What Nick could possibly mean by saying this is that people in general are stubborn; they will fight and hope, no matter the odds, and never give up, in order to reach their dreams.
Gatsby’s greatest virtues qualities turned out to be his greatest flaws. Gatsby fiercely believed in hope and his American dream, and it just so happened that his American dream was Daisy. Gatsby’s American dream is a paradox in itself as no matter what he did, he would have never ended up with Daisy.
In conclusion, Nick’s reliability as a narrator is shaky at best as he is dishonest, he was personally involved and he is a snob. However, Nick does say that at thirty he is five years too old to lie to himself. It can therefore be said that Nick positioned Gatsby as a victim of circumstance and painted him such that the reader would agree with Nick when he said that Gatsby was “Worth the whole damn bunch put together”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 114).
- BBC Bitesize. 2014. The Great Gatsby. [Available <http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/english/great_gatsby theme/revision/3/ >] .Accessed: 25 August 2015.
- Fitzgerald, F.S. 2008. The Great Gatsby. Cape Town: Oxford University Press South Africa.
- Hays, P.L. 2011. Oxymoron in The Great Gatsby. Papers on Languages &Literature 47 (3), pp. 318-325.