A connecting thread

Nick Carraway is the main narrator of the novel and is slightly set apart from the action. He is connected to Gatsby by virtue of being his next-door neighbour in West Egg, Long Island (although his house is a ‘small eyesore’ and Gatsby’s is a ‘mansion’). He also lives across a ‘courtesy bay’ from Daisy and Tom in East Egg. Daisy is his ‘second cousin once removed’, whilst Tom went to New Haven at the same time as Nick (Nick graduated in 1915 and then joined the army). Nick describes them as ‘two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all’, but visits their house in summer 1922, and through them, he meets Jordan, who is friends with Daisy. 

Nick has come East in the spring of 1922 to enter the ‘bond business’ on Wall Street with the backing of his family who live in the Middle West. His thirtieth birthday coincides with the day Gatsby and Tom contend over Daisy, which ends with the death of Myrtle. He sees this age as a ‘formidable’ milestone, with the:

promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.

He is also disillusioned with society, he says, noting:

it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

Nick’s attitudes towards the main characters shift somewhat during the course of the novel, but he is steadfastly repulsed by Tom, enchanted then disappointed with Daisy and Jordan, and increasingly sympathetic towards Gatsby, telling him:

They’re a rotten crowd… You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.

An elusive personality

Despite being a highly poetic narrator, who offers detailed description and some profound insights, Nick himself is not a clearly constructed character. He describes the physical appearance of the other characters, but never his own, and is similarly elusive in terms of personality traits. If anything, he is contradictory about his personality, particularly his ability to be objective and to be honest. He signals this from the opening chapter and throughout the novel, ending with Jordan’s criticism of him which he cannot deny. Nick is also ambiguous in terms of his sexuality: he is fascinated with both Gatsby and Daisy, ‘half in love with’ Jordan, and has a seemingly erotic experience with Mr McKee.

Nick’s primary narrative function is to chronicle the events surrounding the characters of Gatsby, Daisy and Tom. His secondary role is to depict the experiences of Myrtle and George Wilson, Jordan and himself, and other more minor individuals, thus providing parallels and contrasts to the main action.

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