The man who knows too much: Nick Carraway’s role in “The Great Gatsby”

Nick Carraway comes off as a listener and honest man, which seems to give everyone in the novel an incentive to trust him – and these “intimate revelations” are essentially what catalyses the initiation of the plot and subsequently the termination of it.

Nick’s lack of saying anything of importance at all causes everything else to be said.Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons why Nick would be an important character is because he’s the narrator and well deservedly so. Throughout the entire novel, he is almost exclusively a spectator to the events that occur and doesn’t really take an active role in any of the events that take place. Even in his relationship with Jordan Baker, he seems far less active and passionate, than any of the other characters do in theirs, and seems reluctant to meet her (page 99), even though he’s “half in love with her”.

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But despite his lack of having an active role, he still manages to spectate on such a huge variety of events, which is mainly because he is persuaded or forced along by the other characters, perhaps most obviously with Tom’s physical insistence that “turned” him around, and with Gatsby’s very ungentlemanly and presumptuous manners:”Good-morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me todayand I thought we’d ride up together.”And all simply because Gatsby wants it so. It is not until Gatsby’s funeral, that Nick takes an active role and even at that point, he purely takes on the task because “no one else was interested”.

In that sense, you could well argue that not only is Nick a spectator, he is it to the extent that he’s apathetic to everything that happens, even to the point of neglecting the murder of Myrtle, when he knew that Daisy was the driver. This neglect subsequently leads to Gatsby’s death (albeit with help from Tom) and shocks Nick into action, which is rather morbid considering that someone had to die with no one to take care of him, before Nick steps up.Nick’s character is essentially revealed on the very first page of the book. When young and malleable, Nick’s father gives him advice that essentially explains all of Nick’s subsequent behaviour:”All the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had”.

This, like Nick himself admits, has led to people assuming he’s trustworthy, because in his attempt to reserve judgment, he simply doesn’t say anything at all. This is evident in the gradual accumulation of secrets that he is told throughout the novel, ranging from the secret behind Tom’s butler’s nose (something apparently happened to it when he was a “silver polisher”), to Gatsby indulging him in the secrets of his love with Daisy. We as readers are unfortunately also taken in by this appeal. His apparent honesty about who he is and why he’s the narrator compels us, like the characters in the novel, to trust him.

As such we trust that those opinions he share with us are justified and that there is a good reason why Gatsby deserves nothing but his “unaffected scorn”.But Nick already betrays this very trust which we put in him in the first chapter, when he goes against his apparent principles and in fact lays subtle judgment on all the characters. While he doesn’t specifically say anything derogatory of any of the characters, it is however evident through the choice of words that Nick use, that they are not beyond his judgment, such as Tom, whose very actions are judged by Nick’s use of adjectives that he transcribes them, (e.g.

“intently”, “coldly”, “decisively” etc.) While you could argue that these are not definitive or judgmental of the characters, these are their actions as seen by Nick – and Nick, being the narrator, words it how he sees it.But that is perhaps the most major flaw of Nick’s supposed “honesty” is the fact that he is the narrator but at the same time a character, and as such is biased by default. He is emulating the entire story and so whatever he says, is only true so long as he wants it to be, so essentially Nick is by his very nature untrustworthy.

But one could argue that the main reason why Nick is so important is because of the connections between characters that he provides, not only by being the narrator but also because of the ties that he shares with all most of the main characters. Daisy, his “second cousin once removed” is a distant relative, but the closest Nick gets to familiarity when he comes to Long Island apart from Tom, whom he apparently once knew in college.While either of the two are perhaps not the most important characters in the novel, their characters are contributors in the reflection of the society in which they live. Daisy for example, appears rather like an unintelligent trophy wife, but is revealed to be all too aware of how the world – and the men that rule it – works and hopes for her daughter, that she’ll be too foolish to come to the same realization or to care:”I hope she’ll be a fool-that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world,a beautiful little fool.

“Tom of course, represents a slightly different aspect of that society which is the conservative, racist part of it, which Nick quickly shows contempt for: “You make me feel uncivilized”. And since they are these fairly dislikeable people, they involuntarily move Nick more towards Gatsby, as he is ideally the lesser of two (or three) evils, despite being a criminal. Of course, Gatsby’s initial only link to Nick is the fact that they’re neighbors and it is not until they’ve established something reminiscent of a friendship that Gatsby uses him to get to Daisy.But maybe just being the narrator or a linkage between characters doesn’t qualify Nick to be the most important character.

The story certainly isn’t about him at all, but about the eponymous neighbor of him. Gatsby is, as evidenced by the title, the main focus of the novel. But at the same time, Gatsby isn’t introduced personally in the novel until half-way through chapter 3. Why the potentially most important character of the novel isn’t introduced sooner can be speculated, but it’s likely to give an impression of how much his reputation precedes him, so as to give the reader a great idea of how this character is truly important.

Of course, people don’t go to Gatsby’s parties because Gatsby is having them, rather than just going to them because it’s a party:”They came and went/for the party with a simplicity of heart that wasits own ticket of admission”Nick himself would likely argue that it is indeed Gatsby who’s the more important figure, as Gatsby makes a huge first impression on Nick, who describes his smile as one of “irresistible prejudice in your favor”. No other characters makes as seemingly big impressions on Nick, and certainly not in a near as positive light. Nick cannot seem to fully dislike Gatsby, no matter how much he believes and says he should. He knows that Gatsby represents all for which he has that “unaffected scorn”, in that he is a bootlegger and associates with criminals, but still cannot help but feel that there is “something gorgeous about him”.

Nick is important to the extent that without him, the story would not be told, that much is certain. But that doesn’t make him the most important character. He doesn’t offer much to the plot or storyline in general, he merely observes, and it is Gatsby who the novel really focuses on and Gatsby, who gives Nick’s storytelling a meaning, as he is invariably The Great Gatsby.

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The man who knows too much: Nick Carraway’s role in “The Great Gatsby”. (2017, Aug 06). Retrieved from