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

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The trustworthiness and attentiveness of Nick Carraway, portrayed as a listener and an honest man, draw people in the novel to confide in him. These personal disclosures play a crucial role in advancing the plot and ultimately bringing it to a close.

Nick’s lack of importance in his words causes everything else to hold significance. One of the most evident reasons why Nick is an essential character is because he narrates the story, and rightfully so. Throughout the novel, he primarily observes the events unfolding and doesn’t actively participate in them. Even in his relationship with Jordan Baker, he appears less engaged and passionate compared to other characters with their partners. Despite being “half in love with her,” he seems hesitant to meet her (page 99).

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Despite his lack of active involvement, Nick still manages to observe a wide range of events. This is mostly due to the persuasion or insistence of other characters, such as Tom physically turning him around and Gatsby’s impolite and presumptuous demeanor: “Good-morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me today and I thought we’d ride up together.” All of this is simply because Gatsby desires it. It is only at Gatsby’s funeral that Nick finally takes on an active role, and even then, he does so out of a lack of interest from anyone else.

In terms of being a spectator, it can be argued that Nick is not only observing, but he is also indifferent to everything that occurs. This indifference is evident in his disregard for Myrtle’s murder, even though he was aware that Daisy was the one driving the car. This negligence ultimately leads to Gatsby’s death (with some assistance from Tom) and shocks Nick into taking action. It is rather grim that it takes someone dying without anyone to care for him for Nick to step up. The essence of Nick’s character is revealed on the first page of the book when his father imparts wisdom, explaining Nick’s subsequent behavior: “Not everyone in this world has been as fortunate as you.”

Nick himself acknowledges that this behavior has caused people to perceive him as trustworthy. By refraining from passing judgment, he effectively remains silent. This is evident in the accumulation of secrets that Nick learns throughout the novel. These range from the mystery surrounding Tom’s butler’s nose, which seemingly underwent a transformation while he was polishing silver, to Gatsby confiding in him about his love affair with Daisy. Regrettably, as readers, we too are deceived by this allure. Nick’s apparent sincerity about his identity and role as the narrator compels us, just like the characters in the story, to place our trust in him.

We trust that the opinions Nick shares with us are justified and that there is a reason why Gatsby deserves nothing but his “unaffected scorn.” However, Nick betrays this trust in the first chapter when he goes against his apparent principles and subtly judges all the characters. Though Nick doesn’t explicitly say anything derogatory about any of the characters, it is clear through his choice of words that they are not exempt from his judgment. For example, he uses adjectives to transcribe Tom’s actions, indicating that Nick is judging him.

The text implies that the characters’ actions are described with words like “intently”, “coldly”, and “decisively”. While some may argue that these descriptions don’t necessarily indicate a definite judgment of the characters, they are presented from Nick’s perspective as the narrator. This emphasizes a significant flaw in Nick’s claimed “honesty” since he is both the narrator and a character, inherently biased. Since Nick narrates the whole story, his version is only as truthful as he decides it to be, making him fundamentally untrustworthy.

The significance of Nick lies in his role as the narrator and the connections he shares with the main characters. While being a distant relative to Daisy, his “second cousin once removed,” Nick becomes familiar with Long Island through her and Tom, whom he knew in college. Although not the central characters, Daisy and Nick contribute to reflecting the society they live in. Daisy may initially appear as an unintelligent trophy wife, but she demonstrates a keen awareness of how the world operates and desires for her daughter to remain ignorant or indifferent to it: “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

The text describes the different aspects of society represented by Tom and Nick in Gatsby. Tom symbolizes the conservative and racist part, which Nick criticizes. Their disagreeable nature pushes Nick closer to Gatsby, who is seen as the lesser of two or three evils despite his criminal activities. Initially, the only connection between Gatsby and Nick is their proximity as neighbors. However, they develop a friendship that Gatsby later utilizes to reach Daisy. However, being the narrator or a link between characters may not make Nick the most significant character.

The main character in the story is not a specific person, but rather the neighbor who has the same name as the central figure, Gatsby. The novel’s title highlights Gatsby as the focal point. However, it is only in chapter 3 that Gatsby is officially introduced. The delay in his introduction possibly aims to underscore the importance of his reputation and how it influences his personality.

Gatsby’s parties are not attended just because he is the host, but rather because they are parties. People come and go with a simplicity of heart that serves as their ticket of admission. According to Nick, the most important figure in these parties is actually Gatsby. Upon meeting him, Gatsby creates a lasting impression on Nick with his smile that exudes irresistible favor. No other character leaves as significant an impact on Nick, and certainly not in such a positive manner. Despite acknowledging Gatsby’s flaws, such as his involvement in illegal activities and affiliation with criminals, Nick cannot bring himself to fully dislike him. There is an undeniable attractiveness about Gatsby that Nick finds compelling.

Nick plays a crucial role in the narrative, as without him, the story would be untold. However, his contribution to the plot and overall storyline is minimal. Nick primarily functions as an observer, while the novel truly revolves around Gatsby. This gives Nick’s storytelling purpose as he becomes unquestionably known as 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

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