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The Great Gatsby: Is Nick A Reliable Narrator?

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Alina Popova

on 12 June 2014

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Transcript of The Great Gatsby: Is Nick A Reliable Narrator?

The Great Gatsby: Is Nick A Reliable Narrator?
Nick is Intoxicated
In Chapter 2, Nick went over to Myrtles apartment and got drunk off of whiskey before the actual party started. Since Nick was intoxicated, his perception of that night was distorted and by the time the party was in full swing, Nick described things awkwardly and made it seem as if everyone was having a bad time.
Nick is Intoxicated
David O'Rourke, an English professor from Centennial College said,
Is Nick a reliable narrator? What aspects of his character make him reliable?
Comic Analysis
How does this (hilarious) comic relate to my topic?
How does Nick make Gatsby's death all about himself?
Gatsby's Death All About Himself
We only understand Gatsby's death through one perspective.
Nick is Biased
Thomas Boyle, an English professor at the University of Illinois said,
Nick is Biased
Due to the fact that there is only one narrator, the audience can only interpret the story through their perspective.
By: Alina Popova
Subsequently, Nick proves to be an unreliable narrator because he is biased in his description of the other characters, specifically Tom, who he views negatively, and Gatsby, who he favors over everyone else. Also, Nick is intoxicated during parts of his narration, which does not guarantee the reader an accurate description of events in the story. Finally, Nick makes Gatsby's death all about himself, solely focusing on his own feelings.
'Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty, with a rather hard mouth and supercilious manner. Two shinning arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward' (Fitzgerald 7).
Nick is trying to reflect the characters personalities and traits in their physical description. He's trying to make the reader believe that Tom is arrogant and aggressive so that it would would be the way we perceive him throughout the entirety of the story.
'It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in your life. It faced-or seemed to face-the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour' (Fitzgerald 51).
Clearly, Nick favours Gatsby over Tom. Nick spends a considerable amount of time talking about Gatsby's smile, while Tom's whole appearance/personality was summed up in a couple of sentences.
'If this distance exists, we have, to some degree, an unreliable narrator... [which] makes for a stronger demand on the readers power of inference' (Unreliable Narration in The Great Gatsby).
Nick's carefully chosen descriptions of the characters exemplifies his own bias.
Aspect of Character: He's Biased
'I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it, although until after eight o'clock the apartment was full of cheerful sun (Fitzgerald 31).
Nick admits his recollection of events would be hazy that night. He gave off the impression that he drank just to tolerate everyone at the party.
'I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound' (Fitzgerald 49).
Once again, he admits the atmosphere around him changed after he drank. Before he drank, he felt awkward and out of place, but afterward, he was describing the party with more life; almost as if he were in a new environment.
'When an element of distortion is added, the challenge of perception becomes prodigious. Carraway is particularly susceptible to alcohol in The Great Gatsby' (Nick Carraway as Narrator in The Great Gatsby).
O'Rourke agrees that Nick's easily getting drunk is an aspect of his character that makes him a bad narrator. Carraway is drunk during a specifically important chapter: this is where he first attends one of Gatsby's parties and meets him for the first time. Thus, the reader doesn't truly know what Nicks real first impression of Gatsby is and we don't know how the party went; he doesn't provide a reliable recount of events.
Do you think Nick provided a good description of events while he was intoxicated?
'From the moment I telephoned news of the catastrophe to West Egg Village, every surmise about him and every practical question, was referred to me. At first I was surprised and confused; then, as he lay in his house and didn't move or breathe or speak, hour upon hour, it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested-interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end' (Fitzgerald 174).
Here, we see that Nick felt like everyone was approaching him with questions about Gatsby, but this isn't necessarily true. Other characters may have been approached with questions about Gatsby's death. Kent Cartwright, an English professor at the University of Maryland, maintains,
'But the story of Gatsby's burial, ironically, turns out to be not so much about Gatsby as it is about Nick' (Nick Carraway as an Unreliable Narrator).
This was Nick's final shot at proving how loyal a friend he was to Gatsby and instead, he made the whole event about himself, trying to invite people out to his funeral so that he wouldn't feel embarrassed.
Nick also revealed,
'I began to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all' (Fitzgerald 176).
He's trying to isolate himself from everyone else in order to appear like the better friend; he's trying to make it look like he was the only one who cared, even though his father, Henry, and his servants and mailmen attended the funeral. If the story was retold by someone else, we would've gotten a different perspective on other characters' feelings towards Gatsby and proof that Nick wasn't his only friend.
The final aspect of Nick's character that makes him a poor narrator is that he sets himself apart from everyone else. He never fit in with the wealthy or the party goers, so he never truly understands anyone else's perspective on Gatsby. Nick believes he is the only one who truly understood Gatsby. Once again, Kent Cartwright said,
'On Gatsby's behalf, Nick grows in angry disillusionment at the breaches of faith by those like Daisy and Wolfsheim who should care most for Gatsby at the final hour... (Nick Carraway as an Unreliable Narrator).
Cartwright is demonstrating that Nick is essentially a narcissistic hypocrite. Focusing on those who didn't attend Gatsby's funeral, Nick spoke about being the only one who cared, and in return, made Gatsby's death all about himself.
Nick, as well as the audience, never find out if anyone else is upset over Gatsby's death. Nick turned on the other characters who, through his perspective, cared about Gatsby and let his personal emotions cloud his judgements; distorting the retelling of events. He was self centered at a time of grief and wasn't understanding if someone couldn't make it out to Gatsby's funeral.
What were my three arguments?

Do you think Nick is a reliable narrator? Why?

Who do you think would be the most reliable narrator?
Thank you for (hopefully) not falling asleep during my presentation!
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