The deep-seated conservative quietism that circumscribed Fitzgerald’s temperament, for all his vaunted brawls and flamboyant public misdemeanors, takes also one other and subtler form of nostalgia and retreat than those proclaimed in his nostrums: one evident in his presentation of women. We have seen that Fitzgerald’s metaphysics of defeat stipulates high political gloom; and, despite some sharp ambivalence toward the elite, we shall see that his perspective on the underclass is marked by a fearful alienation. In these tense conditions, Fitzgerald opts (one might say opts out) for the solace of a purely individualist gratification.
Although at one level the “fast” life of his heady, competitive success culture is elating (Nick enjoys “the racy, adventurous feel of [New York] at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye” ), the cumulative strain is telling. “It was borrowed time,” Fitzgerald later wrote, “the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand dukes and the casualness of chorus girls. . . . A classmate killed his wife and himself on Long Island, another tumbled ‘accidentally’ from a skyscraper in Philadelphia, another purposefully from a skyscraper in New York. One was killed in a speak-easy in Chicago; another was beaten to death in a speak-easy in New York and crawled home to the Princeton Club to die. . . . [M]oreover these things happened not during the depression but during the boom” (“Echoes” 18, 16). Cold shadows of violence flicker over the names of the partygoers on the blue lawns: “Civet, who was drowned last summer[,] . . . Edgar Beaver, whose hair they say turned cott…
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…e condition of blissful inaction, self-loss in ease and union. In the last analysis, then, woman haunts the novel as the lost and craved womb: refuge from economic injustice and political tension, solace of quietistic individualism. Ascending from the seductive to the maternal, she confers sublimity upon opting out.
Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.
Raleigh, John Henry. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” Mizener 99-103.
Sklar, Robert. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1967.
Spindler, Michael. American Literature and Social Change. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983.
Trilling, Lionel. “F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Critical Essays on Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.” Ed. Scott Donaldson. Boston: Hall, 1984. 13-20.
Perspective of Nick Carraway, Narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Narrator’s Perspective in The Great Gatsby
Nick Carraway has a special place in this novel. He is not just one character among several, it is through his eyes and ears that we form our opinions of the other characters. Often, readers of this novel confuse Nick’s stance towards those characters and the world he describes with those of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s because the fictional world he has created closely resembles the world he himself experienced. But not every narrator is the voice of the author. Before considering the “gap” between author and narrator, we should remember how, as readers, we respond to the narrator’s perspective, especially when that voice belongs to a character who, like Nick, is an active participant in the story.
When we read any work of fiction, no matter how realistic or fabulous, as readers, we undergo a “suspension of disbelief”. The fictional world creates a new set of boundaries, making possible or credible events and reactions that might not commonly occur in the “real world”, but which have a logic or a plausibility to them in that fictional world. In order for this to be convincing, we trust the narrator. We take on his perspective, if not totally, then substantially. He becomes our eyes and ears in this world and we have to see him as reliable if we are to proceed with the story’s development.
In The Great Gatsby, Nick goes to some length to establish his credibility, indeed his moral integrity, in telling this story about this “great” man called Gatsby. He begins with a reflection on his own upbringing, quoting his father’s words about Nick’s “advantages”, which we could assume were material but, he soon makes clear, were spiritual or moral advantages. Nick wants his reader to know that his upbringing gave him the moral fiber with which to withstand and pass judgment on an amoral world, such as the one he had observed the previous summer. He says, rather pompously, that as a consequence of such an upbringing, he is “inclined to reserve all judgments” about other people, but then goes on to say that such “tolerance . . . has a limit”.
This is the first sign that we can trust this narrator to give us an even-handed insight to the story that is about to unfold. But, as we later learn, he neither reserves all judgments nor does his tolerance reach its’ limit.