In the English literature, an ‘unreliable narrator’ is an individual who the readers cannot fully believe or trust. The reasons for not believing the narrator may vary. Such narrators can suffer from mental challenges, personal issues, have a personal bias, or attachment to another character that is obviously unfair, have an underlying objective, lack intelligence, or be naïve. Even though the narrators cannot be taken lightly, this assertion does not imply that their questionable actions are intentional. As one of the most liked books in American history, The Great Gatsby continues to ignite controversial thoughts through its many character interpretations and underlying objectives.
However, the narrator’s believability stands out as one of the novel’s shortcomings. The novel shows that the only evidence that the reader has the narrator’s credibility is his word, and this aspect leaves room to question any judgment made about the other characters. This paper analyzes the unreliable nature of Nick as a narrator in The Great Gatsby. Nick is not just a pathological liar. He fits into a certain pattern of lying to cover some seemingly worthy cause. Nick only lies in certain cases, viz. when he is covering Gatsby’s flaws. This analysis uses the relationship between Nick (Y element) and Great Gatsby (X text) to bring out the main points in the paper.
Nick as an unreliable narrator
Conventionally, narrators are supposed to be reliable for a story to be authentic (Murphy 68). However, the pattern of a narrator lying to suit personal needs is common in cases where an unreliable narrator is used as a stylistic device. For instance, in the story, A Clockwork Orange, the narrator, Alex, lies to cover his fears, which in this case is the worthy cause. He claims that he derives happiness from evil, but the audience can tell he is too timid to approach life issues like a normal man.
The story of The Great Gatsby revolves around a character named Nick Caraway. All the details in the narrative are the collection of Nick’s views on different issues and his perspective, coupled with how he mainly feels as they happen at the time. The story relies on Nick’s presence to show how the events unfolded. This aspect explains why the story heavily hangs on his perspective of what he believes happened before he ever came to live in the new region. Therefore, his connection with the Gatsby’s story is that he is depended upon to serve as the mouthpiece of the older generation as he metaphorically transcends through time to retell The Great Gatsby tale accurately to the present reader and listeners.
A look at how Nick narrates the story shows that he apparently favors Gatsby. This bias is extreme to the point that he lies in his stories to promote his arguments, which revolve on covering Gatsby’s weaknesses, as opposed to telling the facts as expected of a reliable narrator. Nick is unreliable as a narrator since he never stays true to his claim of reserving his judgments. In addition, Nick’s unreliability stands out in the way he treats and makes assumptions about other characters. The narrator and Gatsby have a unique relationship. For instance, the narrator overly trusts his friend and prefers him to the other characters.
The relationships that Gatsby maintains seem to circulate around his possessions and money. Many people posing as friends show up in his house because of his lavish parties, and no one talks about his flaws. On the contrary, they only talk about what benefits them. Money is too important for Gatsby than anything else, and he works so hard that his passion for money prevents him from making genuine friendships along the way. Therefore, Gatsby falls in the category of lying for personal gains, which can be taken as a worthy cause.
Gatsby likes Nick since he manages to see past the riches and fully support his friends’ romantic dreams, and ideas, unlike the other characters. On the other hand, Nick likes his friend Gatsby since, unlike the others, he at least seems to have a worthy goal in life, viz. reclaiming lost, love. Even though it might be a genuine goal, the approach that Gatsby uses is highly questionable. What Gatsby seeks in a relationship with Daisy is not true love, but an image.
Daisy is defined in terms of wealth; she is amazing because she is wealthy, and she gleams like a precious metal. Gatsby does not talk about Daisy’s personality. Similarly, Daisy does not talk about Gatsby. The two characters do not demonstrate true love. Their relationship is driven by money, as opposed to motivation for young love. Nick admirers believe this sole objective makes him stand out from the other characters that he openly terms as materialistic, lazy, and useless.
Nick maintains that he has the right to make personal decisions and judgments because his father allegedly once told him, “not everyone grows up with the privileges he experienced” (Meehan 82). As the story unfolds, the facts point contrary to this claim. He claims that the other characters are a ‘rotten crowd,’ and even if their value is combined, Gatsby still exceeds them all (Fitzgerald 160). Such sycophant statements prove that Nick considers Gatsby as a friend, and thus he thinks better of him than the other characters.
Gatsby has always wanted to be rich, but for the wrong reasons. He is motivated to accumulate wealth to win his love for Daisy because he has lied to her about his background in a bid to convince her. This aspect shows how relationships are unreliable since they are based on material goods rather than genuine love. He describes Jordan Baker as a pathological cheat, George Wilson, as a spiritless individual and Mr. McKee as feminine (Lena 36). It is uncertain whether Nick’s story is genuine or not. However, the readers do not also get much information about his origins.
Nick comes out as an unreliable narrator in the way he analyses Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy. Their relationship at one point seems genuine since Daisy appears to be an independent thinker, yet at some point, she submits to the societal influences. The society is at large, driven by the urge to accumulate wealth. Daisy is amazed and impressed by Gatsby’s clothing and materials. The attentiveness that she shows towards the clothing surpasses her love for Gatsby.
This assertion highlights how important wealth is for Daisy. On the other hand, Gatsby seems to toil to get his money and add Daisy to his possession to demonstrate that he can acquire whatever he likes. Their relationship is unrealistic, and the only image seems to be the only valued aspect in this high-class society rather than dignity. The narrator agrees that Gatsby is the only exception to his feelings and reactions and that he symbolizes all that he has unaffected scorn. He acknowledges that this fact makes it hard even for him to judge Gatsby. In the first meeting between Nick and Gatsby, he describes him as a “refined young rough-neck whose detailed speech formality slightly borders absurdity” (Fitzgerald 54).
Gatsby always aims at proving to Daisy that he loved her by offering luxury and money for her. Daisy keeps on shifting her relationship from Gatsby to Tom, depending on who proves more influential as compared to the other. This aspect shows the ambiguity of the high society relationships and affirms that love driven by money cannot last for long. As the party planner, Nick excludes Tom from the party without caring how he feels. From the start, his primary objective is to facilitate Gatsby’s happiness. This aspect shows how the characters focus on the external aspects of their friends. Gatsby is disillusioned due to his riches, and thus he thinks he can possess everyone and everything, including Daisy. Daisy has class, beauty, and social status, but she is still flattered by Gatsby’s money. Gatsby has riches, but he lacks grandeur to match Daisy’s class.
Therefore, this ambition keeps him faking his love for Daisy, even though he seems to love her at the same time. When Gatsby leaves, Daisy marries Tom because he is honorable and wealthy. This aspect implies that she only forges relationships with people that can manage to support her flashy lifestyle and maintain her status. With money as the basic motivation, she lacks true love for any of them. Lena points out that the very view that Nick takes it upon himself to personally arrange his friend’s funeral demonstrates how much he values Gatsby as an ally (17).
Fitzgerald adds that Gatsby and Nick both share common hate for most of the people they know (172). On the other hand, Reynolds affirms their great friendship by explaining that after Gatsby’s demise, Nick no longer finds any pleasure in where he currently resides, and thus he decides to relocate since there is no point living there without his friend (183). Throughout the novel, the narrator intentionally ignores Gatsby’s mistakes. He is aware that his friend sells illegal alcohol, even though restrictions are in place. In addition, Gatsby shares a secret business with Mr. Wolfsheim, who is rumored to have some known accomplishments.
By ignoring these overwhelming facts, Nick reserves his judgment against Gatsby because they are friends. In addition, he does not interfere with her cousin’s affair with Gatsby despite knowing that the repercussion of their actions would hurt their families. This aspect further demonstrates the narrator’s willingness to be biased towards Gatsby despite cheating himself that he is a just man. Gatsby and Tom’s relationship is influenced by their pursuit for Daisy not because they love her, but because she represents the taste and class. The author writes that he plainly told Jordan Baker that he and the other characters bored him (Fitzgerald 149).
When Tom requests Daisy to leave with him, she declines and tells him to take Nick and Jordan instead. She decides to stay in the company of Gatsby just because of his influence and money. Even though Tom seems to be more genuine, Daisy is blinded to see this aspect by things like money and status.
If the narrator can downplay the fact that his friend, Gatsby, is a criminal and a murderer and still fully support him, then why could he not do the same for Tom? He cannot lie for Tom because he is only concerned with Gatsby. He states that he cannot bring himself to “like or forgive Tom even though he knew what he did was entirely justified; it was all confused and careless” (Fitzgerald 179).
In the end, the readers discover that Gatsby is involved with bootlegging, but the aspect that Gatsby’s family members died remains defended until his funeral. However, after Gatsby’s death, Nick confesses that his friend never told him that his parents died even though Gatsby explicitly confirmed they were dead. In this context, the narrator automatically assumes that since his friend lied about the wealth, then he would lie about the death of his family. Therefore, he is making a falsified assumption since Gatsby’s story is partly true; for example, he studied at Oxford. It only leaves the conclusions that point out that Nick is unreliable as a narrator (Wall 20).
In addition, Nick does not show that Daisy feels unsafe with Gatsby, whom she thinks is too clumsy with his wealth. Similarly, Gatsby is dissatisfied with her. Tom comes in at this point, and he wins Daisy because he, from facial judgment, he comes out as a well-cultured man capable of taking care of a woman. People should be aware that Nick is just like any other normal person, and therefore it should not be surprising that he can lie, be prone to lies from others, or sometimes forget. For instance, when he explains that during their meeting with her cousin, he got drunk. He continues to state that the incident would count as his second time to consume alcohol ever. Therefore, all that happens at that time is unclear and hard to recall (Egan 16).
Nick does not recall much, but what he is sure of is that he wakes up in another man’s bedroom. All he recalls is the ride in the elevator where Mr. McKee invites him to lunch, and he accepts (Kleven 28). The author brings out the real picture of a consumerist society conveying its sinful nature and the complexity of self-centered relationships. Despite being wealthy, Daisy engages in fake relationships that make her look like a poor woman begging to be taken away by wealthy men. In addition, she craves attention, but her seemingly helpless efforts appear to bear no fruit as Gatsby seeks to play around with her.
Through the narrator’s many interactions with Gatsby, their strong relationship stands out. Therefore, through this strong bond, the narration of The Great Gatsby becomes substantially biased to favor Gatsby. It mostly shows events that exhibit Gatsby’s positive aspects, while ignoring those that show his negative sides (Doe and Epps 19). Nick lies only to benefit Gatsby. Gatsby led his life; this was as he is blinded by the conviction that money can buy anything, which is untrue. Despite having a lot of money, Daisy leaves him for Tom, who seems secure and intelligent. Nick fits well in the layer of lying for a seemingly worthy cause. In this case, he lies only when covering Gatsby’s flaws.
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