The Great Gatsby

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Nick is a character with romantic tendencies especially when he is being reflective. I think having such a tendency comments on the reliability of what they say. Nick states on the last page of chapter three, “Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
Now, most truly honest people can admit to themselves that they are liars some of the time and even when not lying theirs is only one point of view and thus might be biased. Nick never seems to worry whether or not he is biased except in the very beginning when he quotes his father on the matter of criticizing people. Now the third paragraph of the first chapter show us how Nick tries to establish himself as a reliable narrator, however for suspicious-minded people, like me, this paragraphs phrasing seems dubious. I think this paragraph also teaches us one of the few things we can believe about Nick, “[he is] privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.” Throughout the story, Nick is certainly the recipient of many secrets as well as many griefs. The curious thing about Nick is he tends not to act on the secrets instead Nick allows them to play out and watch the havoc they create from the side.

Another reason I have for not trusting Nick is although he says he reserves his judgments we see throughout the book that he is very biased in his views towards people. For example, the way he describes people has hints of biased language. Tom, Nick describes with much to say about simple physical characteristics.
“Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body- he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage- a cruel body.”
Now some men of a large frame can definitely be described as aggressive and dominant by their size; Nick takes it a step further to say not only is Tom aggressive but Tom is cruel, not only is Tom large but Tom is arrogant all from Tom’s physicality. Nick does mention later in the novel that he wrote this novel later and thus we can assume that the following situations of the novel may play into his original descriptions. If Nick were truly non-judgmental, or at the very least wished to reserve from speaking about his judgments, Nick would have delivered less personal descriptions of the characters. The readers are meeting these characters for the first time and his readers deserve the chance to form their own judgments.

Now that we have spoken about Nick’s reliability as a narrator we can comment on one of his ending comments in the novel.
“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes–a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” This comment can mean many things however if we were to consider that Nick (a.k.a. Fitzgerald) meant to relate Gatsby’s Dream and the American Dream, then we can believe that Nick thinks that Gatsby is as great as America itself. The American Dream and Gatsby’s Dream an unusual pair; at first glance it may seem they are common and Gatsby fulfills such an amazing ideal. Yet if you break them down; though both are improbable, one has guidelines where the other is anything to achieve the goal.
The American Dream is commonly thought of as message declaring, “If you work hard, you can accomplish anything. You can start with nothing and hard work will pay into the extravagance of your choosing.” I think many in today’s society would agree that this is impossible. Hard work is not the only thing driving our chances at success; while a huge part, it is not the heart of achievement. Luck, money, influence, connections, motivation, talent all these items play huge roles in attaining triumph.
Gatsby has talent, drive, and assumedly is hard working, yet he is born from little his parents are farm people. As the novel comes along we learn Gatsby’s Dream is to have fame, fortune, and later Daisy. Gatsby gains fame and fortune but lacks Daisy. His fame and fortune also come at the cost of illegal activities and living a lie. Now, most people think the American Dream would be possible through legal means and as oneself. Not many would consider Gatsby as truly fulfilling his American Dream, because of the illegal activities he partakes in to as well as the fact that he does not achieve all aspects of his dream. Thus surely Nick cannot be comparing Gatsby and America due to their fundamental differences. The American Dream is an improbable ideal and Gatsby’s Dream an impossible illegitimate invention.

If we were to take this idea one step further, we might wonder if this is truly what Nick meant to portray. Gatsby’s life could be what is compared to the potential of a new world. Which any life can be described a new world with endless possibilities it is simply how you choose to use it. I personally think Nick was comparing Gatsby to those who first viewed America and saw it’s overpowering potential. Gatsby is mentioned more than once to see things as improbable but not impossible.
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!” While those of us with rational minds realize that this is truly an impossibility, Gatsby viewed the world differently and from another view than that of a rational mind. Or at least that is what Nick would like us to think.

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4 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby

  1. I really enjoyed this post–particularly the point you made comparing Gatsby to the American Dream, as though he was meant to personify it. It was a point I hadn’t considered prior to reading this. It makes a little bit of sense, too–Gatsby’s dream was impossible, nearly unattainable. He flirted with it for a time, and enjoyed it, but then it left for something better. The American Dream can also be compared to this (or at least, the American Dream of accumulating as much wealth as humanly possible)–you can flirt with it, and enjoy it, but money is impersonal and inhuman and it will flee to whatever individual buys it harder. I’m starting to get comfortable with your points, here.

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  2. “The American Dream is an improbable ideal and Gatsby’s Dream an impossible illegitimate invention.” This is my favorite sentence because it really makes me think. I don’t know that I agree with your take but I appreciate you taking all the time to explain your view about Nick, Gatsby, and the whole lot. Nick sees through the eyes of different lenses, that’s for sure, much like the giant eyes of Dr. Eckleburg looking over the town. To me, Nick is simply a spectator. He is neither totally apart from the group or a part of the group. He simply watches from the middle of it all. I think Gatsby could have had his dream if he had found money in an honorable way but cutting corners is no way to win your true love’s heart, even if he had to wait longer than five years for her. And, I guess, in that sense I believe the American dream is totally probable, if only we have the guts to live simply and meaningfully which I definitely don’t think anyone in “The Great Gatsby” did, not even Nick.

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  3. I actually quite like the way you worded the last paragraphs about Gatsby’s dream versus the American Dream. However, I think I differ as I believe I see the concept of the American Dream quite differently. I do not believe that Nick equated Gatsby to the American Dream, per say, but just as someone who he originally thought was actually able to achieve such an unrealistic dream. I’m probably just a bit more cynical than necessary and believe that the American Dream was just simply the idea of building yourself from the bottom up, which I believe Gatsby achieved. He achieved, even through nefarious means, only to find that even though he had this wealth, the ultimate prize, Daisy, was still unattainable. Due to seeing this unfold and ultimately watching Gatsby crumble into nothingness, I think, perhaps, Nick did once believe that the American Dream was attainable feat. Watching (and, I guess, partaking) in the events surrounding Gatsby and how the nature of people “living the American Dream” shattered it for him.

    This idea could hint to a different interpretation of the paragraph on the last page. It could just be Nick reminiscing on something that once held so much potential and hope only to be turned into a wasteland of greed and manipulation. This would echo the way in which Gatsby led his life, which Nick was privy to. And although I don’t mind Nick as a narrator (as almost all narrators show bias), I have to wonder at which level he held Gatsby, high enough to inspire awe or high enough to be similar to the unrealistic goals of the American Dream.

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  4. For me, Nick’s reliability as a narrator shows through on more than one occasion. The fact that he never divulges any of these varied secrets that have been confided to him, to us, speaks to his honesty. The lot of what he tells us, is simply what he has observed and jotted down in what almost seems like a posthumous publishing of a man’s journal or something. I feel as though, were it anybody else telling us the story, it would not have been as believable. In all honesty, I think that were it not for us approaching the text under the purpose of critical analysis we, the reader, would not really second guess anything he were to tell us about what happened (or at least, very few of us would second guess his words). That, to me, speaks to his reliability.

    In relation to Nick’s descriptions of people, he rarely seemed to express those descriptions as opinion. More often than not, he seemed to describe individuals with factual statements based on his own observations. Those observations do not necessarily equate to judgement and lack of reliability, in my opinion. In all actuality, it speaks to his honesty even more so because most would try to find ways of phrasing words in a manner so as not to offend, while he merely calls it as he sees it. Remember, his preeminent role is merely that of an observer and I believe he is more than comfortable in that role.

    I do not agree that the American Dream is an improbable ideal. On the contrary, I believe that Gatsby (an example and embodiment of the everyman) imperfectly demonstrated just how attainable the American Dream is. A person is not born with determination and drive, they take a hold of those attributes and utilize them; bending them to their own wills, to attain greatness. We saw this, in abundance, within Gatsby. Though he took those attributes and put them into effect behind a less than desirable means of attaining that dream, he attained a portion of that dream nonetheless. Great post.

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