The novel Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald is written from a first-person limited perspective from Nick’s point of view. The technique of a first-person narrator presents certain problems of objectivity and reliability for the reader of this novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A narrator always has some sort of dishonesty because no matter what there will be some sort of bias going into their storytelling. Although Nick is the narrator of the novel, he is usually just an observer of the lives of characters in the novel like Tom, Daisy, Myrtle, Baker, and even the main character of the novel, Jay Gatsby himself. Nick is an unreliable narrator in the novel because of multiple reasons such as that he is not omniscient and therefore does not see everything, and the fact that he is just a human and makes human mistakes, and the second is that he is a biased human being and the third is his judgment and feelings towards characters throughout the novel.
Nick Carraway is from the Midwest and is a college graduate who moved to New York to work in business. He is easily influenced and naive, but because he is very curious and observant which allows him to have a better understanding of others. At the start of the novel Nick is thinking back on advice that his father gave him when he was a young child when he said “ All the people in the world haven’t had thé advantages that you had”(Fitzgerald 1). His father would tell him to watch out about criticizing others and would remind him that he had many advantages that many others didn’t have. This advantage is most probably the family’s wealth and social status but that’s just an assumption and may be false. This makes Nick study people, make observations, and dig deeper trying to grasp everyone’s true identity. Nick interacts with each of the characters in a very different way. This shows that he is perfectly aware of what he is doing and knows how to make people love him or hate him depending on what he wants.
The fact that Nick is not omniscient and is just human is one of the most important pieces of evidence that he cannot be a reliable narrator. In this novel, Nick is just a human. As a non-omniscient narrator of the novel Nick cannot see everything. He can only see what occurs in front of him and what others speak to him about. The issue with that is that the characters are just human therefore make human mistakes such as saying one thing while meaning to say another thing as well as interpreting things in different ways. He also has a different sense of what’s right and wrong which is another issue with his reliability. Nick could usually only see one side of the story and therefore could only give a single opinion, there are many issues with his reliability due to the fact that he is not omniscient and is only human, for example, he not only can see one side of things he also can see things in a different way then what they actually were and may interpret something one way when in reality it was supposed to be the complete opposite. Also, he can’t read minds therefore doesn’t know what people are thinking. Also, he doesn’t know what people’s true intentions are when they are doing something let alone their intentions when they tell him something. Nick doesn’t know everything, he is only a human, and makes human mistakes, whether those mistakes are deliberate or accidental is not relevant to the reliability of his narrating, also aside from his lies, there are also the lies that others have told him that also may have affected his storytelling. These things that affect Nick’s storytelling because of the fact that he is a non-omniscient being make Nick’s narrating a lot less reliable.
Another factor in how unreliable Nick is as a narrator is that he is very biased. Nick Carraway is a young man who was originally from Minnesota then went to Yale, and afterward entered the war during WWI, and eventually, he moved to New York to work in business. All of these things may also cause a certain level of bias in Nick’s opinion therefore also his storytelling, for example, he may have a higher opinion of people who served in the warlike he did, or he may dislike people who were educated in universities that were against Yale. People lie, almost everybody in the world lies in one way or another, Nick has probably lied many times throughout his story, or at the very least twisted the truth. Nick is also biased towards things from the West, he considers anything that is “unwestern” as something unethical, and wrongful. He stated, “Instead of being the warm center of the world, the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe”(Fitzgerald 3). The bias that affects the narrating of the novel is not only Nick’s but other peoples as well. Although the majority of the bias in the narration of the novel is Nick’s, other characters are also partly to blame for this. Other characters’ bias towards Nick might also be a factor in how unreliable the narration was because other characters may either like or dislike Nick causing them to either interact with him differently and keep things from him, and others that like him may keep things from him so that he doesn’t get hurt or may be protecting him from something. As well as others who deeply dislike him that may give him false information. Throughout the story, Nick’s bias is seen many times and undeniable, this clearly shows that Nick’s narration is nowhere near as reliable as we wish it was.
Nick’s judgement and feelings towards other characters throughout the novel is the third factor in how unreliable Nick’s narrating is. Throughout the novel we see how Nick has great appreciation and admiration for some characters and hatred for others. One of the largest examples of this is with Gatsby himself. We see how Nick greatly cares for and admires Gatsby, the largest example of this is the title of the book itself. The title of the book is “Great Gatsby” although the word “Great” may just be Fitzgerald trying to be ironic, but most likely it’s to show the level of admiration that Nick has for Gatsby in the novel, that he thinks that Gatsby is a “Great” person. Whereas he describes Tom Buchanan as a terrible person, and views him as arrogant and the opposite of what he views Gatsby as. This is most clearly seen when Nick describes Tom as having “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.”(Fitzgerald 12). Nick also views Daisy as inadequate but to a lesser degree. The fact that he openly showed his feelings and opinions about the characters in the novel make it clear that he is not reliable with his storytelling about these characters.
The fourth factor that makes Nick such an unreliable narrator is that he sets himself apart from the rest of the characters. Throughout the novel it’s clear that Nick sets himself apart from the rest of the characters, we see him showing his emotions and feelings, This is most densely seen towards the end of the novel after Gatsby’s Death. After Gatsby passes, a man that Nick dearly loved, Nick stops narrating the story for the most part, and focuses on his own emotions. This is seen when he says things such as “But all this part of it seemed remote and unessential. I found myself on Gatsby’s side, and alone . . . 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 every one has some vague right at the end.” (Fitzgerald 164), as well as when Nick says “After Gatsby’s death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes’ power of correction. So when the blue smoke of brittle leaves was in the air and the wind blew the wet laundry stiff on the line I decided to come back home.” (Fitzgerald 176), and when he says “I couldn’t forgive [Tom] or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (Fitzgerald) it is seen again. The way that Nick sets himself apart from everyone causes a reliability issue because we are never one hundred percent sure whether Nick is narrating what is occurring or narrating what he is feeling.
Although Nick is a first person narrator of the novel, he is usually just an observer of the lives of characters in the novel like Tom, Daisy, Myrtle, Baker, and Jay Gatsby. Nick is an unreliable narrator in the novel because of multiple reasons such as that he is not omniscient and therefore does not see everything, and the fact that he is just a human and makes human mistakes, and the second is that he is a biased human being and the third is his judgment, descriptions and feelings towards characters throughout the novel. The way that Nick sets himself apart from everyone also causes a reliability issue. The narration by Nick Carraway in the novel Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is unreliable, untrustworthy, and deceitful.