As a profound commentary on the American dream and a reflection of the period in which it was written, F. Scott Fitzgeralds American classic, The Great Gatsby, remains an enduring work in the American literature canon. Though the novel is relatively simple in terms of plot, the symbolism and intricacies related to that plot provide meaning and context to the reader (Gross and Gross 5). Articulating these intricacies and the basic mechanisms of the plot, however, are holistically tied to the point of view from which the story is told. The entire story is told through the eyes of the 29 year old Nick Carraway. As a result, the reader is left to determine if Nick’s account is romanticized or if it is told with the necessary realism to be considered unbiased and therefore taken at face value. The process of this meaning making requires an analysis of Carraway and the way in which his point of view is expressed throughout the story. The nature of the narrative, however, provides other clues useful to making such decisions. In this capacity, Carraway also sometimes switches to the third person, which allows for other perspectives to be considered by other characters interacting throughout the novel. Based on Carraway’s perception alone, Gatsby is presented as a mysterious and tragically romantic figure. This point of view is passed on to the reader; however, the addition of the third person elements also allow for commentary by other characters. This balancing process used by the author, demonstrates Gatsby for what he truly was, a complicated, tragic, romantic figure that was consumed with becoming what he thought constituted success in his respective era. Also having flaws and questionable morality, the point of view literary mechanism employed by Fitzgerald is more of a commentary on the American dream than a value judgement on Gatsby alone. Nick Carraway: A Character Analysis To understand the point of view expressed in the novel, it is first necessary to understand who Nick Carraway is as the narrator. Carraway is man who is newly relocated to West Egg, which is a fictional place based on Fitzgerald’s home of Great Neck, New York (Columbia 230). West Egg is a home to the newly rich and it is geographically located on the North Shore of Long Island (230). Bordering the Long Island Sound and close enough to New York City to be an escape for the rich, the culture of the area is affluent and a microcosm of values associated with socialites. Carraway, however, is enterprising and not yet rich himself. Having a degree from Yale and experience serving in the American military during the Great War, Carraway has the balance of a worldly person and the pedigree of an Ivy League university. Based on this two factors, Carraway is presented as a balanced character whose point of view should be taken seriously. His relocation to West Egg was connected to a desire to learn the bond business in New York City. As Daisy Buchanan’s cousin (Gatsby’s love interest) and a neighbor of Gatsby, he naturally became part of the society movement present in the area at that time. The primary function of Carraway in Fitzgerald’s tale is “to translate the mysterious man’s [Gatsby’s] dramatic gestures into a revelation of their hidden significance” (Bloom 178). Whether or not this occurs is a matter of reader perception. According to Bloom, “Nick is essentially private; personality appears in public performance….[Gatsby and Nick’s] individual’s essential qualities remain forever hidden” (178). Bloom continues, “Fitzgerald makes it clear that to know another person in any substantial way lies somewhere between a leap of imaginative faith and the sheerly impossible” (178). It is in the this tradition where the mystery in the Gatsby character proliferates. Though some is known about Carraway’s past, his character is rather benign and only seen through social interactions and his perspective on Gatsby. This leaves much to the imagination of the reader and is part of the meaning making process in Fitzgerald’s point of view mechanism. Nick Carraway: Viewing Gatsby From a Romantic Perspective
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Gatsby can be viewed by the reader and is viewed by varying characters throughout the story as a lot of things. He could be considered a driven man, a tragic figure, an amoral character, a grossly misunderstood man or any combination thereof. As romantic figure, however, Gatsby is nearly entirely the creation of Carraway’s point of view (Bloom 178). Early in the novel, Carraway described the movements of the title character, “Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens” (Fitzgerald 20). Based on this description and word choices alone, the point of view expressed by Carraway is clearly one of admiration and infatuation. Nick, through his point of view, “serves as a translator of the dreams and social ambitions of the people who surround him” (Giltrow and Stouck 476). As a result, designating Carraway as having a romantic view toward Gatsby is a reflection of all of the characters that live in West Egg. These characters looked at their lives, their ambitions, their potential and the material nature of their entire social microcosm romantically. It is easily reflected in the narrative that the characters overestimated the importance of themselves, their actions and their entire existence. In comparison to world events like World War I, the social ambitions of these residents seem benign; yet, these people are consumed by their designations of success. This is designated by Barrett as “The unreality of reality” for these people (150). In this capacity, for Carraway to be the translator of the mood and ambitions of those around him, he had to see Gatsby through the eyes of a romantic. Gatsby, in this capacity, was the extreme example of what this social world could spawn. Point of View: Third Person and Character Dialogue The way in which Fitzgerald employs point of view affords the supplemental insights of those characters surrounding Gatsby and the third person sequences that are strewn sporadically and calculated throughout the novel. In party conversation that occurred between a female party goer, Jordan and Lucille, the following was said of Gatsby, “There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing like that…He doesn’t want any trouble with anybody” (Fitzgerald 43). This quote is in reference to an event where Gatsby replaced the dress of girl who torn her dress at one of his parties. This act is not being heralded as a grandiose gesture by Gatsby; instead, it is being looked upon with scrutiny. This point of view reveals that Gatsby had ulterior motives for many of his actions. Gatsby was less concerned about the girl’s dress in this situation and more about his reputation in the social scene in which he was trying to assimilate. Assimilation into this social scene meant acceptance and the potential for winning Daisy’s affection. Gatsby was not born into money, as a result, he had to find ways to earn a reputation and to earn the amount of capital that was necessary to live in the type of luxury that was common on the North Shore of Long Island at this time. His reputation was built around maneuvers like the one described by the aforementioned example and the parties that he had. In terms of the parties, they were just a built in mechanism of the desired social circle. Carraway explained, “I believe on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited — they went there” (41). Building his wealth provided another designation about Gatsby’s by any means necessary approach to social mobility. Gatsby was and had earned his money in the trade of illegal alcohol at the time. Set during the era of prohibition, Gatsby was able to fund his aspirations through criminal means. This would ultimately lead to his undoing as once this was common knowledge it would forever tarnish his reputation. For Daisy, despite feelings she may have had for him, she could only be with Gatsby if he were of the right social standing and reputation, his criminal enterprise reintroduced a reputation wedge forever that was temporally lifted when he returned to her life as a man with means. Despite the mystery and the scrutiny other characters placed on Gatsby’s behavior, he was earning a positive reputation before his enterprise was ultimately discovered toward the end of the novel. Henry Gatz explained to Carraway about Gatsby, “He knew he had a big future in front of him. And ever since he made a success he was very generous to me” (Fitzgerald 172). While these point of views present conflicting imagery of Gatsby, they present a unified critique of the American Dream, as it is this mechanism that ultimately drove Gatsby to pursue the life that would ultimately lead to his undoing at the end of the novel. Point of View and the American Dream Gatsby ending up shot in his swimming pool at the conclusion of the novel firmly classifies the novel as a tragedy. Through the eyes of Nick Carraway, “F. Scott Fitzgerald writes his own obituary of the American dream through the eyes and voice of Nick Carraway” (Barrett 150). This makes the meaning of the entire novel one that is equivalent to an “Anti-fairy tale” 150). The pursuit of the empty American Dream is sandwiched between the conditions of the Great War and the Great Depression (Canterbery 297). The social Darwinistic nature of the life that Gatsby wanted to live ended up costing him his life (297). Through the sum of the point of view, the reader is left at the conclusion of the novel with a firm sense that it had all been for nothing. The victory, even if it had been achieved by Gatsby, would have been empty and somewhat convoluted. Had Gatsby achieved the matrimony of Daisy it would have been as much a product of him being a man of reputation and society as much as it would have been out of genuine love for the character. Love and social standing were one in the same in this dream and this sets a critique by the author of entire process. According to Layng, “By novel’s end, Gatsby is the ghost-literally dead, his past with Daisy lost – and Nick emerges as the apostle protagonist” (93). As an apostle type figure, it is Carraway who is left to warn the people reading the tale about the negative potential of the American dream. The novel is very much American and many of the dynamics and intricacies of the novel are connected with these subtleties that are often lost on foreign readers (Dyson 45). Though steeped in tragedy, there is hope that can be connected with the point of view. Carraway has the potential to either leave the scene or to stay in the scene himself but serve as a warning to others venturing down the same path. Gatsby’s death, therefore, has the potential to not have been in vain. According to Hawkes, “For many years ‘hope’ has been a word that has been lost, forgotten, and banished to the margins of romantic longing and wishful thinking” (20). In reality, the point of view used by the author expresses “the unfinished American Epic” (20). Using the words of Fitzgerald, Hawkes explained, “But that’s not matter-to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…And one fine morning’- are once again being heard” (20). Though Gatsby and the romance associated with his dream may be problematic, that does not mean that are more responsible and less empty dream is not possible. Point of view in The Great Gatsby demonstrates a flawed dream that can be used to contrast a positive one that is only limited by the reader’s imagination. Point of View Conclusion The link between The Great Gatsby and the American dream is one that will be present for generations to come in any discussion of the American literary tradition. Fitzgerald’s perspective on a flawed and empty American dream is articulated primarily through the point of view expressed by protagonists, Nick Carraway. Carraway, though romantically linked to the entire social scene of his era, is a reliable narrator that weaves his commentary in with third person dialogue that provides a very round multifaceted perspective of Jay Gatsby. Carraway is not wrong to romanticize Gatsby; however, alone this would not be enough to understand the full scope of the character. Gatsby was driven and he was willing to step outside of traditionally held values of the time when it suited his needs. Making a value judgement on Gatsby, on the other hand, requires making a judgement on the entire concept of the American dream during this particular time period. Fitzgerald skillfully establishes complexity of the entire pursuit of wealth and reputation through compelling point of view narrative.
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