How You Know Him:
Narrator and hanger-on to the idle rich in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Why He’s Crushworthy:
It seems a little strange to be attached to Nick Carraway. He is, obviously, the most present character in Fitzgerald’s seminal novel. But he’s also arguably the least important. The novel is, unsurprisingly, about the fabulously wealthy (albeit nouveau riche) Jay Gatsby and his quest to win back the love of his life, Nick’s cousin, the beautiful (but appropriately married) Daisy Buchanan.
For most of the story Nick is simply there, doing little to contribute to the proceedings. He drinks, observes, tells us he doesn’t judge people, dates the vapid professional golfer Jordan Baker, and does very little else. But then I’ve always been interested in the people who aren’t special, the ones that know the special people and who relay their stories. It’s easy to say that Nick’s a bystander, but that’s also far too simplistic a way of looking at it, because, while Mr. Carraway does not consider himself important to the story it seems a little unrealistic to think he did nothing but observe.
The narration style, I think, is one of the things that makes Gatsby great. Because we aren’t given a first person narrative through one of the more central character nor a third person omniscient narrative we have all our information filtered through an unreliable narrator. We’re given facts out of sequence, information through a soak of gin, and the piecing together of events that took place when the narrator was not present. Including the climax of the story. There is also the possibility, because of the unreliability of Nick as a narrator, that we are given facts that are colored in one way or another because of the character’s own biases. We’re told right from the beginning that Nick considers himself the sort who doesn’t judge people. He can look at people for who they are, faults and all, and accept them without judgment. This is pretty impossible, especially as the story progresses and the audience learns more and more about the negative aspects of the rest of the character’s constitutions. Especially Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan. In fact, by the end of the story Nick has become so increasingly disgusted with the way of life on Long Island, and the consequences of being a part of that world, that he’s decided to move back west (to where we’re not told) away from it.
In brief, I am going to move away from the character of Nick for a minute and draw a parallel. With Gossip Girl. While it may seem absurd to compare one of the greatest works of American literature with a book series and television show that’s geared towards the high school set, but I think it’s actually sort of an apt comparison. While we see the culture of New York, and Long Island, through the eyes of newcomer Nick Carraway who’s thrown into the hedonistic and lavish lifestyle of his enormously wealthy cousin and the self made man who loves her, we see the hedonistic and lavish lifestyles of a group of Upper East Side elite through the eyes of a website that likes to post gossip about them. In the beginning of the series that’s filtered through Brooklynites Dan and Jenny Humphrey, who are on the outside of the lifestyle looking in (not so much the case anymore but stories must go on, I suppose). In both instances the characters basically behave badly, and in both cases their lifestyle, and not their characteristics, are blamed. In order to be better people, eventually characters Nick Carraway and Jenny Humphrey realize they have to leave because their surroundings will corrupt them beyond recognition.
Nick Carraway is the conduit that allows us, the reader, to look into a world and a time that we are not, and can not be, a part of. Because Nick is also on the outside looking in it’s pretty ingenious. But what makes it better is that, while on the surface Nick seems like he’s nothing more than a quiet observer, with further examination it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to this character than just that. Or perhaps it’s just, in the end, Nick’s the only survivor. Not because he’s the only one to reach the end of the story alive, but because he’s the only one who has the ability and the fortitude to see the wrong that was done and not remain idle. Even if that only means self removal.
*drawing by K. Beaton at Hark a Vagrant!