The Lyricism of Nick Carraway

David Kelly


Among the works Fitzgerald read and re-read whilst writing The Great Gatsby were two that take their place among the most important of the great Modernist experiments in the novel, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Ford’s The Good Soldier. Each of these was an exercise in first person narration, the author contriving a tale in such a way that the epistemological and psychological profile of the narrator becomes as meaningful an aspect of the narrative as any figure or incident within it. Such an effect was clearly in Fitzgerald’s conception of his novel, yet Fitzgerald’s Nick—who engages us so effectively that we are perfectly comfortable with him on a first name basis—differs in one important respect from Conrad’s Marlow and Ford’s Dowell: where each of them is aware that they can at best only approach the truth of the matter, Nick is aware that such a purpose is largely irrelevant to him. ‘Reading over what I have written so far,’ he writes, ‘I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me’(p. 62). He goes on to explain that this was not the case, but the impression stands. He is perfectly aware that he is creating an impression which gives a view of, but does not accurately reflect, the reality of the matter, and he writes because writing is the medium that best suits the rhetorical art that achieves this effect. For The Great Gatsby is a novel vitally concerned with point of view, with the process of arriving at that view, and with the art of fashioning and transmitting that view.

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