In a story full of unpalatable characters, Nick Carraway stands out as the most repulsive. He is the narrator and main character of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Every other character has a more pronounced character flaw; Tom Buchanan’s infidelity, Daisy Buchanan’s shallowness, Jordan Baker’s egocentricity, and Jay Gatsby’s phoniness. The reader learns of these through the observations of Nick, who tells the story as a memoir of his summer in West Egg in 1922. Nick’s flaw is not as glaring. He propels the narrative forward in one way; he is the person who can connect Gatsby with his desire: Daisy. Other than this, he is a passenger in the lives of the others: a facilitator and observer who displays a great apathy toward the evil which he surrounds himself with.
Nick’s demeanor, quiet and open-minded, allowed for Tom and Gatsby to bring him into their personal pursuits. Nick accompanies Tom on his trips to visit with Myrtle Wilson, and Gatsby recruits Nick to connect him with Daisy. Nick was an accomplice to two affairs, and does nothing to challenge them. He returns regularly to Tom’s second apartment to party with Myrtle. He continues to facilitate the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy. In the end, the writer reveals that Nick detests the immorality of West Egg, yet Nick does nothing to affect the lives of his companions in a positive way.
This is why he is the most repulsive character in literature. He has belief but no conviction. He observes but does not partake. He knows but does not reveal. Nick allows himself to be swept up into the immoral life, even though he resents it. Tom and Gatsby are strong personalities who pursue what they desire. Nick is weak.
Why is it that moral conviction is often accompanied by weakness? Men who lay claim to virtue often step aside when confronted with vice. They comment and hold their personal convictions, but rarely intervene. Perhaps the answer lies in Fitzgerald’s description of Nick as “open minded.” In our world of “open mindedness,” men have had their virtuous foundation from which they fight on eroded from under their feet. No longer can a man know that adultery is wrong; he cannot make such a claim. Rather, his knowledge has been relegated to the realm of opinion. This was true of Nick, and so he he kept his “opinion” to himself rather than calling Tom and Gatsby on their evil, and became a passive observer of the decaying world.
written by Charlie Balfour