In this essay I am going to contrast and compare the characters Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In spite of the external differences between them, they have a great deal of similarities as well. Because of this I intend to look at both of the characters and point out what is different or similar and why.
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Nick Carraway originally comes from Minnesota. He is not rich, but he is not poor either. He was educated at Yale and he served in the First World War. When the novel begins Nick goes to New York City to learn more about the bond business. He moves to a place called West Egg, which is a fictional/story bound area of Long Island. There he gets a small, modest house and he becomes the neighbour of Jay Gatsby, a person he later befriends and becomes very close to. Nick has problems when it comes to committing to women. He can’t seem to make a permanent attachment to them. He had a fiancé back home, but he cut contact with her, went east and denies that they are engaged when Daisy asks him about it (p.21, Ch.1).
Nick is the narrator and also participates in the story, and the entire novel is told through his eyes. He tells the story of his neighbour and friend, the great Jay Gatsby.
Jay Gatsby can be seen as the main character as well as the “star” of the story. He is a wealthy man who lives in a big mansion in West Egg. He is famous for the big parties he throws every Saturday night. At the beginning of the novel no one knows where he is from, what he does for a living, or how he made his fortune. In the course of the story Nick learns that Jay was born with the name James Gatz, that he comes from a farm in North Dakota, and that he made his fortune through criminal activities. Jay served in the First World War as well Nick, and after the war he went to Oxford to try and get an education. Jay is in love with Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s second cousin. Gatsby fell in love with her when he was training to be an officer in Louisville, but they lost touch and now he is willing to do anything to win her back.
When it comes to money Nick and Gatsby live in two different worlds, even though they are next door neighbours and close friends. Jay lives in a mansion and he is a very wealthy man and there is nothing more important to him than financial success. He makes his money through criminal activities, like for example fixing games. Even his relationship with Daisy is highly affected by money and her luxury. Nick on the other hand lives in a modest little house, but he appreciates what he has. He is not a very wealthy man, but he is in pursuit of the American Dream. He makes his money by working in the bond business for a company, and takes the train into the city every day.
Gatsby is willing to do anything to win Daisy back; he has never gotten her out of his head and probably never will. All he wants is to go back in time to the glory days they had, but they can’t do that as long as Tom is in the picture. He keeps saying that she have to tell Tom that she never loved him, and that she has always loved Jay. In the end, Gatsby gets so desperate that he tells Tom himself, something that doesn’t end well for anyone (Ch. 7, p.138).
In contrast, Nick cannot seem to commit to a woman without running off. As mentioned, Nick has a nameless fiancé back in Minnesota, a girl he practically denies the existence of. Then there is Miss Jordan Baker. An independent single woman, who plays golf. Nick and her has some kind of a short affair, but they go their separate ways in the end of the novel, as well as everyone else.
Nick and Gatsby do not only have their differences, but they also have their similarities and/or things in common. To begin with, both of them comes from the Mid- West, and moved east to West Egg. As stated before, Gatsby comes from North Dakota and Nick comes from Minnesota.
Another important thing they have in common is Daisy. Daisy is Nick’s second cousin and Gatsby’s lost love. Daisy and Gatsby met in Louisville, but he had to go to the war. Jay went straight to Oxford after the war to try and get an education so he could live up to Daisy’s luxury. She was supposed to wait for him, but two years after he went to war Daisy married Tom. Gatsby was never able to forget her. This might get you to think of why Jay invited Nick into his life in the first place. Was it so he could get close to Daisy again? Is Jay and Nick’s relationship based on a lie?
One last obvious thing these two men have in common is the fact that they both served in the First World War and they both went to good schools. Nick went to Yale, with Tom, before he went to fight in WW1. And as mentioned, even though he did not go for long, Gatsby went to Oxford right after he had served in WW1.
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Nick can be seen as an outsider in the novel. He is the only one who is not wealthy and he does not quite fit into the crowd of Jay and Daisy. Although Nick is fascinated by the swift, entertaining lifestyle of New York, he also finds it to be grotesque and destructive. He is an honest intelligent man who observes the people around him in peace and quiet. It is not only Nick that can be seen as an outsider, Gatsby can also be kind of an outsider in the story. He is a rich man in West Egg, but all the other rich people live in East Egg, the more fashionable of the two.
The characters are different in many ways, but despite that they actually are more similar to each other than they are different. This might be difficult to see as you read the book, but when you later look at the characters you can see that the reason for them to seem so different is because they have different morals or standards. You could say that they basically had the same upbringing, but when they came to the point of choosing a path in life they chose differently, e.g. Nick chooses to work hard and work his way up, whereas Gatsby wants money quick and easy and chooses to get them through criminal activities. In the end of the novel we learn that Nick is Gatsby’s only true friend, which might be because of Nick’s morals and honesty. Can these qualities be the reason for Gatsby’s invitation into his own life?
Andreas Kitzing Online. (2013). The Great Gatsby – Relationship between Nick and Gatsby. Located 27.02.2013 at http://www.andreas-kitzing.com/texte/show/id/22/Englisch/The_Great_Gatsby_-_Relationship_between_Nick_and_Gatsby.html
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. (2011). The Great Gatsby. London, England: Penguin Group.
Lecture notes from 30.01.2013
Sparknotes. (2012). The Great Gatsby – Character List. Located 26.02.2013 at http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/gatsby/characters.html
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