Nick Carraway as Narrator

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Nick Carraway played by Sam Waterston in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Nick’s aspects of anonymity are very important to his narration of the novel. We know Nick as a specific character, but there is an omnipresent quality to him. Since Nick is not as important of a figure as the likes of Jay Gatsby, he is not the central driving force of the novel. Therefore, Nick can still take part in the world around him but also has the ability to be all-perceiving of the action taking place. This is evident, for example, when Nick describes himself as “within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life,” (35). He is not fully absorbed in the action of the narrative, rather on the sidelines, and is therefore able to distance himself and see details that wouldn't normally present themselves, including an objective view of his own experience. The distance that Nick gains from his anonymity is very valuable to the experience of his narration. Not only is Nick able to see the truth of the world around him, but he is also able to be critical. Nick’s goal always seems to be honesty, especially when describing Gatsby. It is only through the critical eye gained from anonymity that Nick is able to be completely honest without fear of judgment.

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Nick Carraway portrayed by Tobey Maguire in the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby (pictured here with Jordan Baker, portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki).

Anonymity provides Nick with the opportunity to critically interpret everything around him. This is incredibly important for it speaks not only to the Gatsby narrative, but to modernism as a whole. One of the most important aspects of modernist writing is the ability to criticize traditional works in order to make them new. The change and subversion that came with modernism could not have been done without such a critical eye. Looking at Nick’s character, anonymity seems to be a necessary part of this critical work. We know that Nick is a writer, and we know that he is writing Gatsby's story as he tells it. Could modernist writing in a more general sense relate back to Nick’s style of storytelling? The idea of involving oneself in a narrative, but retaining some anonymity in order to protect one’s actions or motivations as a writer, could very well be representative of the modernist writing process as a whole.