Nick’s Loss of Innocence and Growing Awareness
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In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, the narrator Nick Carraway’s loss of innocence and growing awareness is one of the significant themes. Nick moves to West Egg, Long Island, an affluent suburb of New York City, where millionaires and powerbrokers dominate the landscape, from his simple, idyllic Midwestern home. In his new home, he meets Jay Gatsby, the main character in the novel. Throughout the novel, Nick’s involvement in Gatsby’s affairs causes him to gradually lose his innocence and he eventually becomes a mature person. By learning about Gatsby’s past and getting to know how Gatsby faces the past and the present, Nick finds out about the futility of escaping from the reality. Nick also learns how wealth can corrupt when he meets the upper class people. Nick is aware of Gatsby’s pursuit of the American Dream and the destruction that the dream has brought Gatsby. In The Great Gatsby, Nick’s loss of innocence and growing awareness is demonstrated through Nick’s realization of how the upper class people are, his recognition of Gatsby’s failure in facing reality, and the destruction that the pursuit of the American Dream has brought Gatsby.
Nick meets many members of the upper class and learns about the corrupting power of great wealth. When Nick moves to the West Egg, he always sees the big parties with many wealthy people attending. He thinks that the parties and the people must be amazing. However, when he gets to know those people, Nick learns that the upper class society is full of lies and the abuse of power. People with great wealth have more power than people who do not. They lie and they can get away with all their faults. When Nick meets Jordan Baker, he is attracted to her and thinks that she is a good person. Later, he finds out Jordan’s true personality and realizes that he is not in love with her.
I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity. The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something–most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don’t in the beginning–and one day I found what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it–and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy’s. At her first big gold tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers–a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. (58)
Nick realizes that Jordan Baker is a dishonest person. He does not like her anymore and wants to end his relationship with her immediately because he is an honest person. Nick also finds out that people in the upper class commonly abuse their power. Tom wants Nick to meet his mistress Myrtle because he wants to show Nick that he has great wealth and that it is fine for him to have a beautiful wife and have an affair with another woman. Tom also thinks that everyone should respect him because he is wealthy. “Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty, with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner” (12). Tom believes that poor people should not be treated with respect, and that people with great wealth could do everything they want. Through spending time with the upper-class people, Nick recognizes that wealth destroys people and that people in the upper class are all dishonest, materialistic, and self-centered.
Nick becomes Gatsby’s close friend, and through finding out about Gatsby’s past and knowing how Gatsby faces the past and the present, Nick learns that one must face reality in order to proceed with one’s life. At first, Nick does not know about Gatsby’s past and no one knows how Gatsby got his wealth and status. Later, Nick learns that Gatsby comes from a poor background but he lies that he is from a wealthy family.
I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase ‘educated at Oxford’, or swallowed it, or choked on it, as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him, after all. (64)
Nick knows that Gatsby lies because Gatsby wants people to respect him and he does not want to face the reality that he comes from a poor family. Moreover, Nick knows about Daisy and Gatsby’s past relationship and how Gatsby cannot face the reality that Daisy is married to Tom. Gatsby presses Daisy to tell him that she never loved Tom. Gatsby wants to deny the truth and wants to bring back the old days he spent with Daisy.
He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then (106).
Gatsby cannot accept the truth that Daisy has married somebody else, and he wants to go back to the time when Daisy and he were together. Gatsby cannot move on with his life. Through knowing about Gatsby’s past and how he escapes from it, Nick learns that one must live in the present and that the attempt to get back to the past is futile, hopeless, and impossible.
Nick is involved in many of Gatsby’s affairs and he finally learns that the American Dream does not bring any happiness to Gatsby and destroys him instead. Nick, who leaves his Midwestern life and its values, is a witness to the destruction of the American Dream. Nick comes to the East with great hope and expectations, but then discovers how the hope has been crushed by man’s greed and immorality. The key moment of enlightenment comes when he talks with Gatsby after meeting the notorious gambler Meyer Wolfsheim. Nick finds out that Wolfsheim is the man who fixed the World’s Series and he is shocked.
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people–with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. (71)
Nick’s contact with Wolsheim causes him to understand that people achieve their American Dream through corrupted ways. Nick is an honest person, and he never knew that people would use such corrupted ways to gain wealth. By meeting Wolsheim, he finds out that the American Dream causes people to turn into unscrupulous individuals. Gatsby’s dream is to get wealth and to win back Daisy. Nick admires Gatsby’s love and devotion for Daisy, and he helps Gatsby to arrange his meeting with Daisy. Gatsby takes the blame for Daisy when she hits Myrtle with the car, and this eventually leads to his death. At the end, Nick learns that Gatsby’s dream is unrealistic and that Daisy is unworthy for Gatsby to do so much for her. Daisy is materialistic and loveless that she never tells the truth of Myrtle’s death and she does not even attend Gatsby’s funeral. Through witnessing all these events that are involved in Gatsby’s attempt to achieve his dream, Nick learns that the American Dream brings one hopes and incentives in the beginning, but depression and disappointment at the end.
In The Great Gatsby, Nick’s loss of innocence and growing awareness is demonstrated through Nick’s realization of how the upper class people are, his recognition of Gatsby’s failure in facing reality, and the destruction that the pursuit of the American Dream has brought Gatsby. When Nick first moves to West Egg, he is innocent and hopes to learn about the wonders of the world. However, as he meets the upper class people and gets involved in their affairs, Nick finds out that the upper class society is corrupted and is lack of order. Nick discovers that the members of the upper class society are all dishonest, egoistic, and cruel. Nick also learns that one should always face the reality because when one escapes from it, one would not be able to proceed with one’s life. Furthermore, Nick comes to know that the American Dream does not bring people happiness but rather fill them with disappointment. Throughout the novel, Nick’s encounter with Gatsby and others causes him to gradually lose his innocence and he ultimately becomes a fully mature person.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1926.