Nick Carraway Character Traits in The Great Gatsby

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

Nick Carraway Character Traits in The Great Gatsby

As the narrator for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway is the first character that the reader learns about. In fact, the novel is all about what Nick thinks of the other characters and how he interprets events.

While it might be tempting to pay attention to the characters taking center stage, such as Tom Buchanan, Daisy, and Gatsby himself, Nick Carraway deserves character analysis as well.

Who is Nick Carraway, and does he deserve the squeaky-clean reputation most people give him and, especially, the image that he wants to portray in his narration?

Keep reading for a complete character analysis of Nick Carraway (or read more on Nick Carraway’s physical description here ).

What Are Nick Carraway’s Character Traits?

Some have said that the author of The Great Gatsby modeled some characters after people he knew.

Still others have said that Nick represents one part of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jay Gatsby another side of the author.

Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

In Chapter 1 ( read more on The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Quotes ), Nick describes himself as a mid-westerner who is tolerant, quiet, open-minded, and non-judgmental. In fact, he describes himself as “one of the few honest people” he has ever known.

Nick tends to take on a tale-telling role, rather than focus on his feelings or what is happening to him for the majority of the novel. This makes him sound rather humble, but is he really?

While Nick admits that he is attracted to New York City, the lavish parties, and the rich and famous people residing there, he also expresses disdain for some of their behavior, such as the dishonesty shown by Jordan Baker.

When you analyze Nick Carraway, it’s pretty obvious that he does have a high moral standard. He knows right from wrong when he sees it, and while he may not call it out directly to the person, he does take note of it.

However, Nick is not as honest as he would like to believe, or make you believe.

When he discovers that Tom’s mistress is not just a rumor but a fact, he doesn’t tell Daisy nor does he confront Tom about his behavior.

Nick is practical enough to realize that you can’t recreate the past, nor should you try, and that everything is not what it seems.

While Nick obviously has personal integrity, he doesn’t seem to have a problem spending time with people who don’t. At least, not until after Gatsby’s death.

Nick represents the “everyday man” in this novel, and perhaps that is what the “everyday man” is all about—a moral, upstanding citizen who has some flaws that can be overlooked.

What Are Nick’s Best Character Traits?

Nick starts off the novel by stating that he is one of the few honest people that he has ever known, as well as telling us that a piece of advice his father had given him was to never judge people too harshly.

We discover that when Nick returned from college and from WWI, he found the Midwest rather boring, so he heads off to learn the bond business in New York.

Gatsby and Nick in New York

He appears to be humble and modest, renting a guest house next door to Gatsby’s mansion. Nick states that he is staying in the “less fashionable” (meaning rich) neighborhood of West Egg.

Nick appears to relate the happenings of that summer in a brutally honest manner. He is very observant and can tell when others aren’t being honest or may not be telling the entire truth.

We get some of our best clues into Nick’s character when he’s talking with or spending time with Jordan Baker (read more on  Jordan Baker character traits ).

Jordan Baker was caught in a cheating scandal during a golf tournament ( read more on Golf in the 1920s ), and while she claimed that it wasn’t true, Nick could tell right off that she was lying.

We can also see that Nick is a hopeful and hardworking character. He is hopeful that he can learn the bond business and grab a piece of the action that is the stock market in the 1920s.

He has a dozen books on the subject of bonds and intends to spend the summer studying while he is learning on the job at the same time.

In short, it’s safe to say that Nick, while not the hero of the novel, is a hardworking, hopeful, humble, polite, respectful, moral person who tries to do what’s right, even if he doesn’t always succeed.

So Is Nick Carraway a Nice Guy?

The answer to this may be “it depends on whom you ask”.

As the novel goes on, we discover, for example, that Nick may have been engaged to a woman back in his hometown or, at the very least, a woman who expects Nick to marry her.

He leaves his hometown for New York, where he gets to know Jordan Baker and dates her. This unnamed woman would probably not think that Nick was a nice guy.

Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Jordan Baker also does not think much of Nick by the end of the novel. She, too, felt that their relationship was growing into something more, but Nick spurned her after her reaction to Gatsby’s death.

The feelings that Jordan has for Nick are also mirrored by Nick himself since he eventually feels disgusted by Jordan’s indifference to Gatsby’s murder (read more on Jordan in The Great Gatsby ).

Tom Buchanan and Daisy (read more on Tom Buchannan’s character traits here) would most likely say that Nick was the salt of the earth, a good guy overall, even though Nick would not say the same about them.

Jay Gatsby, of course, might say that Nick is one of his only true friends and is definitely in the good guy category. Nick feels the same about Gatsby, despite his criminal acts.

Most readers will also see Nick in a good light since he seems to be the only one who cared about Gatsby as a person in the end, taking care of Gatsby’s funeral when none of Gatsby’s associates and so-called friends bothered to reach out.

How Does Nick Change Through the Story?

No Nick Carraway character analysis would be complete without mentioning that Nick appears to change as the novel progresses.

In the beginning, Nick is charmed by New York City. He is upbeat, positive, and full of compliments for his cousin Daisy Buchanan (read Daisy Buchannan quotes here) and Jordan Baker.

Nick Carraway character analysis

Nick is thrilled to be invited to a party that requires no invitation. During one of Gatsby’s parties, Nick politely seeks out his host and is shocked to discover someone who has bigger dreams and has more hope than he does.

As Nick compares his life to Gatsby’s, he begins to look at himself more harshly. He realizes that Gatsby is actively working to fulfill a dream, while he is merely coasting by, enjoying life.

After the death of Myrtle, Nick is disgusted by the behavior of Tom and Daisy, as well as Jordan. He begins to look at the rich cynically and harshly, no longer believing naively that rich people are as moral as everyone else.

The ultimate change happens after Gatsby is murdered. Nick makes excuses for the man who was willing to give up everything for unrequited love. He wants to keep Gatsby’s hope alive, but he can’t bear to even visit places that he used to love, now that they are tainted with memories from that fateful summer.

Nick spent his thirtieth birthday at the apartment Tom kept for his mistress Myrtle. You might say that Nick lost his innocence and hopeful dreams as he entered adulthood.

Why Does Nick Like Gatsby So Much?

They seem like odd bedfellows, right? Nick and Gatsby. They have almost nothing in common other than knowing Daisy, so why does Nick hold Gatsby so dear?

Over the course of the novel, Nick changes how he feels about Gatsby (read more on is Nick Carraway gay ).

Why Does Nick Like Gatsby So Much

He is curious about him when he sees him standing on the dock, reaching out for the green light on Daisy’s dock across the bay.

After Nick meets Gatsby, and they have lunch in New York, Nick is a bit skeptical and wonders how much of what Gatsby says is true.

Later, that skepticism turns to admiration as he learns how Gatsby worked to obtain his dream—Daisy.

As Nick watches Gatsby with Daisy, he realizes that Gatsby feels awkward and shy, feelings that Nick can relate to. Nick describes Gatsby as “glowing” in the presence of Daisy, and this fills Nick with affection and admiration.

Why is Nick so protective of and enamored with Gatsby?

Perhaps he’s fascinated by his rags-to-riches story, even if those riches were acquired illegally.

Perhaps he’s enthralled by Gatsby’s undying loyalty and passion, something Nick seems quite unacquainted with.

Or it could simply be that Gatsby and Nick are two sides of the same coin, sharing more similarities than differences.

F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn’t tell us what it is that Nick sees in Gatsby, and only Nick’s quote gives us a clue—

“You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

We see from that quote that Nick thinks more highly of Gatsby than his cousin Daisy or any of his so-called friends.

Final Thoughts on Nick’s Characters Traits

Nick Carraway is the all-American good boy with morals and integrity, who isn’t always as honest as he thinks he is but whose integrity wins out in the end.

Coming from the middle west (known to most of us as the Midwest), Nick finds that the American Dream is possible, but it comes with a price to pay in one way or another.

Nick finds that the “rotten crowd” is not as glamorous as he previously believed and that is precisely the impression that the author wants the reader to come away with.

Wealth, old money status, lavish parties, and beautiful but dishonest people abound in 1920s America, and it actually hasn’t changed all that much over the past 100 years.

Nick Carraway Character Traits in The Great Gatsby
Nick Carraway Character Traits in The Great Gatsby
Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is a vital character in this novel, but what is he like as a person? Is he honest? Open? A Liar? Secretive? Find his character traits here
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