The Great Gatsby is an interesting novel in that the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, uses a narrator who is also a part of the overall story.
This allows us to see the narrator Nick Carraway as the everyday man, and he tells us the story without too much interference.
What did Nick Carraway look like? How did he differ from Tom Buchanan or Jay Gatsby?
Find out Nick Carraway’s physical description and how he describes himself in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.
How Is Nick Carraway Described?
Unfortunately, we don’t get a really good physical description of Nick at any point in the book.
We do learn little things here and there as the narrator moves the story along. (You can read more about who narrates The Great Gatsby here)
Based on Nick’s own words, he must be about 29 years of age, and he turns 30 in Chapter 2. Nick says that he was born in 1892 in Minnesota.
Nick goes into great detail about his friend, Tom Buchanan, and his “hulking”, huge physical presence, but Nick doesn’t say much about himself.
It’s easy for the reader to imagine that Nick is quite average overall. He’s bookish, probably what people today would call a bookworm, so he’s probably a bit nerdy, naive, and overall easy to overlook.
What Color Are Nick Carraway’s Eyes and Hair?
He has brown hair, blue eyes, and seems a bit on the reserved side until he starts drinking.
This is really all we know about Nick’s physical attributes, but this is because the focus of the story is on Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy Buchanan, and not so much the narrator.
How Does Nick Characterize Himself?
Right away in Chapter One (you can read The Great Gatsby chapter 1 summary here), Nick begins the novel by telling us about something his father said that has always stayed with him.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone”, he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Nick then says that he reserves judgment “as a matter of infinite hope.” While Nick may try to appear to be non-judgmental, he actually is quite the opposite. He may not always speak the words out loud, but he passes plenty of judgment on people in this novel.
Nick also describes himself in this quote
“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
It’s clear that Nick does try to be honest and, compared to his cousin Daisy and friend Tom, he is incredibly honest. However, this doesn’t mean that Nick is honest all the time, and he frequently lies by omission.
When Nick decides to live in the less-fashionable West Egg, he is smugly modest and claims it’s because he wants to see how the newly rich live. Perhaps Nick doesn’t come from an extremely wealthy family, so he’s content to “live it down” with the folks in West Egg. You can read a full summary of Nick Carraway character traits here.
In short, Nick is somewhat modest, somewhat reserved, a bookworm who wants to learn the bond business, and he tries his best to be honest and not speak about his judgmental thoughts.
How Would You Describe Nick as a Narrator?
Nick was an excellent choice as the narrator of this story, even though he’s got plenty of flaws.
If you’ve read even part of The Great Gatsby, you’ll quickly realize that Nick doesn’t always tell the story in perfect order. Of course, part of the reason is that he learns a few backstories and important points as the story progresses, but it’s clear that Nick sometimes forgets a vital detail and doesn’t tell you until later, as an afterthought.
The reader will like and trust Nick overall, which is important. Nick is presented as the everyday man who is searching to find his own place in the world and doesn’t necessarily want to fall back on his father’s business or his family’s success, as Tom Buchanan does.
What’s the Problem with Having Nick as the Narrator?
Perhaps the most frustrating part of having Nick as the narrator of this story is that he doesn’t always tell us everything.
For example, after the party in Manhattan that Nick attends with Tom and his mistress, Myrtle, he mentions that he went with Mr. McKee back to his apartment, and then he’s suddenly waiting at the train station. What happened in between remains a mystery.
At the end of the book, the reader will feel some pity and sadness for Nick, even more for Gatsby, and that’s probably what the author wanted to accomplish.
How Does Nick Describe Other Characters?
While Nick leaves out much about his physical appearance, he goes to great lengths to describe the other characters in The Great Gatsby. For instance, he gives excellent descriptions of his college friend Tom and his mysterious neighbor, Jay Gatsby.
How Is Tom Buchanan Described?
Tom Buchanan, who was a polo player at Yale and shared classes with Nick, is described physically as being hyper-masculine, hulking, aggressive, and super wealthy. Nick says this about his friend Tom in the first chapter:
He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy, straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward.
Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.
We clearly see that Tom is blond with a hard mouth and a cruel body that is loaded with muscle. This tells the reader a great deal about Tom Buchanan and that he has just as hard and cruel a personality as his physical description indicates.
This very detailed description is heavy with hints of dislike, implying that Nick in no way looks like Tom, or at least not muscular.
How Is Jay Gatsby Described in Chapter 3?
Although the reader hears a great many rumors about Nick’s neighbor Jay Gatsby, we don’t actually meet the man in person until Chapter 3 ( see Great Gatsby Quotes from Chapter 3 ). (You can read The Great Gatsby Chapter 3 summary here.)
Gatsby appears to be the perfect host. Nick describes him thus:
“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on YOU with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.
It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
Nick continues his description of Gatsby, “I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck (read more on is Nick Carraway gay ), a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.”
In addition to how his smile made Nick feel, he describes his physical appearance as being quite different from Tom’s:
“His tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on his face, and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed every day. I could see nothing sinister about him. I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests…”
The reader can see that while Tom is big and physically impressive, Gatsby’s charm lies more in his neat appearance, combined with his smile and perfect manners.
While it’s important to the reader to have a mental image of Tom, Jay Gatsby, Daisy, and other characters, it isn’t quite as important to know what Nick Carraway looked like, and perhaps Fitzgerald wanted the reader to focus on other characters or factors, rather than Nick’s physical appearance.
Nick Carraway is there to give the reader insight into what had happened that summer and how it all occurred, more than being the focus of the story.
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Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby is the owner & founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com, your go-to source for all things 1920s & The Great Gatsby. With a passion for the era & a wealth of knowledge to share, Kerry is dedicated to providing you with everything you need to know about Roaring 20s fashion, 1920s history, & Great Gatsby-themed party ideas. Join Kerry in bringing the spirit of the Roaring 20s to life! Read more about Kerry here.