Who Narrates The Great Gatsby? Meet The Unseen Storyteller

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

One of the interesting things about the Great Gatsby is the character that author F. Scott Fitzgerald chose to be his narrator. The opening line of the great American novel comes from narrator, Nick Carraway.

Fitzgerald could have chosen almost any character, yet it makes one wonder how different the novel may have turned out if he had chosen Gatsby.

Nick Carraway as narrator of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Or he could have simply written it in the third person to represent everyone’s point of view.

Why did the author choose Nick Carraway to be the narrator? Is the same character still the narrator in the 2013 movie version? Does having Nick as the narrator cause confusion or other problems for the author?

Let’s look into the details regarding Nick Carraway, the narration of the novel, and how it differs from the movie version.

Who Is the Narrator of The Great Gatsby and Where Is He From?

It doesn’t take long for the reader to discover who the narrator is in The Great Gatsby. On the second page of the first chapter, Nick states that

“My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this Middle Western city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan and we have a tradition that we’re descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather’s brother, who came here in 51, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on today.”

This passage tells us quite a bit about Nick. Although he doesn’t name the state in this paragraph, he does say that he’s from the Midwest, and since he is talking in the first person, it’s obvious that he is the narrator of this story.

In Chapter 2 ( see Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Quotes ), we discover that Nick is from Minnesota. He went to France to fight in World War One and then attended Yale where he became friends with Tom Buchanan.

What Point of View Is the Great Gatsby Narrated?

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a limited first-person view via Nick Carraway.

The Great Gatsby narrator Nick Carraway

We say “limited” since Nick can only tell us what he experiences, what he sees and what he hears.

While Nick does describe what others have told him, this would be considered hearsay in a court of law since the reader would have to take it on faith that what Nick is being told is the truth.

Is Nick the Only Narrator of The Great Gatsby?

Yes, Nick Carraway, cousin to Daisy Buchanan, is the sole narrator of this intriguing story.

Is Nick a Reliable Narrator?

Using Nick Carraway to tell the story of the summer of 1925 was an excellent choice on the author’s part, but it isn’t without its drawbacks.

Nick even begins this story by pointing out something that his father told him. This means that by using the first-person “I” narrator, we get a tainted world view.

Everything that Nick describes is colored by his experiences and his past.

However, if you think about the other characters in the novel, there really is no one better suited to tell this story than Nick.

Despite being one of the main characters, Nick tells us this story in his own words and using his own observations, which makes the story feel believable and very personal.

The reader will see Jay Gatsby in a sympathetic light because the narrator does. We also make exceptions for his ill-gotten gains because Nick certainly does.

While Nick may be a problematic narrator, he was the best and most logical choice.

Why Is Nick Carraway the Narrator and Not Jay Gatsby?

Gatsby and Nick in new york

Many people have asked this question, and it’s a good observation.

Jay Gatsby might have written an interesting tale if he were the narrator. He could tell us about his early life, how he fell in love with Daisy, and what he had to do in order to win her back.

However, if Fitzgerald had used Gatsby as the narrator, we would know next to nothing about many other characters, including the racist Tom Buchanan.

There would also be a problem after Gatsby died. Who would tell the story of how Nick tried to find people to attend the funeral? Yes, Fitzgerald could have made Gatsby a spirit or ghost who was shocked by how few people really cared about him, but having someone else as the narrator made more sense.

Nick Carraway, although a bit problematic as the narrator to this story, was actually the perfect choice.

He is a person of conscience and morals who is a little bit thrilled at the big city life he experiences in New York, while at the same time, he is repulsed by the actions (and inactions) of the super-rich.

Is There a Different Narrator Between the Book and the 2013 Movie Version?

Nick Carraway is the narrator of both the novel and the movie, although his narration changes a bit in the movie version of this classic book.

While you will find there are quotes that are the same, and the movie stays very true to the novel, there are a few minor differences.

Nick Carraway played by Tobey McGuire

In the opening of the 2013 movie version, Nick (played by Tobey McGuire) is seen speaking to a doctor (a psychiatrist we assume since no physical exam takes place), who suggests that he “write it down” to help ease his mind.

Nick tells the psychiatrist that he had been drinking heavily to try to forget that summer but that he couldn’t talk about it.

This opening doesn’t happen in the novel, either in the beginning or the end. In the first chapter, Nick describes how happy and excited he was to start a new life selling bonds in New York.

By the end of the novel, he may well be depressed, but he doesn’t mention alcohol use, he simply says that he was disgusted with New York and had decided to return to Minnesota.

Otherwise, the narration is the same and by the same character- Nick Carraway (read more on Nick Carraway Character Traits ).

Who or What Does Nick Carraway Represent?

Some people have suggested that author F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to be the Jay Gatsby character (learn more on Jay Gatsby Character Traits ). Perhaps not as a bootlegger ( read more on famous 1920s bootleggers ) , but someone poor who finds a way to make money quickly, lives lavishly, and has one true love that he will die for.

Nick in Yale University

Still, others suggest that it is Nick Carraway who is most like Fitzgerald in real life. Fitzgerald was also from Minnesota, and while he had some money, he was not extremely wealthy like other characters, and he had contempt for the way the rich behaved.

Nick represents the quiet, reserved Midwesterner who is a bit lost in high society and still believes in ethics, morals, and hard work.

Final Thoughts on The Mysterious Voice Behind The Great Gatsby

While using Nick Carraway as the first-person narrator in his story may have been a bit problematic, it was the perfect choice when you consider other options.

Nick shows us the ambivalence he feels about New York. On one hand, he enjoys the excitement and change of pace. On the other, he isn’t so sure he is comfortable with the cheating, lying, and backstabbing that he sees going on all around him.

Nick may start off the novel by telling us that his father always told him to “reserve all judgments” until you know more about a person, but throughout the novel, he seems filled with emotions about everything, even though he rarely says them out loud.

Last, we see that even Nick is not a perfect person. While describing himself as “one of the few honest people” he knows, he also lies.

At the end of the day, Nick realizes that the fast and exciting life on the East Coast is merely a cover for the revolting moral emptiness that the rich have.

Who Narrates The Great Gatsby? Meet The Unseen Storyteller
Who Narrates The Great Gatsby? Meet The Unseen Storyteller
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