The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
First person narrative
One of the first things you will notice about The Great Gatsby is that it is
written in the first person. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a range of techniques in
the novel to both make use of the advantages and address the problems of a
first person narrative. Nick Carraway is the narrator and gives his point of view of events and
characters, though Jay Gatsby is the eponymous main character and supposed hero.
Advantages of a first person narrative
The writer can give the narrator inner feelings and private thoughts and so create a
personal narrative, as if confiding in the reader, to manipulate the reader’s response to the
The reader discovers information and experiences feelings with the narrator as Nick slowly
discovers the truth about Gatsby, giving a realistic feel through this slow revelation and the
various responses to it.
Limitations of a first person narrative
The reader can only know what the narrator knows and so gets a limited, partial account of
events and relationships.
We, as readers, only get to know what the writer/narrator wants us to know and so the
account can be selective, incomplete, biased, unreliable. However, the writer might do this
deliberately, to create suspense and make the reader work harder to understand the story.
Explore the ways that the writer addresses the problems of a first person narrative
1. Read pp. 72-76 from ‘One October day in nineteen-seventeen’ to ‘the officer in her white
car’. What does this show us about Nick that makes him a useful narrator? Note down one
piece of information that he finds out.
2. Read pp. 44-51 from ‘“Hello!” I roared…’ to ‘“Vladmir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World!”’.
How does Nick find out information about others here? Note a piece of gossip about
3. How do we get any input from other characters? On page 43 we learn information about
Gatsby. How and what do we learn? What is used in Chapter 9 to the same effect?
4. On pp. 26-27 we are able to visualise the scene. How is the narrative different here and
what is emphasised?
5. What is the change of narrative style between page 41 and 42 that makes the reader feel
like they are part of the scene? What does this add to the way that the events are
6. Read pp. 153-54 ‘At two-o’clock…’ to the end of the chapter. (Plot spoiler alert! Only read
this section if you’ve already read the rest of the novel.) What does this section reveal
about Nick’s character that gives us a better insight into events from one character’s
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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
First person narrative
1. Nick is a good listener; other characters give him (and us) extra information, e.g. in this
extract from Chapter 4, Jordan explains Tom and Daisy’s relationship.
2. Dialogue between characters gives us more information; e.g. here in Chapter 3 Nick listens
to and relays to the reader the gossip about Gatsby’s past that he hears at the party.
3. There is input from other characters through letters, newspaper reports, diaries etc. Nick’s
party invitation from Gatsby in Chapter 3 gives clues about Gatsby. In Chapter 9, Gatsby’s
father finds his son’s daily schedule.
4. The narrative is descriptive, as if Nick is very observant, e.g. at the beginning of Chapter 2,
the description of the ‘valley of ashes’ helps us visualise the bleak and desolate landscape.
5. There is a move from past to present tense. Use of the present tense creates a sense of
immediacy and makes the reader feel part of the scene, e.g. on page 42 ‘By seven o’clock
the orchestra has arrived’ gives the impression we are witnessing the party coming to life.
6. Nick speculates on events he’s not present at, e.g. at the end of Chapter 8, ‘he must have
…’ conveys the events that involve Gatsby here.
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