August 14th, 2009 at 9:37 am
“The Great Gatsby is a novel that has made a difference in the lives of many who have or will read it. One does not have to like Nick Carraway to discover something about oneself in the tale he tells.”—Scott Donaldson, Fitzgerald and Hemingway
The above quote comes at the conclusion of The Trouble with Reading Nick: Reading Gatsby Closely, a chapter from Scott Donaldson’s new book Fitzgerald and Hemingway:Works and Days.
In the chapter, Donaldson explains why Nick is not only not a particularly nice guy but also not a very reliable narrator. Yet at the same time, he is the “perfect” narrator for the novel:
Nick Carraway is a snob. He dislikes people in general and deni grates them in particular. He dodges emotional commitments. Neither his ethical code nor his behavior is exemplary: propriety rather than morality guides him. He is not entirely honest about himself and frequently misunderstands others. Do these shortcomings mean that Nick is an unreliable narrator? At times and in part, yes. But they also mean that he is the perfect narrator for The Great Gatsby and that Fitzgerald’s greatest technical achievement in the novel was to invent this narrative voice at once “within and without” the action.
As mentioned earlier on this blog, the Los Angeles Times recently reviewed Fitzgerald & Hemingway, calling it “splendid” and “erudite.” In the book Donaldson also explores the creative genius of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and the surprising overlaps among their works, traces the influence of celebrity culture on the legacies of both writers, and matches an analysis of Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War writings to a treatment of Fitzgerald’s left-leaning tendencies. Donaldson also devotes several essays to four novels, Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms, and others to lesser-known short stories.