“Nick’s main attitude to East Coast society is fascination” – How far and in what ways do you agree?
The Great Gatsby is a novel set on the East Coast of America in the 1920s. The protagonist, Nick Carraway, is from the Midwest but has moved to New York to pursue his career. Throughout the novel, Nick becomes increasingly disillusioned with the superficiality and shallowness of East Coast society. However, it would be inaccurate to say that his overall attitude towards this society is one of disdain. Rather, Nick seems to be both fascinated and repelled by the lifestyle he observes.
On the one hand, Nick is clearly enthralled by the glamour and excitement of New York society. He is fascinated by the lavish parties thrown by Jay Gatsby, and by the way that people like Tom and Daisy Buchanan seem to live completely carefree lives of luxury. Even though he is well aware of the shallowness of these people, Nick cannot help but be drawn in by their lifestyle.
At the same time, however, Nick is also repulsed by the shallowness and hypocrisy of East Coast society. He is disgusted by the way that people like Tom Buchanan cheat on their wives, and by the way that Gatsby tries to buy Daisy’s love with expensive gifts. Nick feels that the East Coast lifestyle is false and superficial, and he longs for the more honest and down-to-earth lifestyle of the Midwest.
Overall, then, it is inaccurate to say that Nick’s main attitude towards East Coast society is one of fascination. Rather, he is a complex mix of both fascination and repulsion.
Nick’s attitude to the society of the East Coast of America in “The Great Gatsby” is presented as being rather complex, with his position frequently being vague or difficult to pin down at any one time. In many situations, particularly those surrounding Daisy or Gatsby’s parties, it may be interpreted that Nick’s main tone was one of amazement, a term I’m using here to imply a favorable admiration rather than a cool interest.
The reason I say this is due to the descriptive and emotive language Nick uses when he speaks of these people or events, for example he writes “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” (Fitzgerald, 1925: 3) after attending one of Gatsby’s parties. The almost excessive use of adjectives in this quote gives away Nick’s level of interest in what he is seeing, with him being both “enchanted” and “repelled”, two words which have very opposite meanings but are used together to great effect here.
The parties are a perfect example of how Fitzgerald uses Nick’s perspective on society to slowly draw the reader in and increase their understanding, as even though we as the reader are not given much detail about what actually happens at these events, we can see that Nick is very impressionable and wants to understand more.
However, there are other occasions where Nick’s attitude could be seen as less positive, such as when he talks about New York City itself. He says that “New York was a city of physical extremes” (Fitzgerald, 1925: 3) and that it is a place which “swung between too childish for grown-up people and too grow-up for children” (Fitzgerald, 1925:, 11).
The first quote in particular seems to have a negative undertone, with Nick talking about the city in terms of its physicality rather than anything else. The second quote could also be interpreted in a negative light, as it seems to suggest that Nick feels like he does not quite fit in with the other people around him, which could be read as him feeling out of place or uncomfortable.
However, I feel that although this is partially the case, there is another emotion beneath it, which reveals contempt for the East Coast culture and a sort of distaste for it. In this essay, I’ll examine the parts of the novel where Nick’s attitudes are represented and discuss how his perceptions are communicated in these ways. Fitzgerald makes use of Tom and Daisy characters frequently in his depiction of East Coast society, therefore Nick’s response to them can tell us more about his ideas.
The quote “Her voice is full of money”(Fitzgerald, p.128) is used by Nick to describe Daisy, and it is significant as not only does it recognise her as a member of the upper class who has always had wealth, but also that this wealth is a significant part of her identity.
The idea of wealth being something which can be contained in a voice shows how Daisy and people like her are defined by their money, and this is something which Nick clearly doesn’t agree with or approve of. Furthermore, when Gatsby tells Nick about his past and how he acquired his wealth, he describes himself in a way which suggests that he is not comfortable with the dishonest means by which he achieved his riches.
In particular, he talks about how he changed his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby to make himself sound more appealing and interesting, showing that he is not proud of his background. This again suggests that Nick disapproves of the way in which people like Gatsby have to change themselves to be accepted into East Coast society, and prefer those who are honest about their past.
I believe that Nick’s opinion of East Coast society is a complex one which contains both fascination and mockery. He is clearly both impressed and repelled by the wealth and lifestyle of people like Tom and Daisy, and this is something which is conveyed through his interactions with them throughout the novel.
So, in conclusion, I would say that Nick’s attitude to East Coast society is indeed one of fascination, but it is also clear that he has some reservations about certain aspects of it too. The way Fitzgerald has written this character means that the reader is never quite sure what to make of him, and this only adds to the mystery and intrigue surrounding the novel as a whole.