Friday, February 3, 2012

“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.”


Let’s see how master novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald opens up his novel The Great Gatsby. By all means this is quite an auspicious opening, for it has captured the imagination of generation of readers.
In my younger and more venerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“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.”
My focus in this brief essay will be in the advice that Nick receives from his father: “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.”
From the very beginning readers can infer that Nick is a rich kid with many advantages; that he was born to privilege. Naturally, this narrator has to fit in the whole narrative which is about wealth: nouveau riche and Midwestern wealth rather than old New York money.
Nick Carraway is a psychologically-rich narrator, too, since he makes readers to be curious about his own motivations for hanging around Gatsby, and Daisy and Tom Buchanan. In fact, in many ways he is more interesting than the protagonists.
My point is that Nick deceives readers, tricks them into his pious upbringing and that he might indeed follow his father’s advice: “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 doesn’t mind this advice. He does the opposite—he criticizes.
I could cite many instances of his critical words, but one will suffice:
“I couldn’t forgive him [Tom Buchanan] or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept then together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
One could also say that Nick’s father advice rather than being just about means and money was also about morals—how we live honestly or dishonestly.

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