Last Updated 02 Apr 2020

What Does Fitzgerald Establish in the Opening of the Great Gatsby?

Category The Great Gatsby
Words 816 (3 pages)
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What does Fitzgerald establish in this opening? In the opening of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald establishes to readers that the book will be narrated by a man who supposedly ‘reserve[s] all judgments’.

Through Nick, Fitzgerald establishes the hypocrisy and possible unreliability of the narrator – he makes judgments despite claiming that he ‘reserves’ them (saying ‘the intimate revelations of young men’ are ‘plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions’); the ambivalence of the narrator (and consequently the reader) towards life in the East, for which he has both an ‘unaffected scorn’ and fascination; and ultimately how the ‘foul dust’ that surrounded Gatsby, and indeed the American dream has diminished the ‘infinite hope’ of humanity to come to nothing.

Fitzgerald immediately establishes that Nick is a privileged person, who has had ‘advantages’ that other people did not. He was educated at Yale, and as such he has connections to some ‘enormously rich’ people, among them being Tom and Daisy Buchanan. At the same time, however, readers are made aware that Nick chooses to ‘reserve all judgments’, which he claims has made him ‘privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men’.

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There are times when Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom share confidences in him, which consequently allows Nick to see both the hollowness of Daisy’s (and indirectly humanity’s) ‘sophisticat[ion]’, as well as the ‘extraordinary gift of hope’ that Gatsby possesses. This also makes readers aware of these different characteristics, and through Nick, readers can form their own judgments of the different characters. Although Nick claims to ‘reserve’ judgments, Nick makes or encourages judgments throughout the opening (‘the intimate revelations of young men… are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions’).

He boasts of his tolerance, and then immediately asserts that it has a ‘limit’, encouraging readers to question just how true his statements and claims really are. Fitzgerald establishes hypocrisy in Nick, the narrator, and forces readers to consider just how reliable he is in terms of telling his story. Throughout the book, Nick continues to make judgments about people (for example, referring to Gatsby’s partygoers as a ‘rotten crowd’), and readers must constantly ask themselves just how reliable what they read is. The theme of hope, of believing in something better, is established when Nick refers to reserving judgments. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope’ illustrates the optimism that Nick hopes he can have, that by reserving judgments he hopes someone can better themselves. Perhaps it is this ‘infinite optimism’ that keeps Nick fascinated by Gatsby, and subsequently life in the East. Nick is at first ambivalent regarding these wealthy individuals, having an ‘unaffected scorn’ for everything that Gatsby represents, but also a borderline obsession (which he untruthfully claims as ‘casual’) for the lifestyle and people.

He is disgusted by the moral decay of the East, but enjoys the fast-paced lifestyle; this is accurately described by how Nick was ‘flattered to go to places with [Jordan Baker] because… everyone knew her name. ’ Despite this, Nick’s optimism and hope is reflected in Gatsby, who is ‘gorgeous’ and possesses a ‘gift for hope’. This hope however ultimately comes to nothing, as Nick realizes the hollowness and immorality of life in East, and wanted the world ‘to be at a sort of moral attention forever’.

This letdown links closely to Gatsby’s dream of Daisy that has gone ‘beyond everything’; Gatsby had built an ‘illusion’ that had a ‘colossal vitality’, of which Daisy had no hope of satisfying (‘no amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart’). Nick states that ‘Gatsby turned out all right in the end’, yet Gatsby dies. This hints at the cynicism that Nick develops towards humanity after he sees the ‘foul dust’ that ‘floated in the wake of [Gatsby’s] dreams’ – the hollowness, the materialism, the moral decay.

Daisy is eventually shown to be materialistic, and she chooses the ‘revolting’ Tom over Gatsby in a matter of minutes, causing Gatsby’s dream to fall apart irreparably. Gatsby had ‘added to his fantasies’, had poured so much into his single goal of winning Daisy, that when it was destroyed, he had nothing left to live for. Fitzgerald finishes the opening by hinting at how the people around Gatsby (the ‘foul dust’) and their actions led Nick to lose faith in humanity and to ‘temporarily close out’ his interest in the ‘shortwinded elations of men’.

In his opening, Fitzgerald establishes the questionable nature of the information transmitted to readers through Nick’s ironic statements, while also foreshadowing what is to come. The ‘intimate revelations’ and ‘scorn’ of Nick towards life in the East is overlapped with fascination, and it is ultimately established that despite his ‘tolerance’, the hollowness and immorality of the ‘foul dust’ that ‘preyed on’ Gatsby and the ‘last and greatest of human dreams’ made Nick lose faith in humanity.

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