Differences Between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 838 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 838|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Origins and Backgrounds
  3. Values and Moral Compasses
  4. Ambition and Relationships
  5. Conclusion


F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is a profound exploration of the American Dream, social stratification, and the complexities of human relationships during the Jazz Age. Central to the narrative are two characters—Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby—whose lives are intertwined yet starkly different. Nick, the novel's narrator, presents himself as a reliable and honest observer, while Gatsby embodies the enigmatic and extravagant self-made man. Their distinct backgrounds, moral compasses, and perspectives on life offer a rich tapestry for examining the thematic constructs of the novel. This essay will delve into the differences between Nick and Gatsby, focusing on their origins, values, and approaches to ambition and relationships, to illuminate how Fitzgerald uses these characters to critique the American Dream and illustrate the disparity between appearance and reality.

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Origins and Backgrounds

Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby hail from vastly different backgrounds, which significantly shape their worldviews and motivations. Nick comes from a well-established, respectable family in the Midwest, which imbues him with a sense of stability and traditional values. His background as a Yale graduate further reinforces his connection to old money and the established social order. In contrast, Gatsby's origins are shrouded in mystery and marked by humble beginnings. Born James Gatz to poor farmers in North Dakota, Gatsby's transformation into a wealthy socialite is a testament to his relentless ambition and desire to escape his past. This stark contrast in their origins sets the stage for their differing perspectives on wealth and status.

While Nick's background provides him with a sense of security and an inherent understanding of social norms, Gatsby's self-made identity is rooted in a relentless pursuit of an idealized version of success. Gatsby's lavish parties and ostentatious lifestyle are attempts to gain acceptance within the elite social circles he aspires to join. Nick, however, remains relatively unaffected by the allure of wealth, often serving as a critical observer of the excesses around him. This difference in their origins underscores the novel's exploration of class and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

Values and Moral Compasses

The divergent values and moral compasses of Nick and Gatsby further distinguish their characters. Nick prides himself on his honesty and integrity, qualities he believes set him apart from the superficiality and deceit he observes in others. His Midwestern upbringing instills in him a sense of decency and a moral framework that he adheres to, even as he navigates the morally ambiguous world of East Egg and West Egg. Nick's introspective nature allows him to critically assess the actions and motivations of those around him, often leading to moments of disillusionment.

Conversely, Gatsby's moral compass is more flexible, shaped by his singular focus on achieving his dreams. His willingness to engage in illegal activities, such as bootlegging, to amass his fortune highlights his pragmatic approach to morality. For Gatsby, the end justifies the means, and his actions are driven by an almost naïve belief in the power of wealth to transform his life and win back his lost love, Daisy Buchanan. This divergence in values not only illuminates the characters' internal conflicts but also serves as a commentary on the ethical compromises often made in the pursuit of the American Dream.

Ambition and Relationships

The ambitions and relationships of Nick and Gatsby reveal further layers of their contrasting characters. Nick's ambitions are relatively modest; he moves to New York to learn the bond business and establish himself independently. His relationships are marked by a degree of detachment and observation, reflecting his role as a narrator and his tendency to remain on the periphery of the action. His friendship with Gatsby, however, becomes a central aspect of the narrative, offering him a front-row seat to Gatsby's tragic pursuit of love and success.

In sharp contrast, Gatsby's ambitions are grandiose and all-consuming. His entire existence is dedicated to recapturing the past and rekindling his romance with Daisy. Gatsby's relationships are largely transactional, with his wealth and charisma serving as tools to attract the people he believes will help him achieve his goals. His fixation on Daisy and the idealized version of their past relationship blinds him to the reality of the present, ultimately leading to his downfall. The juxtaposition of Nick's grounded ambitions and Gatsby's quixotic pursuits underscores the novel's exploration of the often-destructive nature of unbridled aspiration.

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In "The Great Gatsby," Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby serve as foils to each other, embodying different aspects of the American Dream and the social dynamics of the 1920s. Nick's grounded, introspective nature and adherence to traditional values contrast sharply with Gatsby's enigmatic, ambitious persona and flexible morality. Through their differing origins, values, and approaches to ambition and relationships, Fitzgerald crafts a narrative that critiques the superficiality and moral decay underlying the pursuit of wealth and status. The tragic trajectory of Gatsby's life, juxtaposed with Nick's reflective journey, offers a poignant commentary on the illusions of the American Dream and the complex interplay between appearance and reality. Ultimately, the differences between Nick and Gatsby illuminate the broader themes of the novel, providing a nuanced exploration of aspiration, identity, and the human condition.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Differences Between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. (2024, Jun 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Differences Between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby.” GradesFixer, 11 Jun. 2024,
Differences Between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Jul. 2024].
Differences Between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 11 [cited 2024 Jul 13]. Available from:
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