Much in the same way that ‘The Glass Menagerie’ is a deeply personal reflection of a young Tennessee Williams through the narrator character of Tom, ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a deeply personal look into Fitzgerald’s life primarily through the character of Nick Carraway.
Fitzgerald sets his character to be from his same hometown (St. Paul, Minnesota) where he was from an upper-middle class family and attended an Ivy League school.
Both character and author enlisted in World War I, but this is where the stories diverge.
It was while stationed at Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, AL that he met Zelda Sayre, “the golden girl” of society. This part of Fitzgerald’s own story is not shared as Nick’s – it is part of Gatsby’s.
In the character of Nick, Fitzgerald has written an idealized version of someone he wanted to be – a man who could turn down a drink once in awhile – something Fitzgerald struggled with since his college years. Someone who was moral and forthright. But this moral character Nick is made to watch as the events of the story unfold – powerless to stop or change any of it.
It is these darker themes of Fitzgerald’s own story that are explored through the other characters that he makes Nick watch: Zelda’s instability through the character of Daisy, his alcoholism through the character of Tom, the lifestyle and the crowd they had grown accustomed to in Jordan and Wolfsheim.
Fitzgerald lets Nick watch all of this unfold – the bad behavior, the carelessness, the deceit – and decides that Nick would not stay here any longer that Nick will make the choice that it is too late for Fitzgerald himself to make.
And yet this moral embodiment of Fitzgerald does not leave this story unchanged.
Nick feels pity for Gatsby, a man that but for his decisions in life, would have been a lot like himself. Ultimately, neither characters nor author can forget the past and the choices that they didn’t make. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Resident Acting Company Member
Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby