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In What Point of View and Tense Is the Story "The Great Gatsby" Told?


"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a novel about Jay Gatsby, a man who throws parties every weekend and pines for Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby’s fate is revealed through a first-person narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick is Daisy’s cousin, who comes to stay with Daisy and her husband, Tom, and he narrates the story mainly in the past tense.

Point of View

Nick establishes himself as a reliable first-person narrator on the first page, saying, "I'm inclined to reserve all judgments." Although he is part of the plot, he is a truthful observer surrounded by people who lie, including Gatsby and the Buchanans. One disadvantage of first-person point of view is that it is limited to the narrator's experiences. Because the story is told from Nick’s perspective, the reader is never able to see what the other characters are thinking. In addition, Nick does not witness some events, such as Myrtle's death, and can offer the reader only hearsay.

Tense

By using past-tense verbs, Nick reveals the main events in the novel already have occurred and he is remembering the past. For example, he states, "I lived at West Egg." The narrator occasionally inserts other tenses to remind the reader he is looking back to the past. For example, at the beginning when Nick says, "I'm inclined," he wants the reader to know he is being truthful now.

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About the Author

Melissa McDonald has been writing about education since 2006. Her work has appeared in “AdjunctNation,” “JCW” and “Honor Cord” e-zine. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and currently works in higher education as a writing consultant. Beyond her work as educator and writer, McDonald volunteers as a judge in both local and national writing competitions for high school and college students.

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