The first time I read Gatsby I was 14, and I don’t recall experiencing any appreciation for the wild moral discrepancies, which seems particularly unlike me. I also don’t recall thinking much of Nick Carraway: he disappeared into the novel like wallpaper, and the only true memory I have of him from that first reading is the scene in his little house where Gatsby almost knocks the clock off the mantle. In retrospect, this is both odd and appropriate. Nick is writing about Gatsby, after all, and his narration could, under the duress of adolescence, be viewed simply as the lens through which the great American tragedy unfolds. That moment with the clock humanizes Gatsby for the first time, and Nick is momentarily liberated from the wallpaper, and made real.
For my second reading it was Gatsby and Daisy that faded into the landscape, and I found myself fixated on Nick. He is 29 when the story begins, and hoping to stumble into a career, and love, and life, all without really trying. His observation of this ‘great’ and falling man is the closest he ever gets to all these tenuous objectives, at least as far as we know. On the other hand, while Gatsby’s young life is over (arguably before the novel even begins), Nick’s seems only to be beginning. Gatsby is the tragedy, but there is something luke-warm-hopeful about Nick that I cling to. Perhaps, at 29, our lives really are just beginning.