Within and Without

[E]ach time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life. — Nick Carroway, in F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby

That’s from chapter 2. Re-reading this book in preparation to teach it tomorrow morning, I noticed for some reason Nick’s function as an editor. Not only does he select and organize the events of the story for us, sometimes telling them out of chronological order, but he actively edits his surroundings, such as when he wipes the shaving lather from the unconscious Mr. McKee’s face (even though that lather would have certainly dried after so many hours).

“Absolutely real,” muses the drunken guest marveling at the books in Gatsby’s library. “[H]ave pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard” (52).

Gatsby shares with a Nick a desire to observe people, as wee see when Nick describes Gatsby watching approvingly as his party guests react to an announcement about a Jazz performance. Nick describes himself as an unusually good listener, but it’s the description of Gatsby’s smile that makes me think of Gatsby not just as a striking subject for Nick’s narrative, but the perfect audience for that small part of Nick that insists on telling this story: “It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor” (53). What author wouldn’t want a reader to respond with that kind of acceptance and attention? Gatsby is, among other things, an incarnation of the model reader.