, Salem, MA


June 13, 2013

Watson: The Great Gatsby is a character study


Nick sees that these two postures — Gatsby’s and Baker’s — are extremes, but he recognizes that they are not uncommon. And it leads him (and us) to reflect on the degree to which the past influences us. What is the relationship of the present to the past? How much of our character is formed by our experiences?

Struck by Gatsby’s confidence and self-absorption and strength, Nick also wonders about our capacity for self-delusion and self-awareness, and our ability to see in others — and in life generally — only what we want to see. Do we see ourselves clearly? Can we locate ourselves in relationship to others, that is, somewhere along the broad spectrum of character and personality? Is it important that we be able to do so?

Nick reflects on the nature of character, and the diverse approaches of people for navigating society. “The Great Gatsby”is about — among other things — the incredible pull of love and the orienting and sometimes indispensable power of possessing purpose and motivation in life.

Nick participates in life, but he is constantly examining it and himself in it. He states that he is “within” life, but also often outside of it, like a stranger seeing the scenes from a vantage point from afar.

As he observes the characters of Daisy, Gatsby, and Baker, and the entire Roaring Twenties, he realizes that one of the hardest things for each of us to do is “look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.” It is far easier, and sometimes more successful, he says, to look at everything through just one window.

The reader and moviegoer will have to come to his own conclusion about that.


Brian T. Watson is a Salem News columnist. Contact him at

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