Nick is the narrator. The story is told in flashback, through his eyes, looking back on the events of two years earlier (1922). Nick guides our views of Gatsby, for example, by telling us at the start that he
turned out all right at the end.
Nick tells us his father taught him to
reserve all judgements on people, since they may not have shared his
advantages. Nevertheless, he says his tolerance has
a limit, which is intriguing as an introduction. Modest and unassuming, one of the few things Nick takes pride in is his honesty:
I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.
We thus expect a fair and unbiased account of events from him.
Nick comes from the Midwest of the USA (possibly Minnesota – although this is not specifically said) and moves East to pursue a career working in the finance industry. The Midwest is associated with traditional, conservative values, unlike the more glamorous, racy lifestyle of New York.
In some senses Nick can be seen as an 'everyman' – a normal person observing how the rich live and play. But his own family are 'well-to-do' (they own a wholesale hardware business), and his cousin Daisy is rich. He is also a graduate of Yale, one of the most prestigious and expensive universities in the USA.
Nick spends a lot of time, particularly at the beginning of the novel, observing and reporting on the action, rather than being involved in it directly. But he does become a participant too – he has the classic supporting role as the hero's friend, while his girlfriend is the heroine's friend.
Nick seems more genuine and caring than some of the other characters. When he first goes to a party at Gatsby's, he seeks Gatsby out (presumably to thank him for his invitation), while the others at the party gossip about Gatsby and enjoy themselves.
Similarly, after Gatsby's death, Nick is the only one who shows concern. Nick can therefore be seen as the moral compass of the story. He refuses Gatsby's offer of a dubious scheme that could make him
a nice bit of money. When he meets Jordan, nothing happens between them at first because of the
interior rules that act as brakes on my desires….
But it could also be argued that he's not a very effective moral compass. While Nick prides himself on his honesty, he pursues a relationship with a woman he states to be
incurably dishonest. He enjoys Jordan's company as she is beautiful (in an unusual, non-conventional way) and a celebrity – so he is willing to make the excuse that
dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply. His feelings for her are not clear – he says:
I wasn't actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.
Nick's feelings for Jordan perhaps mirror his feelings for life in the north-east as a whole, i.e. when he goes to a party in New York, he says he is:
simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life