In my younger and more venerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
Book: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sub-Genres: Class Studies, Roaring 20's, Unreliable Narrators
Character Speaking: Nick Carraway
Analysis: So, apparently, Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is one big ol' liar, and one of the most studied examples of the unreliable narrator. Why? Well, for starts, people aren't 100% convinced he actually lies on purpose, simply has a bad memory, or if the story inaccuracies were the fault of the rushed printing of the original story. Or, at least, this is what a few sources and professors have told me along the way.
But it all starts with this first sentence of the classic novel. We don't get any plot here; in fact, we barely get any character. Nick's name doesn't appear for a while (Gatsby is named first), and there's not even a setting until page 3 or 4 (depending on which text you're reading). The opening is Nick reminiscing about the past and the story - apparently of Gatsby and his own past - that's he about to tell us.
The only problem is that this statement, of his father telling him that they come from wealth and that others are not so fortunate, makes little sense for Nick. It becomes obvious that the Midwesterner Nick is not the same as the rich Eastern seaboard friends he makes. He might have money, but he doesn't have their privilege. Or, probably, he didn't grow up with as much money as they did. His "opportunity", instead, was that Midwestern sense of the American Dream - he has a chance to do better and so he should. Even today, Midwestern rich is not Eastern coast Hamptons rich. Not by a long shot. I'm from Indiana and have lived in Los Angeles and New York City, so I can say this for certain.
Nick wants to be better than the other characters. He wants to be Gatsby's friend, and he falls in love with Daisy (when she's already married and is having an affair). He desperately wants their validation. In fact, a lot of readers believe that Nick is telling the story to make the characters look better, after their fates have come to pass, perhaps to give them a more romantic life than they actually had.
His father tells him not to criticize anyone, and so Nick, perhaps in what he believes is goodness, lies to the reader about the true story. Perhaps the story is really there - we do know that people are dead by the end of the novel and other characters seem to confirm how it happens. But Nick, in his telling, doesn't want to criticize, so in his own type of love (that none of the other characters really seem to see fully), he lies for them.
Thus, this first line not only gives the reader the first clue that Nick might be lying, but also the reason why. He's a Midwestern boy, and he won't say a bad thing about his friends. Even if they were bad people.
Buy It Here: The Great Gatsby