Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, reminiscences of the summer he met Gatsby. He had just returned to America from WWI, where he had glimpsed everything from freedom to death. His horizons had been broadened significantly, so when he returned after the war, he felt stifled in the Midwest; thus his longing for the decadent and fantastic lifestyle of New York, but the problem with the fantastic is that it rarely has anything to offer beneath the surface. When he first arrives in New York, Nick is fascinated by the lives of the wealthy and the freedom they embody.
However, as the novel progresses, he sees the impact of this behavior on the lives of others; he recognizes the atrocities that the elite of society commit toward those they consider beneath them. Daisy and Tom are too superficial and absorbed in living in wealth and Gatsby set himself a dream as a young child and has stuck to that throughout his life. Nick sees so many corrupt acts around him that he first tries to block them out, by acting artifical to fit in. However, once he realises that the people he is surrounding themselves with are liars and frauds, he begins to distance himself from them.
The first obvious instance of this is when Gatsby is ‘watching over’ Daisy, and Nick narrates that “He [Gatsby] was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bare to shake him free. ” This quote displays how Nick has given up on Gatsby and society’s superficiality and corrupt doings. This is one of the major instances of change in Nick’s life. By his thirtieth birthday, Nick realizes that this crazy, superficial lifestyle is not what he desires at all, and that he misses the wholesomeness of the Midwest.
In this sense, Nick becomes rather representative of the 1920s: the turmoil and free living of the early part of the decade leading into the conservative 1930s. After witnessing the unraveling of Gatsby’s dream and presiding over the appalling spectacle of Gatsby’s funeral, Nick realizes that the fast life of revelry on the East Coast is a cover for the terrifying moral emptiness that the valley of ashes symbolizes. Having gained the maturity that this insight demonstrates, he returns to Minnesota in search of a quieter life structured by more traditional moral values.