This week’s video shows how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved classic The Great Gatsby utilizes a surprisingly distant narrator to transform his story.
Video Transcript: One of the reasons readers love books more than movies or other storytelling media is because books allow them to not just observe characters, but to get inside their heads and see how they tick. This is the reason for the modern popularity of what’s known as the deep, tight, or close POV, in which the narrative itself, whether it’s told in the first or third person, is basically relayed through the thoughts and in the voice of the narrating character. Most readers, myself among them, prefer tight POVs. However, the more distant POV still has its place and purpose. Some stories will be all the better for having been told by a distant narrator.
One of those stories is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved classic The Great Gatsby. Now The Great Gatsby is actually told in the first-person, a perspective inherently associated with deep POVs, since there is no question whatsoever of our being in the narrating character’s head. Most of the time, when you think of distant POVs, you’re going to be thinking of third-person POVs that observe characters without delving into their thoughts or omniscient POVs in which the author allows the reader to peek into all the characters’ minds. However, Gatsby shows us how to get the best of both worlds.
In narrator Nick Carraway, we gain an intimate glimpse into a character. However, because the story isn’t really about Nick, he is able to offer a distant and objective narration of the sordid events of the story. Had Fitzgerald chosen to tell this story from the first-person POV of a more involved character, the tone would have been completely different. Instead of being able to observe the characters’ downward spiral, readers would instead have been dragged through it—and the book probably would not have become the beloved classic it is today. So, although this kind of distant narrator isn’t often the best choice for a story, it’s definitely something worth keeping in your bag of tricks.
Tell me your opinion: Have you ever used a distant narrator?