We are the hollow men
But if you go back and reread the beginning after you finish the book, you understand that Nick is trying to account for why he behaved as he did during the course of the story. "I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me." People sense this and tend to share confidences with him and reveal intimate things. This makes Nick the perfect narrator. Nick ultimately becomes disillusioned about this inclination of his: "I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby ... was exempt from my reaction -- Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn."
In fact, all the way through, Nick's reaction to Gatsby consistently displays this ambivalence -- he goes on to say in the beginning: "No -- Gatsby turned out all right in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men."
Even the last time Nick sees Gatsby, his reaction is ambivalent: " 'They're a rotten crowd,' I shouted across the lawn. 'You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.' I've always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end." It isn't Gatsby himself that Nick admires; it's what he symbolizes -- an incorruptible, idealistic dream that can never be fulfilled amid the world's cynical, self-seeking corruption.
The book ends like this:
Presumably, a past that symbolizes a better time.
As for the other characters, Nick's non-judgmental approach allows us to view them with a dispassionate and unsentimental eye. There is no cut-and-dried villain; all possess the same character flaw of smallness, of never seeing the need to take responsibility for one's actions. Tom Buchanan is the most despicable in that regard, and Daisy is simply too weak a character to even understand the possibility of rising to any noble plane. She is not the newly liberated woman of the 1920s; it's Jordan Baker the golf champion who typifies this phenomenon -- a woman who doesn't need to truckle under to a man for support (consider the symbolic contrast of the names "Jordan," more commonly a male name, and "Daisy," a quickly fading feminine flower). Baker remains a bit of an enigma. At one point, Nick pronounces her inveterately dishonest; she once got into trouble for moving her ball in a golf tournament, and yet toward the climax, he describes her as "too wise to ever carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age." Perhaps her type is destined to survive.
I'll consider the symbolic and mythical underpinnings
of the book, as well as its comedic qualities.