Nick Carraway as Honest Liar in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known” (Fitzgerald Gatsby 64). So writes Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, characterizing himself in opposition to the great masses of humanity as a perfectly honest man. The honesty that Nick attributes to himself must be a nearly perfect one, by dint of both its rarity and its “cardinal” nature; Nick asserts for himself that he is among the most honest people he has ever encountered. Events in the book, however, do not bear this self-characterization out; far from being among the most honest people in world, Nick Carraway is in fact a proficient liar, though he never loses his blind faith in his own pure honesty.
First, Fitzgerald’s choice of the word “suspects” indicates, and almost guarantees, a certain uncertainty about that suspicion; the fact that these are fallible (and often self-deceiving) human beings making observations about themselves make that uncertainty even greater. The fact that “everyone” believes to be one of the “few” holders of a cardinal virtue solidifies the matter; simply put, excepting either an unrealistically optimistic view of human nature or an extremely broad definition of “the cardinal virtues”, it is simply impossible to accept that all human beings everywhere exemplify one of the cardinal virtues of humanity. Some people must not have the cardinal virtue they suspect of themselves. Nick, however, seems to forget this fact at the colon and starkly asserts, “I am one of the few honest people I have ever known” (64). The choice of “am” is very important here;…
…themselves. Even when confronted with a disproof of his perfectly honest nature, as Jordan does late in the novel, Nick responds with an appeal to his belief in his own honesty-his myth about himself is that sacred. Much like Gatsby’s self-image, Nick’s belief in his own honesty seems to spring from the Platonic conception of honesty, and, much like Gatsby, he simply ignores or rationalizes away anything that comes into conflict with his belief. Nick Carraway is far from one of the few honest narrators I have ever read, but he is a testament to the powers of self-deception that exist in both fictional and non-fictional human beings. “Everyone suspects himself of one of the cardinal virtues,” Nick says, and as Nick himself demonstrates, nearly everyone is wrong.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Paperback Fiction: New York, 1991.