Nick Carraway is a liar. That is not uncommon, but it comes into play in that Nick is the narrator of The Great Gatsby. This makes the storytelling problematic. But to accuse someone of dishonesty cannot be done lightly, even if it someone who doesn’t really exists. Such a charge must be proven or it becomes nothing more than pointless slander.
Examples of Lying
The novel begins by Nick insisting that he was “inclined to reserve all judgments,” (5) and then spends the remainder of the book forming judgments of all the other characters.
- Tom is crude.
- Daisy is shallow.
- Jordan is dishonest.
- George is spiritless.
- Myrtle is sensual.
- Catherine is worldly.
- Mr. McKee is feminine.
Whether his judgments are accurate or not doesn’t matter. It simply manifests his basic dishonesty because he continually practices differently than how he preaches.
Most of his judgments have to do with Gatsby himself. These are judgments that swing wildly from one end of the continuum to the other regarding approval and disapproval.
- “Gatsby … represented everything for which I had an unaffected scorn.” (7)
- “There was something gorgeous about him.” (7)
- “Gatsby turned out all right in the end.” (7)
- “An elegant young rough neck.” (53)
- “I suspected he was pulling my leg.” (70)
- “He was running down like an overwound clock.” (97)
- “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” (162)
- “I disapproved of him from beginning to end.” (162)
Nick’s lies begin even before we get to any other characters, but with his relations to fellow Yalemen while in school, and particularly as it relates to his false claim to reserve judgments. Because he was sought for counsel Nick becomes the “victim of not a few veteran bores.” (5). He concludes this section by observing that “a sense of fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.” (6) These are both the kinds of judgments he asserts never to have made.
When dealing with these bores at college, Nick confesses that he “frequently … feigned sleep, preoccupations or a hostile levity.” (5) To pretend to be asleep, busy or irritated is dishonest. In an interesting confession, Fitzgerald gives a clue to Nick’s true nature. Speaking of other men, Nick says, “the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually and marred with obvious suppressions.” (6) Nick is still a young man, and so with this, Fitzgerald is cluing us in on Nick’s intimate revelation, which is his role as narrator. His story is plagiarist and marred with obvious suppressions. In other words, Nick is clearly a liar, particularly as the narrator of The Great Gatsby.
It Starts Before The Book Begins
This begins with the intimate revelation of his own background. He says, “My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in the middle-western town for three generations.” (7) Despite this claim, his father can only afford to support him for one year. (7) And when the Buchanans ask Nick about the rumor of his engagement, he asserts that he is too poor to marry. (24)
He notes that his family claims Scottish nobility, but the reality is that his grandfather’s brother, the one responsible for his family line, immigrated here in 1851 and sent a substitute to the Civil War. (7) Simply put, immigrants aren’t noble, or they’d remain in the old country. And as Nick is supposed to look like this ancestor, he acts like him as well by sending a substitute tale in place of the truth.
The family history is built on dishonesty. During that disconcerting ride with Gatsby to the city for lunch, Gatsby claims to have gone to Oxford with a young man in a photo who is now the Earl of Doncaster. (71) This is a noble title that also belongs to the Duke of Buccleuch, the alleged ancestor of Nick. Since so much of this conversation is false, which we shall soon discover, it is just as likely that this is false, and even inserted merely in Nick’s retelling.
When confronted with Nick’s basic untruthfulness, some may recall that Nick says about himself, “I am one of the few honest people I have known.” (64) Nick Carraway insisting he is honest is like Quinten Compson claiming that he does not hate the South. You an almost bank on the opposite being true.
Think of the stereotypical used car salesman who carries “honest” as a nickname. Just as you wouldn’t rely upon Honest Jake, the Used Car Salesman you can Trust, no one should believe that Nick is honest just because he says so. If anything, this should be a red flag that makes us wary of anything he says.
I would love to read your opinions. Let me know what you think in the Comment section below.
Here are some more articles regarding The Great Gatsby you can find here on A Word Fitly Spoken:
- “The Reliability Of Nick Carraway: Part Two – The Drive To Lunch” (10.11.12)
- “Why The Great Gatsby Is The Best American Novel” (6.21.12)
- “What Made Daisy Faye Buchanan & Jay Gatsby So Attractive And Attracted To Each Other?” (8.28.12)
- “Who Shot Jay Gatsby?” (3.4.13)