Honesty and NickAt the end of chapter 3, Nick says of himself, "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known." I'd like to hear some discussion of the theme of honesty in...
At the end of chapter 3, Nick says of himself, "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known." I'd like to hear some discussion of the theme of honesty in Gatsby and its presence, or lack thereof, in the makeup of different characters.
And, as I think about it, how honest is Nick in his own assessment of himself?
I think the thing that endears us all to Nick is that while he may not be a perfect character (in honesty or reserving judgement), he's certainly better than the rest of the people in his clique. This is probably why he's able to say things about his own honesty or lack of being judgemental. He's in the thick of a crowd that is terrible at both of those things and probably feels an elevated self worth because of it. Not too many years ago I coached a football team that had some REALLY bad players on it. The one kid I had that was an average player looked like a superstar everyday in practice simply because of the lack of talent he was surrounded by. To me, that's Nick.
I like Nick because he's an average person and not afraid of being average or staying average. Although this novel is about the original American dream (the money, the house, the car, the woman), I would argue that Nick is more "American" than all of them.
When Nick said, "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known," that was true, as far as it went. However, its truth was a marker of the novel's quality, and of the twisted nature of the society critiqued. It is true that he did not consciously lie, and did not consciously seek to run a game of double or triple identity like Gatsby (or Tom, for that matter). However, he was only one step away: he allowed himself to keep to socially accepted and acceptable lies, and covered things up without knowing about it. Nick is one of us; he lies through how he lives. Fitzgerald shows us just how little Nick knows himself, and how little any of us can be honest without self-knowledge.
I do not have my copy of Gatsby at hand so that I can weigh in on this topic in a strongly informed way, but my I can't resist a few remarks. I don't remember any of the characters in Gatsby being terribly knowledgeable about who they are--certainly Gatsby is not; Daisy is not; her husband is not. And isn't one of the ironies of that text the lack of reliability of Nick? He poses as this genuine sort of guy, honest and up-front, but as the story unfolds, he's not quite as authentic as he would think. For example, I remember him saying at the beginning that he doesn't judge other people, but in fact he does judge them pretty much throughout the story. On general principle, I wouldn't trust a guy who praised himself so highly!
I have a teacher friend who loves to talk about how his reasons for teaching this novel really boil down to his own personal interest in "unreliable" narrators.
Early in the novel, Nick describes his plans for the season. He is going to buy some books and read them, get smart and become a stereotypical man of erudition. This particular moment displays Nick's participation with the exact same kind of fraud and fantasy that he later skewers his "friends" for believing.
Nick knows - and Fitzgerald seems to know - that he is not without his own pretenses. He is not without his own tendencies as a social striver. The facts show Nick to be fully participant in the scene he derides.
Does Nick rate himself highly, or is it that Daisy and her group are so morally bankrupt? Nick is a moralist and a judge, but who wouldn't be among this group? Their lives are empty and hollow, and they are incapable of contributing anything of value to society. Money is their idol and cure-all for the ills of their society. Nick remembers his father telling him he shouldn't judge others since "a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth," but don't you think Nick at least judges the others with compassion? He says, "Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope." This is especially true for his opinion of Gatsby.
Ok, lets admit that Nick is not the most honest of people. He carries on an affair with Jordan despite being committed to a girl back home. However, I am also inclined to be sympathetic towards him. He has come out of a relatively simple life into the glitz and glamour of 1920's New York. Its culture shock. And of all the characters, he is the only one who tries - and eventually succeeds - in being true to himself.
I am more inclined, like bmadnick, to be sympathetic to Nick and his cold plunge into the dark waters of the elite of the Jazz Age. Nick may be unreliable in some respects, but I think he has a pure heart. That is, unlike some of the other characters, he does not deliberately have an agenda, unlike, I would argue, virtually ALL of the other characters. What do you guys think?