Is Nick Carraway an honest person in The Great Gatsby?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nick Carraway believes--or tells himself--that he is an honest person, writing at the end of chapter 3, "I am one of the few honest people I have ever known." However, we have reason to be suspicious of this claim. First, during his dinner visit at Daisy and Tom's house, they both insist they've heard he's engaged to a girl out west, a rumor he denies, saying he is not even "vaguely engaged."

But in the same chapter where he asserts his honesty, he also admits he has been less than honest with the woman out west. He's not all that fond of her, remembering how after playing tennis, a "faint mustache of perspiration" appeared on her upper lip. He has, nevertheless been writing her weekly letters signed "love." He thinks that before he gets more involved with Jordan, he has to get "out of that tangle back home." He says there's a "vague understanding that had to be broken off" before he could be "free." This contradicts what he tells us in the first chapter, which is that he is not "even vaguely engaged." Apparently, in fact, he is vaguely engaged--at the very least.

Nick's lack of honesty coupled with his belief in his honesty makes him an unreliable narrator. We have to read carefully to try to discern what is true and not necessarily take Nick's word for it.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nick Carraway certainly believes he is an honest person, and, in my opinion, he is. Nick seems to be telling readers the truth when he tells this story; he shares a great deal of information that reveals his emotional vulnerability, such as when he and Jordan speak for the last time. He admits he was "Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, [he] turned away." A dishonest person would be likely to hide such things. 

Also, when Nick sees Tom Buchanan for the last time in the text, he initially refuses to shake Tom's hand, saying, "You know what I think of you." In addition, Nick seems to understand the complexity of his feelings about Gatsby: although Gatsby represents everything Nick dislikes, Nick still ultimately thinks Gatsby is better than the rest of the shoddy "Eggs" crowd. I think Nick feels a little helpless against the Buchanans' power, but he is still relatively honest.

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The Great Gatsby

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