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; in Nick's mind, there can be no doubt about his honesty, though Fitzgerald's clever choice of words leaves the reader far less convinced.
The discussion immediately preceding the characterization is most pressing on an interpretation of this self-characterization, as it provides a clear example of Nick's dishonesty just moments before he claims to be perfectly honest. Nick says of Jordan Baker, "Her grey sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her" (63). But, however, before he could actively pursue Miss Baker, he acknowledges, there was one little matter he had to deal with:
But I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself out of that tangle back home. I'd been writing letters once a week and signing them 'Love, Nick'...Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free. (64)
Immediately preceding his statement about being one of the few honest people he has ever known, he admits to both falsely proclaiming his love and perpetuating a "vague understanding" he had no intention of...