Nick Carraway’s Major Hypocrisy in The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a story told from the eyes of Nick Carraway, a stockbroker from the Midwest. This quiet young man who just moved to New York seems like the perfect candidate to narrate a story about love and life and luxury. But is he reliable? In short, no. Nick begins the story with an anecdote about how his father told him to never criticize others and how he took this advice to heart. “I am inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curiosities to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.” (pg. 1) Even though he starts his memoir with this piece of information, throughout the rest of the novel Nick contradicts this and applies judgment and bias constantly. Throughout The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick, judges people and situations carelessly, despite clearly stating otherwise on the first page of the book.
Nick chooses to observe throughout the novel as any objective narrator should. Instead of quietly soaking in the scene, he allows his own opinions to shine through while never taking action to change them. He meets people and immediately decides his thoughts on them, not allowing the reader to decide for themselves. “. . . He was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of aggressively leaning forward . . . It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.” (pg.7) Here, Nick is describing the character of Tom Buchanan, a man he knew in college. By using language, like words such as ‘supercilious,’ ‘arrogant,’ and ‘cruel,’ Nick forces the reader to see Tom as Nick sees Tom. He demands the audience to share his opinions of Tom.
Later in the book, Nick even does this with the characters he admires. Jordan Baker is his love interest and despite being incredibly fond of her, he still judges her, and women in general. “She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she has begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body. It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply . . . I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” (pg. 58) Again, the words Nick uses are undertones with judgments. ‘Incurably dishonest,’ ‘subterfuges,’ ‘insolent.’ His syntax is laced with opinions that are quite strong for someone who is inclined to reserve all judgments.
In conjunction with negatively judging people, Nick also inserts positive biases towards things. For example, when Nick first meets Jay Gatsby, he creates this whole character in his head, despite knowing him for mere moments. “He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. I was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life . . . I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.” Immediately after introducing himself, Gatsby smiles and Nick instantly thinks of Gatsby as an amazing and ideal human. Also, when he first meets Jordan, he has the same rose-colored impression of her. “I enjoyed looking t her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage, which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented face.” He describes her softly, and immediately we know his admiration of her.
Through these judgments, we can determine that Nick is more comfortable in dealing with the ideals of life than the actual truth. He, like most of us, is clouded by opinions and biases. But unlike most of us, he claims to be judgment-free, an extreme and bold claim that he very clearly does not keep. Nick Carraway is a hypocrite and an unreliable narrator, as he blurs the story with his personal opinion.