John Dowell, the narrator of The Good Soldier is a man searching for order in a world which has turned chaotic. As the narrator, Dowell presents himself as well-intentioned and tolerant. He is a man who has faith in others and in tradition, and who accepts that people are as they appear to be. For nine years, he assumes that Edward is nothing but a good soldier, perfectly honorable and trustworthy in every way. He believes himself to be the caretaker of a heart patient, willing to do his duty and sacrifice his own marital happiness to care for his wife's condition.

However, Dowell is an unreliable narrator. Cheated on and easily deceived for thirteen years of his marriage, Dowell is neither insightful nor perceptive. So destroyed is he over the realization of his "saddest story" that he is utterly unable even to relate emotion. Asked what it feels like to be a deceived husband, he replies that "it just feels nothing at all." We cannot trust his judgments, because it seems clear that he has little basis for them; Dowell has a skewed and biased perspective. For example, he concludes at the end of the novel that he and Edward are "just alike." But such a comparison is ridiculous; Dowell is passive and emasculated, while Edward serves as the prototype for the sexually assertive and passionate male. Ultimately, The Good Soldier is the tale of Dowell's attempt to chart his way through social and moral confusion.