Influences on Judgement

Every day we constantly pass judgement and withhold judgement on the world and those within it, often subconsciously. The Great Gatsby, a fiction novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, focuses on what causes the nature of our judgements. Fitzgerald suggests in his work that our perception is very easily influenced and shaped by our environment. Almost every character in The Great Gatsby supports this claim, however Nick Carraway is the prime example of this, as he undergoes a change in judgement, escaping the influences of his high class relatives Tom and Daisy Buchanan and falling under the influence of Gatsby.

While everyone has their own opinions on what is moral and right, there are certain aspects of life in which there are clear lines. Adultery, for example, is considered a sin to many and frowned upon by others. However, depending on who has done the deed, we may judge them more harshly or leniently. When the reader learns of Tom’s mistress in chapter one, Nick’s narrative experiences no pause, there is no questioning the morality of Tom’s actions, “‘Tom’s got some woman in New York.’ ‘Got some woman?’ I repeated blankly.” Through this plain response of Nick’s, Fitzgerald shows how easily influenced we are by the ideals of the social classes we are raised in. Later in the book, Nick helps Gatsby and Daisy form an affair, never questioning the morals of his actions. “‘He wants to know,’ continued Jordan, ‘if you’ll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over.’” It is unclear why Nick would agree to this, perhaps he really believed there was nothing odd or amusing about both Tom and Daisy cheating on each other, however it is more likely it was the kind of world he grew up in that taught him this was ok. If the environment we are placed in shapes our character so greatly as it did Nick’s, we must ask ourselves how much of our personality is truly our’s rather than our surroundings that have rubbed off on us.

It is difficult to rank specific degrees of wrongdoing; yet, we judge others for committing sins more harshly than we judge ourselves because of our surroundings. Tom’s harsh opinion of Gatsby is greatly based on the assumption that he is new money, and therefore less entitled or powerful as Tom is. There is a complete lack of regard for whether or not this is a worse crime than Tom’s own decisions, as Tom’s high class and sense of superiority convince him that Gatsby’s money is worthy of judgement. “‘Who is this Gatsby anyhow?’ demanded Tom suddenly. ‘Some big bootlegger?’ ‘Where’d you hear that?’ I enquired. ‘I didn’t hear it. I imagined it. A lot of these newly rich people are just big bootleggers, you know.’” p.69. Tom is surrounded by people just like him—old money, as they like to call it—who cheat just like him, yet Gatsby’s form is cheating is worse simply because it is different. Through this judgement, Fitzgerald suggests that part of our judgement of others stems from how similar they are to us and our upbringing. On page 67, when the pretty lady invites Gatsby to supper out of politeness, Gatsby does not realize that they do not actually want him to come, nor do they respect him. “‘My God, I believe that man’s coming,’ said Tom. ‘Doesn’t he know she doesn’t want him?’” Tom’s statement shows just how superior they all felt towards Gatsby, and this is only because Gatsby is of a different world than them. This type of judgement is ever present in our lives, with certain people feeling entitled because of the color of their skin and other physical or material aspects of life.

Throughout the whole book, Nick is always withholding judgement on all of Tom and Daisy’s actions, while constantly judging Gatsby, until the end. His change of heart is thanks to his change in environment, specifically to Gatsby for pulling him out from the hazy old rich society. “I found myself on Gatsby’s side, and alone.” p.104. This sudden shift is also thanks to the fact that Tom and Daisy, the biggest influences on Nick second to Gatsby, skipped town and were no longer there to influence Nick so strongly. Nick not only chooses a side in his friendships, he experiences a complete shift in his view of the world; seeing it as dreary and hopeless, “… I began to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all.” p.105. This quote does an especially good job displaying how Gatsby has transformed Nick’s perspective to more cynical, as Nick describes “them all,” his friends and possibly everyone else, with such a hateful tone. Just like anyone, Nick cannot be free of the influences of his surroundings, but he can change his surroundings in order to change his view of the world and the people in it. Even though not all characters are able to escape their societal influences, such as Daisy who chooses Tom’s money over Gatsby’s love, Nick’s ability to do so proves just how influential the people around us can be on how we judge others.

Judgement is a constant throughout the Great Gatsby and life itself. Almost every interaction contains positive and/or negative judgements; rarely do we completely lack any opinion on a subject. Through The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald proves to his readers how little we can sincerely claim these judgements as our own. Every way we turn we will find an influencing factor: the internet, music, advertisements, friends. Similar to the characters of The Great Gatsby, we often pass judgement that is morally wrong and withhold judgement, saying nothing, when there is a better, more moral course of action. Now, if we want to be moral and good, which is not always so easily defined, the first step would be to ask ourselves what our perspective has been shaped by the next time we find ourselves judging something.

 

Citizen Vessels

 

I have created a visual representation of the vessels two types of American citizens carry with them, one is a white citizen’s and the other is a black citizens. Both contain 4-5 items within them, each representing something unique to that citizen. The intention of these comparisons is to encourage the realization that racism is still present, and incredibly harmful in the every day life of a black American citizen; because the first step in stopping it, is acknowledging that it is there at all.

The Black Vessel contains three unique items, and two that are used in comparison to the white vessel. The hanging black person represents the lynchings that plague black citizens’ past, it stands for the unjust treatment overlooked in the past and even today. The image of Trayvon Martin represents not only police brutality, but racism so ingrained into our society that leads to people still justifying his death.The image is in black and white because of the statement in Citizen “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” p.52, which is well represented with a picture of Trayvon Martin, as the feelings expressed in that passage from citizen are shared among many black citizens, presumably including him. The speech bubble was inspired by this passage in Citizen: “What did he just say? Did she really just say that? Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth?” p.9, because the passage describes the thoughts of disbelief after a racist encounter, which especially reminds me of the vulgar slur used to insult black citizens. The television, which can be compared to the white citizen’s television, has a frowning face on it because it represents the misrepresentation/lack of representation altogether of black citizens in the media. This created an invisibility for black citizens, as they are commonly portrayed with untrue stereotypes, and are rarely depicted accurately. Lastly, the wilted flower is used in comparison to the two vibrant flowers in the white citizen’s vessel. It represents the overall oppression of black American citizens, in the entirety of our country’s history. It should be noted that the vessel has a large volume, suggesting that if all these memories and events and symbols were converted into liquid, the vessel would be so full it would be nearly overflowing. The fullness of the vessel means it has a large impact on the black citizen, as they have to carry around this heavy vessel of sadness with them every day of their lives.

The White Vessel contains two unique items, and two that are used in comparison to the black vessel. The crown represents the power white citizens have, not only in politics but in every day life, such as the freedom to express themselves in ways black citizens cannot. This power is symbolized by a crown because it should remind us of the unquestioned authority of a monarchy, and how white citizens share this privilege. The dollar bills represent the unequally high respect and privilege white citizens have economically. There are minimal stereotypes that prevent them from getting jobs, and this type of situation is represented well by the following passage from Citizen,  “…he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.” p.10, which shows that it is not uncommon for a black citizen to be hired out of pity, or because of a need for more “diversity,” whereas a white citizen is considered qualified from the get-go. The television with a smile on it should be compared to the television of the black citizen’s vessel, as the white citizen has a much happier one. This is because white citizens are often represented as happy families, as successful professionals, etc. They have mostly accurate and very positive representation in the media, and they have role-models on television and in books; black citizens have much less of this. The two flowers represent not only the continuous growth and acceptance of white privilege, but also the abundance in comparison to the one, wilted flower in the black citizen’s vessel. The vessel is neither full nor empty; it is instead at a stable half way point, suggesting that the contents of the vessel maintain an equilibrium within themselves, being the perfect amount of events and memories and symbols for a white citizen to carry around with them every day.

Savage Happiness

Formally stated, Newton’s third law of motion is: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law can easily be applied to everyday life. If we lived in a world with a sun never hidden from us, by storm clouds or other means, we would be incapable of knowing what a “clear” day is. To us, it would just be “A Day,” indifferent to us and everything else. In Brave New World, there is a civilized society in which no one experiences sadness. They are civilized, and they are happy, therefore they experience civilized happiness. What of the rest of us? I experience both sadness and happiness; in some instances, the emotion is so strong I forget I am capable of feeling the other. Experiencing sadness is the prerequisite to gratitude. We need opposing forces in our lives. Happiness is one thing, but gratitude for that happiness is arguably more important than the emotion itself. This is called savage happiness.

Brave New World defines individual happiness by the ability to satisfy needs. Whether the need be physical, mental, or sexual, any and all needs are instantaneously met with easy solutions such. It sounds like the perfect situation but the question still arises, is it genuine? To achieve this, all the civilized humans sacrificed their ability to recognize beauty, to feel love, to know God. Surviving while remaining “happy” is what they do. That is not real living. We live through experience, not by satisfying our needs. We need the struggle in order to recognize peace. It’s all a balance between opposing forces, one constant force is impossible. We can’t be grateful if we don’t have a reason to be.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World defines communal happiness by the ability to achieve perfection. Perfection is the condition of being as free as possible from all flaws and defects. They accomplish this by sacrificing families, mothers, fathers, instead fertilizing eggs in tubes and pre-determining the life of each individual. This makes life more efficient, because children are raised and conditioned by the state, eliminating all conflict that is derived from opinion, because everyone has the same opinions on everything. However, in our world we think for ourselves, we have original thoughts, and that is unquestionably a better way of living. Conflict can be healthy in terms of debates and constructive criticism, one person’s idea of “perfection” eliminating these things all together. We can’t be grateful if we don’t have conflict to remind us to be grateful.

The balance that we need and rely on so much is not present in Brave New World. We are savage, and this savagery is defined as uncivilized, both in the novel Brave New World and in our world. The novel goes on to define a savage as someone who accepts the right to be unhappy, the right to have cancer, the right to love and be loved, the right to be “one of us,” so to speak. We have the right to be savage, however in Brave New World, it is only a privilege. We are allowed to have science, to have Newton’s laws which in turn apply to every aspect of living. So yes, our world isn’t brave, isn’t new, but it’s real, and it’s savage. We are all savages following Newton’s laws of motion by feeling happiness, sadness, and a plethora of other emotions that don’t even have names. Our individual ability to experience life is much more valuable than ever-lasting happiness, more valuable than perfection. We all experience savage happiness, and we should hope that that doesn’t change.