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.

Surviving Death

Dying once is enough for most, Malinalli on the other hand, had to die over and over again. At the very start of her life she proved she could survive anything. Her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and mouth, serpent-like, representing the god Quetzalcoatl. She died at the age of five when her mother sold her heart’s freedom for much less than one pays for quetzal feathers. She was reborn as Marina, and then Marina died when she met Cortes, and La Malinche was born in the hands of Cortes. Malinalli stayed alive within Marina, La Malinche, The Tongue. Malinalli remained herself in every new life she was thrown in.

firstMother knows best, that’s what everyone always says, but when your mother thinks she should sell you as a slave because your dad died, maybe Grandmother knows best. Malinalli’s abuela remained her sanity, her happiness. She saw at the start of Malinalli’s life that she would be a survivor for the rest of her time, as she “sensed that the girl was destined to lose everything so that she might gain everything.,” on page 5. Her grandmother saw even more without the use of her eyes, and she was right when she saw that Malinalli would experience great losses in order to experience true happiness. Malinalli’s first loss was her freedom, but she survived with the help of her gods, and the morning star. “From the time they had first given her away as a very young girl, Malinalli had learned to conquer the fear of the unknown by relying on the familiar, on the brilliant star that would appear at her window…” It is evident page 19 that after experiencing loss, Malinalli can gain the skills to survive it, and she often times already has the skills thanks to her all-knowing abuela.

secondAs La Malinche travels to Tenochtitlan, silent and uncomplaining, she uses her survival skills, and draws out Malinalli from her soul. “Migration is an act of survival,” that is what Malinalli’s grandmother said to her when admiring butterflies on page 92. Malinalli remembers this when she needs it most, when she is suffering from hypothermia and is about to witnesses horrible death. Malinalli is always migrating, be it from slave owner to slave owner, or with Cortes, conquering alongside him. She becomes one of the butterflies her abuela took her to see, changing names, creating cocoons for herself, born into a new life each time, surviving. Migrating involves leaving everything behind, or as her abuela predicted, losing everything, leaving behind a life, in turn for eventually, a better one.

CaptureThe better life, the one The Tongue was always translating for, the one La Malinche helped Cortes for, the one Malinalli finally got, with Jaramillo, her husband, and Maria and Martin. It is this life that Malinalli finally, once again herself as she was as a child, allowed herself to die in. This life, finally full of all the happiness she lost, is the one that allowed Malinalli to be one with the gods, the elements, the stars. “Her spirit became one with the water. It scattered in the air. Her skin expanded to the limit, allowing her to change shape and become one with everything that surrounded her…She abandoned this world.” Only a survivor can avoid death for so long, then to choose when they do leave world, as Malinalli did on page 185.

Sold into slavery by her own mother, given no other options but to help Cortes, translated for the ruler who demands sacrifice and blood-shed, and thought of with shame in one’s heart, through La Malinche, Malinalli survived. Malinalli was born in such a way that it was clear that she would have to lose everything to gain everything, and she did, many times, over and over. Such feats only a survivor could live through, and one day die through, and throughout it all, “Malinalli saw clearly that she had lost nothing, that there was no reason to fear…” (p. 27)

The Quest for Wisdom

There is a debate on whether going on a quest is necessary to find wisdom. I needed the definition of both wisdom and quest before I could answer the question. Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise and a quest is described as a long or arduous search for something. One has to consider that a quest does not necessarily mean one is traveling places, but it is clear that a quest has a specific goal. Because of this, I believe that wisdom is accessible if one is in search of it.

I think one needs to know that they want wisdom in order to be eligible to acquire it. Most of my thoughts are influenced by the book Siddhartha written by Herman Hesse. Saying this, one cannot forget that they seek wisdom either, or even enlightenment as Siddhartha did when he settled into the world of wealth and vanity; “Like a veil, like a thin mist, weariness settled upon Siddhartha, slowly, every day a bit thicker, every month a bit drearier, every year a bit heavier…Siddhartha did not notice this. He noticed only that his clear and certain innermost voice, which once had been awake inside him and always and ever guided him during his times of resplendence, that voice had gone silent.” (p.63) This passage expresses how when Siddhartha strayed from his journey, his quest to wisdom and enlightenment, he became ignorant to the fact that he was straying at all. This is why it is important to never stray from one’s quest, one cannot attain wisdom if they forget that wisdom is what they want.

One’s quest for wisdom must be a specific one. Dwelling on your past fails or focusing on your past triumphs will not help you go forward. Even if the sun is setting behind you, you must keep walking into the darkness, with the knowledge that the sun will rise in the morning, an unattainable destination you try to reach every day. This is something Siddhartha does, an example would be on p.69: “Siddhartha roamed the forest, already far away from the city, with but one thought in mind, that he could no longer return. that the life he had been leading for many years was over and done, savored and sucked dry even to revulsion.” Here he leaves his ignorant wealth and ignorant pleasure garden and ignorant self behind, knowing it will do him no good to remember.

The quest for wisdom is also unique in that it is one’s own, personal quest. No two people can be on the same quest at the same time, no two people can realize their wisdom or become enlightened together. Finding wisdom is a quest for one person, and one person only. “One can find wisdom, one can live it, one can be borne by it, one can work wonders with it, but one can neither speak it nor teach it.” (p.111) This is something Siddhartha realized after many years of

searching for an enlightenment through the ascetics and shramana and teachings of the Gautama, after many years of disappointment.

This is why a quest is so essential to find wisdom, Siddhartha was a perfect example for many reasons. Wisdom is not something that can be taught to anyone, it is only granted to those who teach themselves, it is not something one can focus on if their mind is on the past, it is only attainable when it is the only goal. These are things the book helped me realize, and knowing that a quest doesn’t necessarily mean one has to go on an adventure also helped.