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.