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great gatsby

Early in the book, Nick says he doesn't judge people, but isn't the whole book a judgment of his surroundings? Is he just being observant or indeed...


Your question gets to the heart of the novel and the development of Fitzgerald's theme. The answer lies in the structure of the novel and its use of flashback. When the novel begins, Nick has returned from living in the East. He speaks to us as a man who has been through a profound experience and is still dealing with it.

He begins by telling us of his family background and how he grew up. He explains that as a result of his father's influence, he is "inclined to reserve all judgements [sic]." Then Nick moves on to this statement:

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on.

This is an important passage, for it shows that despite his tolerant nature, Nick does not accept all behavior; at some point, he expects people to base their conduct on some kind of moral code. When he says "I don't care what it's founded on," the implied conclusion of that sentence is "so long as it is founded on something." Nick continues, saying that when he came home from the East, "I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever."

Before Nick left home, he was basically nonjudgmental; by the time he returned, he had made strong judgments about the kind of human behavior he had witnessed there. Nick admires Gatsby for his naive romanticism and his absolute integrity in pursuing his dreams. He detests the Buchanans, judging them to be careless and irresponsible in their wealth and privilege, and amoral in their treatment of other people. According to Nick, the Buchanans were the "foul dust" that "floated in the wake of [Gatsby's] dreams." Nick's moral judgments are those of Fitzgerald. Through Nick, Fitzgerald condemned the social stratum in American society represented by Tom and Daisy.



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