Illusion vs. Reality In ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

gatsbyThrough the hustle of everyday life, one undergoes life and the struggles that follow. As time passes by, habitual routines develop, and the mind is opened to understanding the difference between an illusion and reality. Yet, once a new conflict arises, it cannot be avoided. Thus, this creates a false reality; which is what lingers in the mind of many characters in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

First of all, one of the more notable examples of illusion seen as reality in The Great Gatsby involves the title character himself; Jay Gatsby. Jay Gatsby (also known as James Gatz) is a young man from a poor family in North Dakota. The fact that he lived in poverty all his life bothered him to such great extent in which he decided to drop out of St. Olaf College in Minnesota after only a couple weeks; he was shameful towards the janitorial job he was forced to take in order to pay the tuition for the school. In Chapter 4, Gatsby tells Nick, “I’ll tell you God’s truth…I am the son of some wealth people in the middle-west [San Francisco].” As a result, the truth of his family background is a definite example of the false reality Jay portrays.

Another illusion Gatsby deliberately makes people believe is real; is his rise to wealth. In Ch.2 Mr. McKee states that he had attended one of Gatsby’s many parties and adds: “Well they say he’s a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s.” Yet, that is not true. During the five years he lived on the yacht with Dan Cody, they sailed around the world 3 whole times. When Cody passed away, Gatsby was meant to be left with twenty-five thousand dollars. Unfortunately for Gatsby, Cody’s mistress prevented him from claiming this inheritance. Consequently, he made his real fortune from bootlegging.

Gatsby’s oxford education is a very memorable example within the theme of ‘Illusion vs. Reality’. A man’s education is what categorizes the lower class from the upper class; it is a must-have for someone in such a socially elite position as Gatsby. For the most part, the characters in the novel are well-educated. In Chapter.4, Gatsby tells Nick that he was educated at Oxford. In Chapter.7 he leaks the truth to Tom when he tells him how he actually only stayed five months there and “that’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man.” Therefore, Gatsby forms an illusion regarding his education in order to sound scholarly and to be accepted among the elite.

The proximity between the house of Daisy and Jay is awfully coincidental. In Ch.4 Jordan Baker tells Nick that “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.” In Ch.5 after Gatsby had shown Daisy around his mansion, they go to the back of the house and stare across the bay in which he says to Daisy: “It had seemed as close as a star to the moon.” Clearly, through this, Jay realizes the vast distance actually separating the two lovers.

Daisy’s love for Gatsby is by far one of the grandest illusions that is mistaken for reality. For nearly five years, from the day he had left for WW1, Jay had his heart set on marrying Daisy upon his arrival. He returned to the United States, built up his million dollar fortune, and expected that he would be soon be with Daisy forever. Yet, the actuality of the matter is very much the contrary. Gatsby tries to convince Nick that Daisy and him will reunite soon enough: “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.” (Page 110). Such a contrarian view must never be taken seriously because it is evident Gatsby’s motives are only to recreate the love Daisy and him had shared years before. Therefore, Gatsby creates an illusion for himself which leads to his downfall. Although, after the death of Myrtle, Daisy is almost forced to reconcile with Tom. This is mainly because she is much too irresponsible to take blame for her own actions. Accordingly, at the end of Ch.7, the illusion that Daisy loved Gatsby is shattered.

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg in the valley of ashes forms an illusion on Wilson. In a shady part of New York City, is a billboard advertising optometry using two towering eyes that seem to be constantly watching everything. George Wilson is led astray in this situation. He is a poor, middle-aged man who runs and resides in a small gas station with his wife, Myrtle Wilson. Soon after Wilson discovers his wife cheating, he finds her torn to pieces on the road due to a car accident. Wilson loses all faith in humanity and what is right in the world; trying to find peace within himself, he seeks direction from Doctor T.J. Eckleburg whom he equates to the eyes of god.

Daisy Buchanan is another character who subsists in an illusionary realm. She has a knack for materialistic items; being a key reason for why she married Tom. Daisy uses her fortune as an escape from reality. Additionally, in regards to her daughter, she says: “And I hope she’ll be a fool – That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (Page 21). Clearly, then, it is apparent that Daisy feels it is better to be beautiful and irresponsible rather than to worry about things that actually matter; this proves that part of Daisy is truly corrupted by the illusion she lives in.

Nick Carraway is amongst one of the few people in the novel that lives in a reality; not an illusion. A notable example of this is when NIck says: “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” (Page 162). This statement reveals how he understands the major role money plays in corrupting an individual. Unlike the whole West Egg crowd, Nick does not let money, dishonesty, or materialistic items dominate his life. Instead, Nick portrays an honest person who resides in an average house; poles apart from the size of Gatsby and Daisy’s mansion-like homes

In the end, even the greatest of the characters in The Great Gatsby are conformed by illusions; whether it roots from society, or the fact that they lived in an era of drunkenness and mischief. The things seen as illusions by someone in a sober state were in disarray with the rest of reality. As they turned illusions into their own reality, these individuals created a life of misery and uncertainty. Illusion puts on the mask of reality, and commonly, tears apart the lives and notoriety of those who rely on it.

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