he Great Gatsby: Appearance VS Reality
F. Scott Fitzgerald presents multiple themes and characters that have an overlaying façade that they portray throughout the novel. Fitzgerald’s main representation of illusion is with James Gatz or Jay Gatsby as he is known in the time covered in the novel. Gatsby can also be considered to be the embodiment of illusion within the novel. It is revealed that James Gatz created the persona of Jay Gatsby. As the novel continues it becomes apparent that James Gatz no longer exists and that Gatz has completely internalised Jay Gatsby making it his true identity.
This appears to have damaging effects on Gatsby that we find out throughout the novel, however Gatsby appears to be in denial about these effects “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” In order for Gatsby to preserve his identity he has to keep up the façade of having a wealthy upbringing and that he attended Oxford.
The reason as to why he invents this persona is evident from the beginning of being introduced to his character.
Gatsby uses his phony identity to achieve a higher social status using his frivolous parties to prove his wealth “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” However it is implied that he actually got his money from illegal trading. The novel is set during prohibition and it is implied that Gatsby gained his money as a bootlegger and used drugstores as a front for his bootlegging. To illuminate how Gatsby created his new identity, Nick Carraway compares him to Jesus Christ, therefore a comparison can be made that Gatsby transformed himself into the ideal man that he envisioned, a “Platonic conception of himself”. Gatsby influences other characters with his illusions of grandeur of the “American Dream”, to the extent that they become corrupted by wealth. Gatsby corrupts Daisy with the wealth he provides her and is ignorant to how he is influencing her “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before”.
The only way he believes he can have Daisy is by buying her affections and as he only focuses on chasing the American Dream he is oblivious to the fact that he is unworthy of this dream and therefore unworthy of her. However, a part of Gatsby is aware of this and the reason he creates his fictitious family is to impress her. In the defence of Gatsby, Daisy lives in her own world of illusions, it’s apparent that she only marries Tom for his money and what his money grants her, which in this case is whatever she desires “of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality”, this quote states that she loves him but the other two reasons act as a counterargument for her love for Tom. Daisy also appears to be in denial about the affair she is having but is exhibiting signs of guilt, for example when Pammy says “Where’s Daddy” Daisy replies “She doesn’t look like her father,” explained Daisy. “She looks like me. She’s got my hair and shape of face.”
In a description of Sylvia Plath’s copy of Great Gatsby, Plath underlines “She looks like me” and writes “no real relation to the child” this could be in relation to Plath’s famous poem ”Daddy” in which she examines a parents objectification of a child in a negative light. Daisy’s participation in her marriage appears to be dependent on her love for material objects and this also becomes clear to Gatsby, who sees clear to exploit this fact to gain her affections. Daisy likes to live in a world of illusions as it allows her to be ignorant to her husband’s infidelity with Myrtle Wilson and gives her justification to be with Gatsby. Daisy also appears to be proud of this way of life and has aspirations for Pammy, her daughter to be the same “And I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Daisy also embodies illusion on a symbolic level, she is often in white which symbolises purity which on the outside is her façade, that she is pure and without ill will, but she is actually corrupted by money which is often symbolised through gold or green, these colours represent the flower she is named after “Daisy”.
Nick Carraway is one of the novel’s characters that lives in reality “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together,” this occurs when Nick realises to what extent money corrupts people. Even though Nick sees reality he still allows money to somewhat possess him at the will of Gatsby who is aware of this. Nick is not as corrupted as the other characters and it’s portrayed through his modest house and the fact that he doesn’t lie or cheat. It’s discovered that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle and she is then killed by Daisy, we see George Wilson fashion one of the most prominent illusions in the novel in which he turns the illusion of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg into an actuality. George and Myrtle Wilson live in the valley of ash. George finds an old billboard that advertises the previously mentioned optometrist. The billboard has gargantuan eyes that are used to represent an omnipotent being, in making this observation; we can see that George is personifying the billboard. After George discovers of Myrtle’s death he seeks guidance from the God like illusion of Eckleburg “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing,” George believes that Gatsby has been having an affair with Myrtle and also that Gatsby was the one that killed her with his yellow car.
George then responds religiously and asks the God like Eckleburg to enact revenge on Gatsby which results in Gatsby’s death and George’s suicide, thus making George’s illusion of Eckleburg as God, a reality. Through the events seen as illusions, such as “Doctor T.J. Eckleburg”, Daisy’s love for Gatsby and Gatsby destroying his empire for her, Fitzgerald uses these illusions to demonstrate that humans turn to illusions and to things that they know are untrue to create, what can be described as unrealistic and often excessive, impossible realities that we dream of and what most of the characters in the novel seek and is labelled as the “American Dream” Martin Amis conveys characters that partially contrast to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, as Amis portrays John Self as completely ignorant to the reality that he is living, this is unlike Fitzgerald’s character Gatsby, who is very much aware of the illusion that he has fabricated. However the two characters do share the same corrupt persona that impacts their relationships with other characters, Self sees corruption as an attractive attribute especially with Selina “I love her corruption”.
Self’s discovery that Barry is not his father could be Amis’s attempt at symbolising the loss of the self and finally seeing passed the illusion at reality “Don’t you know anything, you bitch’s bastard”. This is similar to Gatsby’s revelation that Daisy will never leave Tom. Both events signify the admission of reality and that the characters have failed to reach their goal, Gatsby has failed to achieve the American Dream and Self has failed to gain the social status that he desires. Forced to confront reality, Self decides he is capable of facing life “I feel solid and stately calm” Amis’s use of the phrase “stately calm” portrays Self in a dignified manner which contrasts to John Self previously in the novel, this suggests that the discovery that Barry isn’t his father allows him to become a different person “Fat John”, the loss of “Self” gives John the opportunity to become a better person. However Self is lazy and neglects this opportunity and decides that suicide is the best solution to his problem “life” and even blames life for this realisation “Deciding is the hard part, and life has decided for me” This is not a solution, its voluntary ignorance, which is a major theme throughout the novel and is even given its own character “Frank the Phone”. Frank acts as an indirect confessional for Self and allows him to confront his indiscretions “You just take women and use them.
Then you toss them aside like a salad” Unfortunately, for the most part Self is arrogant and refuses to even acknowledge his indiscretions “Lots of rich pretty people are expecting me downtown.” Frank states that “Women, for you, are just pornography”, contextually, during the 1980’s pornography was very cheap due to the invention of the home video, Amis’s use of this knowledge allows us to reinforce the idea that Self’s idea of women is that they are easy and to be used to pass the time. This kind of misogyny is similar to The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald is often criticised for being a misogynist. Self’s misogyny is similar to Tom Buchanan who, when finding out of his wife’s infidelity, was less disturbed about the affair, than the fact she was involved with a man of inferior social class “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife.” Both Tom and John’s misogyny and hypocrisy both assert themselves with a vengeance.
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion”
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