Illusion and Reality in The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel about one man's disenchantment with the American dream. In the story we get a glimpse into the life of Jay Gatsby, a man who aspired to achieve a position among the American rich to win the heart of his true love, Daisy Fay. Gatsby's downfall was in the fact that he was unable to determine that concealed boundary between reality and illusion in his life.
The Great Gatsby is a tightly structured, symbolically compressed novel whose predominant images and symbols reinforce the idea that Gatsby's dream exists on borrowed time. Fitzgerald perfectly understood the inadequacy of Gatsby's romantic view of wealth. At a young age he met and fell in love with Ginevra King, a Chicago girl who enjoyed the wealth and social position to which Fitzgerald was always drawn. After being rejected by Ginevra because of his lower social standing, Fitzgerald came away with a sense of social inadequacy, a deep hurt, and a longing for the girl beyond attainment. This disappointment grew into distrust and envy of the American rich and their lifestyle. These personal feelings are expressed in Gatsby. The rich symbolize the failure of a civilization and the way of life and this flaw becomes apparent in the characters of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, quickly became disillusioned with the upper social class after having dinner at their home on the fashionable East Egg Island. "Nick is forced unwillingly to observe the violent contrast between their opportunities- what is implied by the gracious surface of their existence- and the seamy underside which is its’ reality" (Way 93). In the Buchanans, and in Nick's reaction to them, Fitzgerald shows us how completely the American upper class has failed to become an aristocracy. The Buchanans represent cowardice, corruption, and the demise of Gatsby's dream. Gatsby, unlike Fitzgerald himself, never discovers how he has been betrayed by the class he has idealized for so long. For Gatsby, the failure of the rich has disastrous consequences.
Gatsby's desire to achieve his dream leads him to West Egg Island. He purchased a mansion across the bay from Daisy's home. There is a green light at the end of Daisy's dock that is visible at night from the windows and lawn of Gatsby's house. This green light is one of the central symbols of the novel. In chapter one, Nick observes Gatsby in the dark as he looks longingly across the bay with arms stretched outward toward the green light. It becomes apparent, as the story progresses that "the whole being of Gatsby exists only in relation to what the green light symbolizes This first sight, that we have of Gatsby, is a ritualistic tableau that literally contains the meaning of the completed book" (Bewley 41). A broader definition of the green light's significance is revealed in Chapter 5, as Gatsby and Daisy stand at one of the windows...