Jay’s Dangerous Illusions in The Great Gatsby
America is a land of opportunity and hopes and dreams can become reality. The "American Dream" consists of the notion that the struggling poor can achieve financial success through hard work. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, puts this premise to the test while also warning against the dangers of believing too passionately in any dream. The central character, Jay Gatsby, "proves a tragic hero who succeeds financially but fails emotionally when he attempts to hold onto something from the past"(Mizener 126). Gatsby not only possesses imaginative dreams, but also idealistic illusions. These illusions eventually result in the unfortunate downfall of Jay Gatsby.
In Fitzgerald's novel, Jay Gatsby's past, the time in which he is emotionally bound, is crucial to the understanding of his premature death. In 1917, just prior to his entrance into World War I, young Gatsby falls in love with the beautiful, affluent Daisy Fay. They have the type of love that is written about in fairy tales: "...He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God...At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete" (Fitzgerald 117). Jordan Baker, a good friend of Daisy's, also describes their previous love as unique when she says: "[Gatsby] looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometime" (Fitzgerald 80). Circumstances caused Jay and Daisy to be separated, and when he returned from war, he was faced with the news that she had married another man. Nevertheless, Gatsby's flaw is holding onto his dream of being with her again; after he himself accumulates an immense wealth, he buys a house across the bay from the Buchanan's' residence, to be near Daisy. Not a second passes that Gatsby does not obsess about what could have been had things worked out differently five years before.
Jay Gatsby's current state is one of emptiness and despair because he fails to live in the present by dwelling too much in the past. Gatsby and Daisy are alike in the fact that both "carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age" (Fitzgerald 143), but Daisy has moved on with her marriage to Tom, while Gatsby is left stretching "out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way" (Fitzgerald 25). Gatsby finally musters the courage to become reunited with Daisy Buchanan, with the help of his next-door neighbor, Nick Carraway. Nick holds tea at his house and invites the unsuspecting Daisy. For a few minutes at least, the two connect with passionate intensity, but Nick makes the observation that:
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. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He...