14th June 2018

Illusion in The Great Gatsby

“Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within.” Society and humanity have a proclivity to fabricate and present to the world a false version or image of themselves. F. Scott Fitzgerald reveals and critiques society’s inclination to present false images and illusions through his writing. He skillfully manipulates his language to do so, using allusion, color symbolism and narrative point of view around his characters to allow his readers to understand the reality of illusion and what exists behind it.

Innocence and purity – this is what we as a society generally associate with the color white. However, in The Great Gatsby, this color symbolizes the illusion of these things, of perfection and beauty, innocence and purity. Fitzgerald intertwines this color and its symbolism into his book through his characters- Daisy in particular- to display the illusion that they present to the world and what is hidden behind their facade. Thus commenting on the way in which society tends to fabricate disguising images of themselves and present them to the world. To Gatsby and many others, Daisy is beautiful and alluring, her money, status and irresistible qualities draw him in and he falls under her enchanting ‘spell’. The truth behind this mirage is revealed to us throughout the novel, she is continuously associated with the color white. White is a blank color and it reveals, not her beauty, but the disguised blandness and lack of feeling that she has attained. As a girl, Daisy realized the pain that the world could cause and her potential susceptibility to it. Rather than face it, she blocked it out, she blocked out the bad, the good and everything in between because of a fear of the darkness, the hurting the she could be caused. She is influenced, “possessed”, haunted almost, by “turbulent emotion”, it controls her. Because of this, Daisy is hardened, dulled by her life and lack of true, colorful emotion, “You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow” she says to Nick upon their first meeting of the summer. Her hidden emptiness is revealed to us initially when she first speaks of her daughter. She speaks of her with a vacancy that indicates her detachment from really feeling. She says she hopes her daughter will be a “beautiful little fool”, making it clear to us that she wants her to be unaware of all the potential harm – and therefore happiness – the world has to offer. This reveals Daisy’s lack of feeling, wishing her own daughter to be ignorant to the world and be a “fool”. She shut herself off from really seeing the life that surrounds her because she did not have the courage to face it. Fitzgerald uses the color white to effectively illustrate her illusion because, deceivingly, she is not perfect and innocent, but bland and empty with a materialistic, cynical view of the world and her life. The color white reveals the blankness that is behind all images, the emptiness that comes hand-in-hand with deception. Fitzgerald’s color symbolism reveals Daisy’s illusion and the illusions of society. This allows us to understand her as a character and her representation of society and it’s inexplicable tendency to project a false identity to the world.

There is always more than one side to a story. Fitzgerald wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’  from the perspective of one of our main characters , Nick. This means that his point of view is the only one we hear of as readers; our views of the characters and happenings of the book are derived immediately from the way Nick sees, interprets and describes them. The novel in it’s entirety, every symbol, illusion and revelation, is delivered to us through Nick’s eyes. Consequently, this in itself creates an illusion as every person has their own frame of reference, their own understanding and their own truth. Initially, Nick describes himself as someone who is “inclined to reserve all judgements”, feeling that the reservation of judgements was a “matter of infinite hope.” Contradictory to this, he then reveals that he had ultimately come to the conclusion that even his tolerance for remaining non-judgemental had a limit. The illusion Nick presents is illustrated through his narrative point of view and what Fitzgerald’s readers understand from it; despite what he claims, Nick is judgmental, he is consistently making judgements about the other characters and scenes around him which paints the picture we see. This is originally illustrated to us during the first chapter, when we are introduced to Tom and Daisy. Upon his arrival at their East Egg palace, he immediately describes Tom as having a “supercilious manner” with “shining, arrogant eyes”, Fitzgerald words with negative connotations attached to them to describe- through Nick’s eyes- Tom’s character. This instantly reveals both Tom’s character and Nick’s illusion of apparent impartialness, simultaneously. Nick later on in the novel suggests that “Everyone suspects themselves of one of the cardinal virtues”, even this shows his judgements as he cannot know what other people think of suspect of themselves, he assumes this about them based on judgments he had made. He then goes on to explain what his own was, “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” He is honest in his own opinion and truth but is that the same honesty as other peoples’ ?  This alludes Nick, he does not realize that his own honesty and opinions are judgements. As readers we must decipher what our own opinions are based on what and how Nick has informed us of them. The use of narration allows us to see the truth behind Nick’s supposed neutrality and disinclination to judge which is apparent in humanity as we often- like Nick- present false identities or ideas to the world, believing ourselves, that they are true.

Gatsby, our main protagonist, is the epitome of illusion. Fitzgerald uses allusion to develop and  his character and the illusion he presents. Jay Gatsby is a silhouette of a man, he constructs his entire life around a false fantasy, “breathing dreams like air”. His illusive, non-existent fantasy is what keeps him alive but he cannot see this, he builds a mirage of the person he wants to be and believes in it with such passion – this is Gatsby’s illusion. Allusion reveals this and society’s inclination to create false images and lives to disguise their truths and the nothingness behind them. For example, at one of Gatsby’s wild parties, an unknowing guest comments on the resemblance between Gatsby and David Belasco, without realizing the irony of it “This fellas a regular Belasco.”  David Belasco was a set designer and producer on Broadway known for his elaborate and realistic sets. This connection hints at the colossal facade that Gatsby lives on and believes in so passionately. Just like Belasco’s sets, which were so intricately and perfectly constructed, they made audiences believe in their realism, Gatsby built his whole, detailed existence from nothing and fools even himself with it, nevertheless, these are both illusive. The detailed and seemingly authentic sets were only an image with nothing behind or in them, like Gatsby’s illusion. Fitzgerald hints at the false image society commonly presents here through his use of allusion that compares Gatsby to someone who created these believable sets, revealing both the immensity of Gatsby’s false image and the emptiness behind it, the emptiness behind all dishonest, illusive images.

These language features that Fitzgerald has used around his characters reveal the reality and truth of illusion and what it hides. He illustrates how these characters are illusive through is language features which represent society and humanity’s tendency to hide behind illusions and lies.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Hey Siena,

    You have developed some insightful and perceptive ideas about the characters in the novel. If this was a character and ideas essay, you’d be well on the right track.

    However, you are missing a crucial element of the essay: the critique of society. At the moment, your essay is not addressing both sections of the statement: the critique that Fitzgerald offers and what language device he uses to convey it.

    I would also comment on the lack of analysis around the colour white for Dasiy. Each of the characters you are discussing hide behind an illusion but you need to outline how that illusion is revealed through the language of the novel. How does the colour white allow us to understand the comments you are making about Dasiy.

    Frame your answer to respond to the statement in a more direct manner.

    Also, go and look up the em-dash sentence. I think it’s one you would find useful.


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