Hope is a matter of unwavering perseverance. It is the warm glow of optimism that exists still when all other lights have dimmed or simply point in an uncertain direction. The remarkable power of hope is what humans use to escape the idea that their reality is forever. It is a beautiful thing, a pure and vital part of human nature. However, when it is warped into a belief in the impossible, the line between illusion and reality blurs. If the glow of hope were to become a blinding beacon, nothing but that light could be seen, but one light can’t burn forever. Celebrated author, F. Scott Fitzgerald critiques the nature of society through his uniquely crafted literature. Throughout his pieces of writing, he repeats elements and through these similarities, aspects of humanity become evident. His acclaimed novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, two short stories, ‘Winter dreams’ and ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ and David Fincher’s film ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ which is based upon Fitzgerald’s short story of the same title, all present alike male protagonists. Through their similarities, the readers are allowed to become aware of the dangers of being blinded by their hope for something better than they have and forgetting the potential happiness in reality. These characters, through their resilient hope for the “orgastic future that year by year recedes before us” and the ultimate reality that they all must face on the other side of this fantasy, reminds Fitzgerald’s readers of the delicate yet crucial line between illusion and reality.
Jay Gatsby – Fitzgerald’s main character in ‘The Great Gatsby’ – is obsessed with an unattainable dream. He becomes so reliant on the hope he has for this dream that it is vital to him like the air in his lungs. It is dream of status and money, a dream of being handed an invitation into the exclusive ‘secret society’ to which- unbeknown to him- he could never be apart of. He falls in all-consuming love with a girl who symbolizes this, the utter perfection, attraction and glory he has wanted since he was a young, poor and ambitious boy. In order to obtain his perfect dream that seems to him, only just out of reach, Gatsby constructs an entire existence “and to this conception he was faithful to the end.” He built himself and his life to attract Daisy, to make himself worthy of her and the dream – because to have her, is to have the dream, she is the Golden Girl and he would chase her relentlessly until the end. For a moment, he has Daisy and it becomes tantalizingly close, both Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s readers alike are captivated by the hope that somehow his colossal illusion could become a reality. However, just when Daisy is within his grasp and Gatsby is sure he has succeeded, the fantasy disappears – he can never truly have her. The five years that prevent them from being together can’t be erased as he hopes, dreams and believes with utter conviction they can be – “‘Can’t repeat the past ?… Why of course you can !’”. His hope for their unreachable life together consumed him, despite the unattainability of it, it took over his reality. He was “breathing dreams like air” for so long that when this conception to which he had created with such passion, “decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way”, finally fell away and he realized “that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever”, he found himself gasping for breath in the real world. With the death of the dream, Gatsby and his “ghostly heart” died too. With Gatsby’s sudden death the readers are woken up to disappointment. They are reminded of the effect this kind of hope can have and that to allow a once beautiful hope to possess you, you are giving up the possibility of truly living in reality.
The male protagonist of ’Winter Dreams’ has a striking likeness to Gatsby. Dexter Green views money as the key to the most glorious life imaginable, a life of unparalleled perfection with careless status and wealth. He falls in love with a woman who represents this dream to him- just as Daisy does to Gatsby- a golden girl, the perfect picture of his alluring fantasy. Like Gatsby, Dexter begins as a young boy with little wealth and immense ambition. He builds a great hope for his life with the “arrestingly beautiful”, Judy Jones. He sees in her face “not a “high” color, but a sort of fluctuating and feverish warmth, so shaded that it seemed at any moment it would recede and disappear.” Fitzgerald uses this description of Judy’s “fluctuating and feverish warmth” to illustrate how her appearance, which is what makes her so immediately alluring to Dexter, is not a certainty. It wavers in intensity and threatens to “recede and disappear” at any moment just as the illusion it presents does. As dreams often do, it seemed real as it happened but in reality it could vanish- just like the color in her cheeks- the moment Dexter woke up. Dexter can’t have Judy. No matter the intensity of his feeling nor the depth of his hope, he knows that he can never truly have her. Together they share a summer and after having her as his own for one night Judy leaves him behind for a final time. After this, Dexter accepts that “The dream was gone.”, that “…these things were no longer in the world! They had existed and they existed no longer.” After his summer with Judy, getting wrapped up in a split second of ‘perfection’, he goes back to his reality, knowing that Judy Jones was not a treasure to call his own but a tantalizing temptation of many man before and many men to come. He goes back to become engaged to a woman whom despite her loveliness, “He knew that Irene would be no more than a curtain spread behind him, a hand moving among gleaming tea−cups, a voice calling to children”. Never would he fully embrace her and what she could be because despite the notion that she and their life together might have been wonderful, reality would never taste quite as sweet once he’d been given a bite of his dream. He gave up and left from “the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.”, like Gatsby lived in his dreams with them flourishing in Daisy’s company. By building Dexter’s tower of hopes so high and then knocking it down, just as he did with Gatsby, Fitzgerald warns his readers of the consequences of living off a dream, of throwing too much into it and climbing so high that the fall back down causes great disillusionment. When you are let down to reality, even if that reality is or could be beautiful, it won’t be immediately as good as the decked out dream that you had become attached to. As wonderful a thing as it is to have hope, we must allow ourselves to be content with our own reality and what exists in it.
John T. Unger from ‘A Diamond as Big as the Ritz’, comes from the small town of Hades and is not poor nor is he overwhelmingly rich. He is sent to a boarding school where “the fathers of all the boys are money-kings” and when invited to the secret home of a school friend for the summer, he becomes immersed in a life of ridiculous splendor and wealth. This house was one of unimaginable opulence, of “terrible and golden mystery”, owned apparently, by the richest man in the world. However, their life is hidden from society, they are wrapped up in a bubble, unexposed to reality. John has a powerful ambition for money and a quintessential, rich life and like both Dexter and Gatsby, this ambition makes him susceptible to becoming consumed by a hope for something better than what he has. For the summer, John lives in this house which, with it’s “unbroken mass of diamonds, diamonds of every size and shape”, presents the illusion of the possibility of having this kind of inconceivable wealth. Like Dexter, John establishes an immense hope for attaining this glory; for the impossible diamonds, the status and the golden girl. He falls in love with the daughter of the house who, like in ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’, symbolizes the entire illusion of perfect wealth and prosperity that he was reaching for. To him, she was the “incarnation of physical beauty” just as Judy “made men conscious to the highest degree of her physical loveliness.”. The luxurious house and luminous girl “…made a sort of floating fairyland”. Fitzgerald uses the term “fairyland” to suggest the fantasy that this summer creates in John’s mind, it is a fairyland of perfection but fairyland’s only exist inside one’s imagination. He plans on marriage and a future with this girl and her diamond as big as the Ritz. Fitzgerald builds our aspirations for their future until we, like John, are hoping with desperate anticipation for the happy ending that can’t be. His idyllic dream is broken when the house of diamonds suddenly crumbles into nothing and vanishes as only something illusive can. It had “…dazzled the eyes with a whiteness that could be compared only with itself, beyond human wish or dream.”, it wasn’t capable of existing in human reality and it blinded John’s eyes- his perception of reality- with its brightness. For a moment he had it all, his hope was inches away from being rewarded but just in time he blinked and there was reality, there was “Hell” in the place of his dream. By describing John’s home as “Hell”, Fitzgerald reinforces the idea that after dreaming with such passion of this perfect life, returning to reality, where actually, his life had been happy, was something to dread. Through the ambitions and consequential disappointments of John and Dexter, Fitzgerald highlights the dangers of falling for the illusion of perfection. He emphasizes the true nature of ‘perfection’ with the perfect house and life vanishing into nothingness. As nothing comes from nothing, this illustrates how perfection really is an illusion, it cannot exist. To build a hope for it is false and will always be let down to imperfection.
Yet another of Fitzgerald’s characters that becomes driven by his hope is Benjamin Button. Born in the body of an old, weathered man and aging backwards, Benjamin is automatically destined for an unconventional life course – he experiences the same typical milestones the opposite way around. Benjamin, although aware of the inevitability of time and what it means for his unique life, is constantly seeking normalcy, for conventionality, to live the perfect life with the perfect nuclear family. He can’t have this as, always he will be running in the opposite direction to the rest of society. In the middle of his life, he and Daisy, his golden girl, are finally the same age, “meeting in the middle” and he gets a glimpse of his perfect future. In this moment, everything he could wish for was within his grasp. He and Daisy enjoy their perfect window of time, just as John and Dexter do with their golden girls and golden dreams. Filled with joy and excitement, he starts to experience life as any normal person could, Daisy becomes pregnant and the audience becomes wrapped up in the idea that this beautiful life could work. In this section of the film a montage of beautiful, emotion evoking shots shows what Benjamin feels is “one of the happiest times of my life” Despite this he is still “thinking how nothing lasts. and what a shame that is”. This montage paints a picture of absolute beauty, the audience becomes invested in what a wonderful life the two of them will have together. Nevertheless, as the montage comes to an end, “right then and there, she realized, none of us is perfect forever”. No one could have their ‘perfection’ forever, both the audience and Benjamin are snapped back to reality when he faces the truth that time will still go on. This wonderful window of time is not sustainable as he would keep growing younger and Daisy “couldn’t have been raising the both of [them]”. He then, knowing that his time was up and his dream was over, leaves them and our hopes are shattered. This mirrors the way Dexter Green knows, in the end, that his illusion was finished. He gives up on breathlessly chasing after Judy Jones because he knows he can’t have their fantasy life together forever; Benjamin realizes that instead of trying to ignore time’s presence and live his perfect life with his family any longer, he must back away from the dream. He goes on to live a full life while the audience is filled with lost hope, they are disappointed by the life Benjamin got compared with the life he almost had despite its fullness. This illustrates to the audience that the hope for something impossible, like Gatsby, Dexter, John and Benjamin’s dreams, means that being inevitably let down to reality makes you wish it was another way, it is a disappointment even when it could have been wonderful.
Fitzgerald uses his male protagonists to build the idea of dreams and reality and what they mean to us as humans. He takes his readers on a journey through his stories that force them, through their empathy for the characters, to attain a hope for the impossible to be possible. In doing this and then shattering our hopes by ending in disillusionment, for neglecting to finish with a ‘happy ending’, he reminds us of the power in hoping and dreaming and the seemingly harsh reality that exists as the final bubble of perfect illusion is popped. The “colossal vitality of his illusion” was the downfall of these four characters, Gatsby, Dexter, John and Benjamin. The illusion to which they all had succumbed was that if they could just “stretch [their] arms farther”, they could attain these quintessential, glorious lives. They face disappointment when coming back to reality as their illusion crumbles because they have lost sight of the potential beauty in anything but their dream. Fitzgerald, through his words, enlightens readers of this human experience; we so often become utterly wrapped up in dreams. The overwhelming hope for those dreams and the ‘perfection’ that they hold stops us from appreciating the potential in what we could have in reality. Humans are perfect in our imperfection. The constant unknown of life, the unexpected ups and downs and how we navigate them are what makes us what we are. Fitzgerald encourages his readers to appreciate the realness of what they have, to have a flawless “dream” life is to take away the unique and unpredictable nature of really living. We do not live in a constant ‘heaven’ or get everything we have desire for, but our imperfect lives have their own kind of perfection. Sometimes beautiful and sometimes tragic; but nothing short of colorful.