four texts- The great Gatsby, Winter Dreams, the Jelly Bean, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. ideas- illusion
Everyone is striving for something that is greater than themselves, a better version of them or the lives they live. A dream, a hope, a goal to achieve- these are all measures of success that people aim and strive for in hope of self satisfaction and fulfilment. During the 1920’s in America it was a party scene where everyone desired money and status, and the perfect life style James Truslow Adams stated about the American Dream . On the surface the American Dream looked like the perfect oasis of opportunity and flourishment but delve a little deeper and the poverty and nearing of the economic crash loomed. F.Scott Fitzgerald uses the idea of illusion to portray a false perception of America to the viewers through the use of key characters and setting. The Great Gatsby, Winter dreams, The Jelly Bean and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button all show illusion as characters aspire to be someone or live a life that is greater than themselves.
Jay Gatsby came from a family with not much money but after meeting the wealthy Daisy Buchanan he strived for a lifestyle filled with luxury and fame. He moved to the prosperous West Egg where he built himself a new life filled with grand parties and exquisite activities, all in hope that one day Daisy would stumble upon his house and they could rekindle their love and his dream would be accomplished. He created an image of the ideal version of himself he wanted everyone to see and went through his life pretending to be someone he was not. the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan was what fuelled his need to hold up this illusion to the outside world and let his past become shrouded in a whirlwind of secrets and rumours. his entire life was an illusion as he created a new name, a new lifestyle and a new story to hide aspects of his life and lead everyone else astray. “so he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end”. By using the words invent it suggests that Jay Gatsby did in fact invent himself where he created the ideal version of himself he wanted to live by and wanted everyone else to see him as. As a 17 year old boy in the 1920’s, favourable attributes that he would’ve been looking for were fame, money, connections, and love, and those were exactly what his dream strived for. He became so attached to this illusion that it became his reality and this fake life was all he knew. “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”. At first it started as a need for Daisy but as time progressed, Gatsby became so obsessed with Daisy and creating a life for them that the illusion he had created soon became what he depended on. His illusion and this lifestyle he desired had gotten out of hand where it was now so unrealistic and out of reach. the illusion that is shown throughout the Great Gatsby does not allow the characters to be shown as who they really are but merely just a version of who they want to be as they all strive towards personal accomplishment of the American Dream. Throughout the 1920’s, status and money dictated how you were seen by others, and everyone wanted to be seen as better than they really were, so it became easy to make ones life a dream. The great Gatsby is a novel built off the idea of illusion and F.Scott Fitzgerald critiqued the American Dream as a dream where everyone seemed to be striving for their own success of it, but no-one seemed to achieve it because of its unrealistic nature.
Winning Judy was the ultimate prize for Dexter Green but in order to achieve his ambitions, becoming rich was a necessary element. He had this preconceived idea that with status and money the perfect life would follow but the reality was that his dreams of being with Judy were just in fact fantasies, where his illusion became what he saw reality as. The idea of illusion in Winter Dreams is presented to the audience through Dexters need to be with Judy, where he thought that if he had all the desirable attributes they would be able to be together. He always had a natural attraction to the world of the wealthy and his winter dreams consisted of joining the ranks of the rich by remaking himself just the way someone as prestigious as Judy would acknowledge. He went to school, got an education and made money, all in hope of his personal success of the American Dream. James Truslow Adams stated that the American Dream is “That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. Dexters personal achievement was being with Judy and by completing the first part of his goal by becoming rich it seemed as though the second part of his goal would fall into place. “The helpless ecstasy of losing himself in her charm was a powerful opiate rather than a tonic.” Him losing himself in her powerful charm is described as a poison rather than a remedy where it is something to be avoided and doomed to fail. An opiate is a strong drug that is severely addictive and Dexter is dragged in to the mesmerising spell of Judy’s presence.”Already [Dexter] was playing with the idea of going East to New York. He wanted to take Judy Jones with him. No disillusion as to the world in which she had grown up could cure his illusion as to her desirability”. Judy is described as a desirable character, someone who everyone wants but no-one can have. She is the golden girl who embodies Dexters dream and aspirations and her desirability is seen as an illusion where it is something that is fake and unrealistic. Dexter is striving for accomplishment of this illusion so frantically that he is not even aware that it is all an illusion and even though it may seem as though he is achieving his dream, it is still just as far from his reach as it was at the start. Fitzgerald links the idea of the American Dream and the illusion of it to all the characters as they all strive be the most ideal version of themselves they can be. America in the 1920’s was a cruel illusion where even during the most prosperous years of the roaring twenties, most families lived below the poverty line, which made it easier for people to feel comfortable with the idea of ‘recreating’ themselves. The Great Gatsby and Winter Dreams both show an illusion that is presented to the reader as the main male characters strive towards a dream that is unachievable. The concept of the American Dream creates a false idea in Jay Gatsby and Dexter Green’s minds as they become fixated on an unachievable goal. America post war was a ‘deeply damage society desperately trying to recover from a conflict that had shaken the nation to its very core’ (canadausa.net). On the surface America had healed and the roaring twenties was seen as an explosion of euphoria, but beneath the surface, the everyday struggles dawned. Gatsby endured a hard upbringing where he pretended to be someone he was not and had aspirations of being with Daisy where these dreams would never come true. Dexter also seemed to change who he was, all in order to join the life of the wealthy and pursue his attraction to Judy. Gatsby and Dexter were both characters subjected to the false reality of the American Dream where they spent their time pursuing the illusion of their love interests and America itself. We learn that the American Dream was a concept the whole of America was aware of and striving for, where everyone was convinced that they would succeed and live a prosperous life.
Jim Powell was born into a middle-class life style but once his father passed away, money became and issue and he became an after school grocery delivery boy. Word got around about his job and he was ashamed and embarrassed, resulting in him turning to the more corrupt side of life, going to war, and coming back again where he was drawn to the presence of Nancy Lamar. Jim was hated upon and segregated from the rest of his peers because of his choice of job to make a bit of extra money, where he was seen as inferior and of lowest class. America in the 1920’s was heavily separated into classes depending on status and wealth where the wealthy were seen as the superior race. The discrimination and hate Jim received resulted in him giving up on the upper class and expectations from society and he turned to gambling and “listening to spicy tales of all the shootings that had occurred in the surrounding country”. Powell gave up on his success of the American Dream and turned to the disreputable lifestyle that was described as ‘rock bottom’. Jim had no intention to become rich and successful but after being in the presence of Nancy Lamar, his perspective on his aspirations and future soon changed. Jim was drawn to Nancy and her bad girl nature and taste for gambling. Gambling was just another figment of the false reality of the American Dream, as people pretended and lived the lives of others within the casino walls. Gambling was a way to take their minds off reality and pretend they were someone greater than they were, where they could pretend to hold all the status, wealth and authority for just a moment, without question. Jim Powell’s desire to be with Nancy was a new feeling that made him feel a weird kind of pain, of love, of admiration. “Jelly-bean is the name throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular- I am idling, I have idled, I will idle”. This quote represents the so called definition of a ‘jelly bean’ and by describing Jim as a jelly bean he is depicted as someone who is empty and unproductive. He is labelled as a character that is drifting and lounging, has moped around and dawdled, and who will be worthless and useless. These characteristics he describes himself as show that he has no self expectations and is happy to be classified in such a way. These attributes were his way of thinking before he laid eyes on Nancy, where when he met her he went to the utmost lengths to change who he was. This new found feeling of love Powell had experienced, gave him a new ambition and objective to achieve. The extent to which his new dream went, meant that he was willing to change himself by becoming ‘a gentleman’ and leaving town, even after hearing that she was soon to be married. Jim believed that by recreating himself, he could eventually have Nancy, but the truth was that this idea, this hope and dream that he had was all an illusion, a deceptive impression that he fell into the trap of. Fitzgerald shows that those who are in pursuit of the American Dream can never be satisfied because The American Dream is about striving for something that is further than one already has, and further than one can achieve. Winter Dreams and The Jelly Bean both portray the element of illusion as the main characters reinvent themselves while in pursuit of their own succession of the American Dream. The American Dream was an illusion in itself and illusions were exceptionally important in the jazz age of the 1920’s because many traditions and laws were ignored, creating the illusion of prosperity and opportunity. Dexter Green and Jim Powell pretended they were people greater than themselves and by altering who they were and the characteristics they had, they thought that they were achieving their goals when in reality the deceitful appearance blurred reality for them. we can learn that even if you try to change who you are there will always be something or someone who uncovers your true self to the outside world.
Benjamin Button was born under unusual circumstances where as everyone else slowly got older, Benjamin got younger. He grew up in an old persons home where he met his ‘childhood’ friend, Daisy and as time continued and their ages approached alignment, their love for each other was revealed. Benjamins life was far from easy and because of his appearance he was not understood, as what was shown on the outside was not what was on the inside. His love for Daisy was strong and his need to be with her was essential, but they could not see the illusion shrouding their relationship. As Daisy and Benjamin began to start a life together during the short bracket of time where their ages perfectly lined up, everything seemed as though it was ideal and that their future was falling into place. The reality was that they would never be able to be together as it was impossible and within a number of years, Benjamin would become a child and Daisy an elderly woman. “Benjamin, we’re meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?” Benjamin was inlove with Daisy and this quote shows an insight into the future as it is stating that he is going to lose her at some point. The inevitability that they will be separated nears them and this can not be avoided. They had been stuck behind the illusion for so long that it almost seemed as though it was reality but as the physical changes between Benjamin and Daisy occurred, the truth came crashing back down on them. “I was thinking how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is”. For a moment in Benjamins life everything seemed as though it was perfect and that he would live a normal life. The concept of time restricted this from happening as their time was slowly pulled away from each other. Deep down Benjamin knew that this perfect lifestyle he desired with Daisy and a baby was just not feasible and that this ambition he had forever been seeking was just in fact an illusion to the eye. The Jelly Bean and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button show a connection in the way they both show the element of illusion through their stories. Jim Powell was broken after Nancy married her original man and his aspirations were crushed and Benjamin was heart broken when he came to the realisation that his desired life with Daisy was but only a dream. These characters both had a hope and a dream to achieve where they had ambitions and exciting futures ahead of them, but were bought crashing back into reality when the colossal strength of the illusions they were administered to became clear. This shows that even though you may have an idea of something you want to happen, it may not always go your way and you won’t always be able to get what you want and desire.
The Great Gatsby, Winter Dreams, The Jelly Bean, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button all convey the idea of illusion and the deceptive appearance of it through the use of key characters. America in the 1920’s was considered the ‘era of illusion’ as it was built around the idea of The American Dream and the illusion that people could be someone they were not. F. Scott Fitzgerald was considered one of the most influential writers of modern day society as he wrote about things that were real and all too common. Fitzgerald critiqued society and revealed the reality about the concept of The American Dream as the main characters experienced failure of their dreams and aspirations. He used the idea of social realism to make characters seem as though they were perfect when they were not and in reality he was just mirroring the world around him through his work. All of the main characters from the four extracts strived towards dreams and desires but in the end they fell short as their dreams would always remain just out of reach.