“The dominant themes of the novel are those of illusion and corruption.” Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with the aid of suitable reference to the novel.
Illusion and corruption dominate The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Illusions are created by characters to hide aspects of their lives or to lead other characters astray. Jay Gatsby is the epitome of illusion, and is the central illusionist in the novel. However an illusion is also created by Daisy Buchanan with regards to her true feelings for Gatsby. As well as being an illusionist Gatsby is under the illusion that he can change the past. Additionally it could be argued that the attendees of Gatsby’s parties are illusionists in their own right. Corruption runs alongside the illusionists and they portray two various types; criminal corruption and moral corruption. Gatsby built his fortune on corruption; engaging in criminal activities to create ‘Jay Gatsby’. Moral corruption is evident in the characters who partake in adultery; examples being Tom and Myrtle. Daisy is an example of how characters can be corrupted by their beliefs.
When discussing the theme of illusion in The Great Gatsby it is impossible not to refer to Jay Gatsby. Jay Gatsby or the Great Gatsby as he came to be known is the true illusionist in the novel. His entire life is an illusion. Born James Gatz to a poor farming family in North Dakota, Jay Gatsby is an illusion. In the pursuit of his American Dream “he invented the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old would be likely to invent..’’, he involved himself with people who would help him gain wealth, bought a big fancy house across the water from Daisy’s, drove a showy car and wore expensive designer suits; all in the hope that Daisy would love him. Due in part to the lack of knowledge on his history, many people were under Gatsby’s illusion; they believed that “he killed a man once’’ or “was a German spy during the war’’ and rather than ruin his illusion with the truth Gatsby allows them to continue believing in the false accusations. Another key part of Gatsby’s illusion is the forced formality he uses when speaking, giving the impression that “he was picking his words with care’’ and referring to others as “old sport’’. On account of his total remodelling of himself, Jay Gatsby is very much the true illusionist of the novel and causes the theme of illusion to dominate throughout.
Whilst Jay Gatsby is an illusion created to make Daisy fall in love with him, Daisy Buchanan also creates an illusion of her own. Daisy twice leads Gatsby to believe that she loves him, creating the illusion that the two of them will be together only to break this. Back in 1917 Daisy and Gatsby met for the first time and a young, then, James Gatz falls head over heels in love with her. When he leaves to fight in the war he is under the illusion that Daisy will wait for him, an illusion that is soon broken as she marries Tom. She once again becomes an illusionist in 1922 when she embarks on an affair with Gatsby, leading him to believe that she will leave Tom for him, only for this illusion to be broken when she reveals she can’t tell Tom she “never loved him’’. This illusion is the basis of the novel and thus the reason that the theme of illusion dominates the novel.
As well as being an illusionist, Gatsby is also under the illusion that he has the ability to change the past. His previous romance with Daisy failed as he wasn’t wealthy enough to provide everything that Daisy longed for. He believes that under his new persona of Jay Gatsby he can rectify his past mistakes and create a future with Daisy regardless of what happened. When Nick tells him he can’t change the past he replies incredulously “Why of course you can.’’ It is this mixed up illusion that drives Gatsby’s American Dream, making him not only the master of illusion but the victim of illusion. As a result of this the theme of illusion is predominate in the novel.
As a final note on the theme of illusion, it could also be argued that Gatsby’s party guests create an illusion of their own. Gatsby’s parties are attended by hundreds of people, many of whom have never met the man whose house they are in. They create the illusion that Gatsby is a very popular man, with many friends who care about him. In contrast to his wild parties, no one besides Nick and Gatsby’s father cared enough about him to attend his funeral. Even his business associates, who Gatsby regularly went to lunch with, don’t care enough to attend his funeral leading us to believe that they two were illusionists, helping the theme of illusion to dominate the novel.
As highlighted above, Jay Gatsby is an illusion created to help Gatsby attain his American Dream, however in creating and maintaining this illusion he engages in criminal activities. His criminal corruption, although kept under wraps, widely discussed at his parties. He is rumoured to have “killed a man’’, takes long distance phone calls late at night and associates with Meyer Wolfsheim, a notorious gangster. When questioned about his wealth Gatsby simply says that he inherited it. However Tom Buchanan doesn’t accept this explanation and discovers that Gatsby is actually involved in the Prohibition Era practice of “bootlegging’’ thus making him a criminally corrupt. This pushes the theme of corruption to the forefront of the novel. As well as the criminal corruption there is also the issue of moral corruption in the novel, particularly in the case of Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson. Both these characters commit adultery, having an on-going extra marital affair with one another without thought for their other halves. Myrtle lies and tells her husband that “she goes to see her sister in in New York’’ and her husband is described as being “so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive’’, whilst Tom makes no secret of his affair around Daisy, taking Myrtle’s call during dinner. Tom and Myrtle have a totally separate life in New York and it is said that “neither of them can stand the person they’re married to.’’ This shows that both Tom and Myrtle are morally corrupt as they see no problem with having an extra marital affair. It could also be argued that this is not Tom’s first affair; given that himself and Daisy have moved “here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and where rich together.’’ All this shows why the theme of corruption is dominant in the novel.
Daisy Buchanan is an example of how characters can be corrupted their beliefs. Daisy firmly believed that money and material items were the most important things in life. Daisy chose Tom over Gatsby because of his money, and stays with him even though he is having a morally corrupt affair because she doesn’t want to be without money. Daisy’s corruption by money is evident when Gatsby shows her around his house, crying that it “makes [her] sad because [she’s] never seen such beautiful shirts’’. Symbolism also helps to show how Daisy is corrupted by money; Fitzgerald attempts to give the illusion that she is pure by dressing her in white, but she is obsessed with money which is gold. Gold is at the center of a daisy, the flower after which she is named. Daisy is corrupted by wealth and materialism which highlights how corruption is a dominant theme in the novel. I thoroughly believe that I have highlighted how illusion and corruption are dominating themes in The Great Gatsby above. There are many examples of how illusion dominates through the characters, many of whom can be described as illusionists. Jay Gatsby although the master of illusion, falls victim to the illusion that he can change the past. Daisy is also an illusionist in that she gives Gatsby the false sense that she loves him when in reality she has no intention of leaving Tom. Finally Gatsby’s party guests and the people he surrounds himself with create the false illusion that he has many people who care for him. Corruption runs alongside many of these illusionists, many of them are either criminally or morally corrupt. Jay Gatsby is involved in criminal activities to create his illusion, whilst Tom and Myrtle are morally corrupt due to their adultery. Daisy is corrupted by wealth and materialism. All of the above show how dominant illusion and corruption are throughout.