Reality versus Illusions

by: Bhakti Sanghani

Theme Introduction

The theme of Reality versus Illusion presents itself throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby. An illusion is a deceiving or misleading impression of reality that is in the way one wishes reality to be. The theme presents itself in characters' images, their perceptions of life, and overall relationships between characters.

For example, a classic example of this theme presenting itself is in Jay Gatsby's title which was fabricated from James Gatz. Gatsby wishes to present himself in a stately, "Old Money" fashion, which motivates him to tell lies about his heritage and his occupation. Another example is of Daisy Buchanan, who is very grievous and discontent in her marriage and adult life, but fakes frivolity and gaiety in an attempt to seem "sophisticated" to an observer. Gatsby also gives himself the illusion that Daisy is still madly in love with him, and builds up her image in his mind so greatly that it is almost impossible for reality to deceive it. In reality, Daisy is not the same girl Gatsby had fallen in love with, and the two lost lovers can never be reunited.

The theme builds up gradually as the novel progresses. Gatsby convinces himself that Daisy is still madly in love with him and their love story will continue. As more and more signs of Daisy's weakening love toward Gatsby present themselves, Gatsby continues to give himself the illusion that Daisy loved only him, and never loved Tom.

This theme is important to the conclusion of the novel because the reader sees that living in an illusion versus living in reality creates misery, even for the great Gatsby himself who dies still hanging on to his illusion that Daisy loves him. In this era of mischief and drunkenness, the reader sympathizes with Nick as the only character firmly rooted in reality and watching the others trick themselves into believing their crafted illusions.

Ch. 1: Postcard from Daisy to future Pammy Buchanan

Ch. 1 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 1, Daisy tells Nick about her personal grievances after the dinner party at the Buchanan house. She tells him how discontent she is in her marriage and in her life, and how she wants her little girl Pammy to grow up and be "a beautiful little fool" (p. 17). She is discontent with her role as a mother and as a wife, especially a wife of a disloyal and arrogant polo player that has another women in New York.

This postcard addresses the inevitability of a "beautiful little fool" putting on a facade of happiness and covering up her discontentment. Daisy is advising her daughter to cover up the grievances of reality by putting on the illusion of frivolity and gaiety.

Ch. 2 "How To" Article

A Woman's Guide to Find Wealth:

  1. Prioritize your morals. Are you willing to sacrifice your marriage for wealth? Are you willing to commit adultery for wealth? Decide now or forever hold your peace.
  2. Target a wealthy man. Preferably, a man who seems discontent with his own marriage and is lustful.
  3. Give this man whatever he desires. He may treat you terribly, but always go crawling back to him no matter what.
  4. Act appropriately. Make sure that you act like a rich mistress at all dinner parties and treat servants terribly. All rich people treat the servant class like garbage.
  5. Dress appropriately. Keep your real clothes concealed whenever you are around this man. Dress in extravagant chiffon and silk. Make sure that each dress flatters you figure.
  6. Do not be impressed with the wealth around you. For example, if someone complements your expensive outfit that cost you a fortune, shrug it off. Act like it is no big deal to own it, and you will fit into the rich class in no time.

Ch. 2 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 2, Myrtle Wilson and Tom Buchanan throw a drunken dinner party at their New York apartment and invite Nick along. At this party, Myrtle acts like the ultimate dinner host as she transforms herself from a poor mechanic's unfaithful wife to a rich man's expensive mistress.

One physical attribute that characterizes her illusion is how she changes from a blue crepe-de-chine dress to a cream-colored chiffon. This inspired the "dress appropriately" tip in the article.

Also, when Mrs. McKee complements the extravagance of her new dress, Myrtle simply shrugs it off by saying "It's just a crazy old thing...I just slip it on when I don't care what I look like." (p. 31). Obviously the chiffon dress must have cost Myrtle a fortune, and was not something that she usually wore. However, she gives the illusion that she is a woman of wealth when she reacts to Mrs. McKee's complement in this way. This inspired the "Do not be impressed with the wealth around you" tip in the article.

Ch. 3 Found Poem

he smiled understandingly, irresistible prejudice in your favor

concealing something to the world

he kept that cool smile of reassurance, identifiable belief in yourself

picking his words with care

he was not drinking

attracting the unusual quality of wonder

he introduced an elaborate formality of speech

stimulating a sudden curiosity

who is he?

an elegant roughneck

I don’t believe it…

he’s just a man named Gatsby

Ch. 3 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 3, Nick attends his first party at Gatsby's mansion with Jordan, and meets Gatsby for the first time. Curious about the host and his rich neighbor, Nick questions Jordan about Gatsby and does not recognize him.

Always withholding judgement, Nick observes the behavior of this man that approaches him, and comes to realize that this is the "Great Gatsby" that he has heard of.

Nick notices that Gatsby chooses his words with care, putting on the illusion of a rich and elegant man trained with etiquette and wealthy mannerisms. He attracts Nick with his reassuring smile that seems accepting and reassuring. This lets readers characterize Gatsby for themselves because on one hand Gatsby has an elaborate formality of speech and picks his words with care, as if he is concealing something. Yet he has this reassuring smile that gives this irresistible prejudice in your favor.

Gatsby's smile signifies his true personality. That he has this utter romanticism that makes him have this confidence and belief in others.
But when Gatsby opens his mouth, the illusion comes out as he tries to make himself seem stately and rich.

Ch. 4 Letter from married Daisy to Gatsby in 1922

My dearest Gatsby,

My mind flutters back to those warm memories back in Louisville when you and I first met. I was so frivolous and blissful back then. But you were the most beautiful of men that pursued me back then. Oh how I adored your lieutenant costume as you stared at me so delicately. I was hopelessly in love with your 1917 self, yet here I am today, just as star-crossed as the Daisy you had met many years ago. You should have seen me, I was mad as I fought with my parents to let me send you off at the harbor when you went off to war. For months all I could do was cry into my hands until my eyes were blotchy and red. But that was in the past my love, and history cannot repeat itself.

I put on this mask of frivolity and gaiety as I suffer through my broken marriage with Tom. How foolish am I, convincing myself that I could love another after you left. People whisper about Tom and his mistress. The woman even has the audacity to call during our nighttime supper! But to all I play the charming, docile, and frivolous wife who accepts her husband and his dishonesty. It makes me cry, Jay, it makes me cry late in the night. How alone I really feel. How broken I know I am. 1917 Daisy is still alive in all of my acts. I must keep her alive to mask my newfound hardness.

It is all pretense my love, it has to be this way. I impress upon others that my love for Tom is genuinely vigilant, and yet I am lying to the world, and to myself. I am still madly in love with an officer that I met many years before, in a parked white roadster back in Louisville.

With unfathomable love,


Ch. 4 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 4, Jordan Baker reveals to Nick Carraway that Daisy and Gatsby had a love affair before Gatsby went to war in Louisville. Jordan mentions that on Daisy's wedding day, she received a letter from Gatsby asking her to wait for him. I created a letter from married Daisy to older Gatsby written in 1921 that reveals her bottled up feelings inside for him. After all of these years, she still loves him, and she lets him know that in this letter.

The wife of rich East Egg Tom Buchanan, Daisy is "sophisticated" and overwhelmed with the extent of her dissatisfaction with her life and marriage. In reality, she is still very much in love with Gatsby and hides that love in a mask of frivolity and happiness when she is with Tom. Everyone knows that Tom is unfaithful to Daisy, but Daisy still covers up her broken heart with a facade of foolishness. She puts on the illusion of happiness and contentment, but in reality she is disheartened and broken inside.

Ch. 5 Object Poem: Clock

Year after year, I sit here in West Egg.

Nick Carraway is my owner, but I have outlasted all the owners before him.

I stomach time in all of its entirety, it ticks away in my core.

And now this white-suited flamingo has broken me.

Out of curiosity, what is his problem?

He seems really nervous in the presence of the beautiful maiden.

What emotions are being transmitted between them?

Who are they to each other? Hidden feelings, suppressed desires, rise again.

Time flies inside me as the maiden and the flamingo stare into each others eyes.

Lost in the presence of time. No need for words.

There is no need to fill time with words, they seem content in the moment.

May time stand still and this moment last forever.

Ch. 5 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 5, Gatsby and Daisy reunite for the first time in five years in Nick's living room where an antique clock sits on the mantel piece. In this poem, the reunion scene is retold in the eyes of the clock.

The story gives the illusion of time standing still, because Daisy and Gatsby are lost in each other's presence after Nick steps out of the house. They are content with just being with one another after five years, but in reality they cannot see all that has changed. They are so engrossed in the past, what they had with each other, what once was, that they are not paying attention to the current way things are. Instead of telling each other what they are up to these days, they are mesmerized by the current form of what once was.

Ch. 6 Twitter Feed from Gatsby's Part #2

Ch. 6 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 6, Gatsby tries really hard to impress Daisy by throwing one of his signature parties at his West Egg mansion. He wants everything to go back to how it used to be, him and Daisy madly in love, together without any hindrances.

At the end of the party, Gatsby realizes that Daisy left dissatisfied, and he commits to repeating the past. He gives himself the illusion that the past can repeat itself, that he and Daisy can be how they used to be. He hides away from reality, because Daisy is not the same girl she once was when they fell in love...and unconsciously he knows that he is not the same guy that fell for her back then either.

Ch. 7 Qualities Poem: Regret

Regret boils in your nerves until they are chafed and raw as you try and claw your way back to the past.

He makes you tremble with uncertainty and fear as the voice of the competitor unravels your secrets.

The creature poisons your thoughts and dreams with the rancid smell of guilt, washing away all those joyful memories.

He smiles villainously when you acknowledge the horridity of your actions, especially when they drive others from ambiguity to certainty.

Regret smells fear from years away, and plans his attack while you take great leaps of faith in the present.

He makes you want to destroy the character you have become, built on the backs of lies and disreputable dealings.

The creature is poised for his assault, mentally challenging you to a duel, physically suffocating you under his paw, emotionally ravaging you until you succumb to grief.

Don't hide, he will find you. Don't lie, he will reveal you. Don't fight, he will defeat you. Regret is always watching.

Ch. 7 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

Gatsby feels regret during and after the big Plaza scene in chapter 7. He has defended his bootlegging fortune to everyone under the pretense of owning drugstores. In this way, he has covered up his shady occupation with a respectable career. The one thing he does not want is for Daisy to find out about his bootlegging, because then she will be inclined to judge him and will never respect him again. Gatsby's worst fear comes to life when Tom tells Daisy all about his shady dealings while they are all in the Plaza hotel, and Daisy runs away without acknowledging Gatsby.

Gatsby feels regret for going into the bootlegging industry. If he had gotten a respectable career, he would feel no shame in proclaiming himself to Daisy. He would also not fear Tom or anyone revealing his true occupation. He constantly gives off the illusion of respectability and Old Money status, but this illusion backfires in reality when the truth comes spilling out.

Ch. 8 Jay Gatsby & James Gatz Character Resumes

Name: Jay Gatsby

  • Graduated from University of Oxford, New England
  • Term: 2 years

Military Service:

  • First lieutenant of the armed forces in The Great War
  • Successfully led an infantry of a hundred and thirty men against a German division in Argonne Forest, France .
  • Major of the armed forces.
  • Recognized by the governments of France, Great Britain, Italy, and Russia - The Allied Forces
  • Decorated by Montenegro "For Valour Extraordinary"

Past Employment:

  • None. There is no need for employment when you have

Family History:

  • Born and raised in the American Midwest, specifically San Francisco, California
  • Unfortunately the Gatsby clan has all passed away, leaving Jay Gatsby with an enormous sum of wealth


Name: James Gatz


  • St. Olaf Lutheran College in southern Minnesota
  • Term: 2 weeks

Military Service:

  • None

Past Employment:

  • Janitor work-study program at St. Olaf Lutheran College - two weeks
  • Clam-digger and salmon-fisher along south shore of Lake Superior - over one year
  • Steward, mate, skipper, secretary, and jailor for millionaire Dan Cody - five years
  • Sailed around the Continent three times in Dan Cody's yacht
  • Salary: twenty-five thousand dollars upon the death of Dan Cody (lost after a law-suit with gold-digger Ella Kaye)

Family History:

  • Son of two shiftless and unsuccessful farm people
  • Pretense: Son of God
  • Severed ties with family

Ch. 8 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 8, Gatsby reveals his true past to Nick Carraway the night after the fiasco rendering Myrtle Wilson dead. The story itself is actually revealed in chapter 6, but in the context of the novel Gatsby opens up about his history in chapter 8.

Gatsby puts on the illusion of being an inherited millionaire and the "son of God" when he first meets Nick Carraway. Fearful of strangers such as Nick judging him, Gatsby creates this story about how he inherited millions from his rich family out west and how he owns a chain of drug stores. After the incident at the Plaza hotel in chapter 7, the truth is revealed about Gatsby's bootlegging occupations, and Gatsby reveals his true ancestry to Nick. A New Money icon, Gatsby works very hard to appeal to the Old Money East Eggers as he tries to assimilate in the upper class circle.

Ch. 9 Newspaper Article on Gatsby's Death

Ch. 9 Connection to Reality vs. Illusion

In chapter 9, Nick is disgusted with the eagerness and grotesque newspaper reports on Gatsby's murder. I created a sample article highlighting Gatsby's untimely death.

In reality, Wilson had a legitimate reason to be so angry, but the reports denounced him as a petty madman who was so mentally deranged that he took Gatsby's life, as well as his own. Michaelis' testimony brings up new questions about the real reason why Wilson killed Gatsby. But this reality would complicate things very much for the general public.

This newspaper reports wants to bring up new, eager information that will grab the attention of audience. For them, the factuality of the information is compromisable for popularity.

Conclusive Piece: Two Voice Poem