Illusion is a tool that can be used by those who believe that their real self isn’t good enough, and they realize that they cannot change that, or, it can be forced upon someone, hiding who they truly are and giving people who are too lazy to look past the surface, but quick to judge anyway the complete wrong impression. In the 1920’s in America, society was extremely judgmental and did not care so much about who you are, but where you came from. This reality leads many people who came from less fortunate backgrounds to essentially recreate themselves, change the image that the world saw before them. Throughout his writing, F.Scott. Fitzgerald has used this idea that people use illusion to create a better and entirely different image of themselves, and how this recreation, no matter how true it is stuck to, often comes to a violent or unfortunate end. This idea of a character using illusion to present a what they consider a more favorable version of themselves is often used as a somewhat central idea, often the main characters of the story having something about themselves they are going to lengths to hide from the judgmental, prying eyes of the 1920’s society, examples of this being stories such as “The Great Gatsby”, “Winter Dreams”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, or “Diamond as Big as the Ritz”.
Dexter Green wants to play golf with those he once caddied for, and he wants to make himself what he considers “good enough” for the beautiful Judy Jones, a girl he fell in love with at the age of fourteen. Dexter leaves his small hometown in search of higher education. He gets rich and returns to Black Bear years later. Dexter has created an illusion of himself, a version that he considers as superior in every way, one that he believes will be viewed as more highly by society, one that will be respected more, not who he used to be, no, he keeps that hidden behind an obscuring layer of time, hidden away from everyone forever. Here Fitzgerald presents to the reader the fact that people will hide their pasts in an attempt to create a more convincing image of themselves, an image more favorable to the extremely judgmental and class-based society of the 1920’s in America. Throughout the story, “Dexter was unconsciously dictated to by his winter dreams.” showing that the illusion that he created, this dream that he had, drove him to what he did, to what he became, he dreamed of being better than everyone else, but he doesn’t realize that he can’t have Judy, because no matter who he was, there would still be ten other people who circulated around her.
Even the super-rich Jay Gatsby didn’t have everything. He had a huge mansion, threw extravagant parties with hundreds of guests, and all the pleasantries of being the richest of the rich, he still didn’t have one thing. This one thing he didn’t have was the one thing he couldn’t really buy with money, but it was the reason he worked so hard to get. He completely changed who he was for this thing. When Jay Gatsby met Daisy, he was a poor soldier, and she was a wealthy daughter of a politician, but he loved her and wanted more than anything to be with her, “So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent”, he created the elaborate illusion that he was someone else someone that at his young age he admired, who thought would be sure to be good enough for Daisy, just as Dexter Green for Judy Jones, “…and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”. Across these books, the author has used the idea that people will go to great lengths to re-create themselves so they can have a chance with the “golden girl” even in the case of Gatsby if that means dying for it, though often the golden girl is careless and shallow, and not worth the transcendent efforts that characters such as Gatsby and Dexter have both put their lives into.
Living a backward life, the protagonist of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Benjamin Button has not created an illusion to hide his true self, but instead his outward appearance is physically different from what is inside, he is not the person that he physically appears to be, just as the super-rich Jay Gatsby is just a poor farm boy, instead of what any onlooker would simply deduct. Benjamin on the outside (apart from the middle of his life self) is always different from what he appears, not in manor and clothing such as Gatsby, but in physical age. He is always someone different to what everyone sees him as, he goes through life being treated differently to everyone else his whole life, just as Gatsby is respected and treated as more or less an elite class citizen instead of the poor farm boy he actually is, just as Benjamin is treated as he looks, not as his actual age, such as the time he was sitting underneath the table with daisy late at night, and her grandmother catches them, “You are not to be playing together! Play with people your own age…!” Benjamin is told off for playing with Daisy as if it is creepy, even though they are about the same age, but just because Benjamin looks different, just because of the illusion that he cannot escape, an illusion of age, he is treated differently because of his appearance, just as Gatsby is treated differently because of his physical appearance. F. Scott. Fitzgerald uses these protagonists to illustrate to the audience that the 1920’s society was an extremely judgmental place, people quick to judge someone based on their outward appearance.
Brought up in a huge, hidden, shimmering palace in the Montana rockies, Percy Washington attends St Midas school, a prestigious school on the East coast. There he meets John, and so he invites him to his house. At St Midas, no one really knows where Percy came from, but on the train to his house, he reveals who he really is to John. He tells John that his father is the richest man in the world, and that his house is built on a diamond mountain. All his life, Percy has had to live his life in secret, because if the existence of the diamond would crash their value world-wide, and his father would lose his fortune. The house is guarded by AA guns, and the Washington family is willing to kill and kidnap to keep it a secret. Like Benjamin, Percy has been essentially trapped inside an inescapable illusion, keeping to himself, not being able to live a normal life and have proper friends like a normal person, “he kept aloof from the other boys”, he, like Benjamin is being forced to live his life in a way that means having his proper childhood changed because of a situation that was entirely not up to him, he spends his life trapped behind an impenetrable barrier of an illusion that is used by his father to hide and protect his fortune from the world.
In F.Scott.Fitzgerald’s writing, he uses the idea of his main characters’ lives being changed dramatically by illusions, that they have either created for themselves, or have had forced upon them. Either way, society has treated them differently because of their outward appearance, and these illusions, these lies they have been portraying across to society for most of their lives often end in explosive failure, they often end badly for the character, and yet, for these people, they present an impossible challenge, because without these illusions, these lies, they cannot be happy, or for those who have no choice but to live a life behind a wall of deceit find it hard to be happy. Across his writing, F.Scott.Fitzgerald presents illusion as a concept that can change people’s lives, but will ultimately collapse in on itself, and the person it involves.