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Hopes and aspirations are very prevalent in our society and date back throughout time. They help to motivate ourselves to achieve a, seemingly impossible, end goal. Throughout the jostles of everyday life, people undergo personal battles within their selves that channel through either external or internal forces. The false reality that we fabricate causes us to strive for the unreachable perfection. I am going to compare the novels of ‘Atonement’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ to explore the inevitable struggles that some of the characters face and their individual plights to achieve their dreams. 

In F. Scott. Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby,’ the theme of hope centres itself around the characters and other palpable objects. The most striking forms of illusion involve the main character, Jay Gatsby. His dream is to obtain the hand of his former flame, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby was a ‘great’ man, but even great men must be careful about what they worship. He had the ability to commit himself to his dreams, his love for her was so consuming that everything he did in his life was to grasp her attention; the wealth, the letter, even the extravagant parties that he throws can be explained as “he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night.” In fact, the majority of the here-say that readers encounter concerning Gatsby shouldn’t always be taken as fact, it is merely just third-hand gossip that could have been elaborated by Jordan, or even Nick, our retrospective narrator. Jordan seems to have a much larger insight to Jay’s deepest thoughts surrounding Daisy “…he says he’s read a Chicago paper for years on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy’s name.” From the minute Gatsby left for war to 5 years later when he returned, his unwavering desire to marry Daisy was preserved. When Gatsby knew that Daisy and Tom were married, he began to wish he could turn back time. Jay was under the illusion that Daisy was in love with him and this illusion that he conjured was mistaken for a reality. This dream that he held onto so tightly was fundamentally crushed upon hearing that Daisy was due to marry Tom Buchanan. The Buchanan’s stand as symbols of corruption and play a large role in the demise of Gatsby’s dreams. As A.E. Dyson wrote: “In one sense Gatsby is the apotheosis of his rootless society… He really believes in himself and his illusions.” Gatsby’s ability to believe his own thoughts in the hardest times lead to his downfall and to his chance with Daisy being changed forever.

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Similarly, in Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement,’ the story follows the desires of young Briony Tallis, an aspiring playwright. Briony is thirteen at the beginning of the novel and although she has realised that all relationships involve power right at the heart, she is proven to be too young to grasp adulthood and we, as the readers, follow the psychological battle against her inexperience. Briony has always had a fervour for the English language; the intricacies of the English language have long enthralled her and inspired her to write a play of her very own. After the approval from her Mother in the first chapter, she decided to delegate the roles to her cousins and other family members. She wishes to play the main protagonist of Arabella, a role which she wrote specifically for herself. Her childish mind cannot comprehend the circumstantial mess when her sister wishes to play the role- she must learn that compromise is key in the adult world. Her inability to impose order amongst her young family means that her dreams of being the sole director are fragmented straight from the start. Brian Finney believes that Briony was “first presented to the reader of the novel as a writer, then as a young adolescent.” This shows to an extent that McEwan wanted the reader of the novel to sympathise with Briony. Emily will always see Briony’s efforts as golden, she says: “Poor darling Briony, the softest little thing, doing her all to entertain her hard-bitten wiry cousins with the play she had written from her heart.” This exemplifies that Briony can do no wrong, she is seen to be trying hard to seek attention through her plays. When war breaks out, Briony must contribute to the war effort by becoming a nurse instead of going to Cambridge, and thus, her love of playwriting goes awry. 

‘The Great Gatsby’ was set in 1925 whereas the term ‘American dream’ had only been popularised by James Truslow Adams’ in 1931. It was the ideology that the land should be richer, fuller and therefore better for every man who populates it. As Americans believed in meritocracy, the extent of a person’s wealth would be directly parallel to their ability or achievements. In short, to obtain Jay Gatsby’s status, he must have worked hard. We follow Gatsby’s disenchantment with the American dream as he slowly falls out of love with his superior position amongst the rich. To be care-free is the ultimate dream for everybody, to hide behind a smoke screen and not worry about the agonies of modern life. The novel acts as a pessimistic critique of the ‘American dream’ and Fitzgerald shows us opposite consequences of this spectrum. Regardless of how much (or how little) characters can care, both parties end up miserable and that is one of the most salient moral standpoints of the novel. Despite Gatsby’s deeply romantic endeavours for the good part of a decade, he still can’t seem to procure what would be his most prized possession, Daisy. On the other hand, Daisy and Tom don’t care about Myrtle, Gatsby, their daughter or even each other. Nobody can end up happy and nothing is made whole by the tragedies that take place. Gatsby took the same corrupt path to affluence that many men followed- he believed that he needed to be rich in order to find happiness. He became a bootlegger and became infatuated with wealth, this could have possibly been the reason for his undeniable love for Daisy when she took on the embodiment of money. “Her voice is full of money” shows the reader that people who encounter Daisy understand that her tone signifies wealth and indicates the sense of having an elite education. Not only does Daisy speak as if she has a lot of money, her voice will also attract people from the same wealthy background. As Johnathan Yardley said,”Fitzgerald understood that the rich live in a bubble the rest of us cannot enter” and this perfectly denotes the segregation that existed within American society that left many of the less privileged people behind. The wealthy remain with the wealthy and Jay Gatsby knew that an opportunity to obtain Daisy would only arise if he were to join her circle. Even once Gatsby was rich, Daisy was still too comfortable in the life she had made for herself with Tom. Gatsby’s efforts were never going to be enough to capture his dream. 

‘Atonement’ was set in 1935 where English society was still highly influenced by social hierarchy. People find their selves divided by the class system, a rigid structure that depends mainly upon education, status and, income. Once you are born into your class, it is difficult to change your position and this change usually occurs over generations. One of the main plots that drive the novel surrounds the argument of class. ‘Atonement’ focusses on the star-crossed love of middle-class Cecilia Tallis and the lower-class Robbie Turner. Their desires for each other are doomed due to the class divisions. Robbie, being the son of a Tallis servant, grew up being involved in the Tallis’ wealth and was even fortunate enough to attend a highly respected university. Even after achieving his qualifications, he was nonetheless segregated via clear distinctions. The degree alone that Robbie received cannot change his class as McEwan stresses that your class is non-reflective of your morals or vast intellect. Without Jack Tallis taking Robbie under his wing, Robbie would not have been able to achieve his dreams of attending university. Due to Robbie’s low class, it makes it even easier for Briony to accuse him of raping Lola as his social standing exempts him from exercising his own power and as Brian Finney wrote: “Briony made a conscious choice in making Robbie the villain…Her observation of life around her is conditioned by the fictive world that holds her in its grip.” Without Briony’s assumption, Robbie could have been able to continue his life without his name tarnished in dirt. After the scene at the fountain, she sees Robbie being controlling towards Cecilia, she is very childish and she must look towards adults to shape her own perceptions of behaviour. Paul Marshall’s substantial social clout allows him to escape suspicion amongst the characters and uses his wealth to marry Cecilia, the girl he raped. In the second part of the novel, we see Briony feeling greatly remorseful towards her actions; “What I did was terrible. I don’t expect you to forgive me.” After this point onwards, the novel begins to act as a focal point for Briony to Atone for her sins against Robbie’s reputation. At the end of the novel, we learn that Cecilia and Robbie both died without Briony ever being able to apologise and this is why she never fully succeeded in her dreams to right the wrongs of the past. “The only conceivable solution would be for the past never to have happened.” This suggests that she wishes to, similar to Gatsby’s situation, alter the unchangeable past. As the readers, we do not know if Briony ever had any chance to atone for her actions in the ecclesiastical sense but she immortalises her story the only way she knows how- through her writing.

There are a few major symbols within the novel, the green light that was situated at the end of Daisy’s East Egg dock was hardly visible from Gatsby’s home in West Egg yet Gatsby seemed to associate it with Daisy and it later came to symbolise a much greater, more generalised outlook on America as a whole. In chapter one, the vagueness of the green light is emphasised, “…he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward–and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” The mystery of the green light is very real and is one of the only symbolic objects in the novel which isn’t used to accentuate the ideas of wealth. In Chapter 5, the reader’s perception of the green light is changed and altered and its significance is removed briefly as he is finally stood next to Daisy. The green light no longer can show the distance that is set between them. “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” This shows the reader that now that Gatsby has been given the opportunity to be close to Daisy once more, he has almost forgotten about the light he has fantasised over for years, the light becomes irrelevant once Gatsby has shown Daisy the closeness of their two homes. Chapter 9 is where we last find the green light and, once again, the lights purpose in the novel has been altered. “And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock…Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.” Now that Gatsby has been shot, Daisy and Tom have left town and Nick has moved away from Long Island, the light has ceased to be observable. The light is now just a figurative element of Nick’s imagination and memoirs of Gatsby, his old friend.

The symbol of the vase within atonement is key to the plot. It first symbolised accomplishment within the war but became a multi-vocal object when it fell into the hands of Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis.

In the great Gatsby, characters are isolated by means of gender. There is simply no place in the western world for entrepreneurial women, the women who feature in the novel are either rich by marital status or family wealth. “Here, deares’.” She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. “Take ’em down-stairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ’em all Daisy’s change’ her mind. Say: ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!” The $350,000 string of pearls were about to bind Daisy to a very miserable marriage but, being a woman, she did as she was destined to do- marry a rich man. Gatsby’s illusion was that Daisy would wait for him post-war but when his illusion fell apart, Gatsby’s reality was set into place.

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