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The Fall of Ideals

Sasha Kheyson
Mankind has always ventured to do better. This definitive resolution is what separates us from the other inhabitants of this planet. As a civilization, we are never stagnant; we adapt, we evolve, and ultimately, we improve. In the greater scheme of things, our goal is nothing short of perfection a Utopia. Derived from the Greek ou, meaning not, and tp, meaning place, its very name is a warning. Through the literary works of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Tempest by William Shakespeare and On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense by Friedrich Nietzsche, this essay will treat the topic of paradise on earth, as developed through paradox, metaphor and tone. The creation of Utopia is an illusory dream which humanity feels compelled to pursue, often at the expense of humanity itself. In Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, each of the characters seeks to establish his or her own view of the ideal. Unfortunately, many of the characters' ambitions are conflicting and paradoxical, leading to the beautiful disaster that is the life of Jay Gatsby. "His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby [] sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. [] 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." (99) Unsatisfied with his social position in life, he abandons this unsatisfying reality and creates an illusion in which he is the hero. He forsakes the reality in which he lives for the hope of earning Daisy's love. Paradoxically, it will be this new identity, this attempt at a Utopia, which proves to be Gatsby's downfall. "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. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything." (97) Having lived for too long in his constructed paradise which he has come to accept as his reality, Gatsby cannot come to accept that the Daisy he has created in his fantasy was not the same Daisy he knew once upon a time. Fitzgerald relies heavily upon paradox to construct Gatsby's conflicted and unstable Utopia, which quickly falls apart, plunging Gatsby back into the grim reality he tried so desperately to avoid. In the process of creating his paradise on earth, Gatsby inadvertently loses himself to its seducing depths, and is unable to come to terms with reality. The Tempest, one of Shakespeare's final plays, deals closely with colonization the ideological practice of acquiring and subordinating lands owned by "savages". The colonist strives to create a Utopia in the colonized lands by imposing his own rule: he takes control of everything, from language to resources, in the hopes of civilizing the unruly and savage natives. Caliban, the archetype of the subaltern, is depicted as a grotesque creature. "Save for the son she did litter here, / A freckled whelp, hag-born, not honored with / A human shape," (1.2, 340343). Despite Prospero's noble efforts to bring paradise to the island, he is unable to relinquish his seat of power, which becomes his bane. Instead of conforming to the ideal of a Utopia in which all are equal, his tone and language creates a hierarchy in which he sits above Caliban. The second pitfall of Prospero's paradise is the fact that it suits him and him alone; he does not take into consideration the only native of the island, Caliban. As part of his journey towards the

ideal, Prospero takes it upon himself to educate Caliban, who sees this education as a curse rather than a gift. "You taught me language, and my profit on't / Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you / For learning me your language!" (1.2, 444-446). Caliban's despising and spiteful tone highlights the tense situation he finds himself in. Prospero's quest for the ideal was bound to deteriorate because the ideal he longed for was purely his own. Utopia an ideal, perfect heaven is unique to each individual. To attempt to create one such paradise to satisfy all is the depth of folly. In his essay On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense, Nietzsche employs metaphors to differentiate between language and truth. He says that language is not synonymous with truth, but is rather an illusion, created by man to fill up the "empty husks" (2) that are words. After all, what kind of Utopia is built on lies and distortion? "What then is truth? [] It is a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified [] and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical and binding. Truths are illusions we have forgotten are illusions: they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensual force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins." (2) The author declares that words are indeed such coins: pieces of metal which have been granted the name of a coin once upon a time, but have kept that title long after they've lost all right to it. Through this metaphor, he says that all words are illusions, and being such, any truth arising from them can only be an illusion, and will never coincide with reality. He criticizes mankind for trying to establish a solid Utopia on the hollow foundation of language. Humanity's endeavors at creating a flawless haven on earth have been met with frustration time and time again, as shown through the use of paradox, tone and metaphor in these three literary works. Although men feel the necessity to climb ever higher, they eventually reach a plateau beyond which we are simply not meant to rise. This plateau is just shy of perfection, just short of Utopia. Why? Because we are not meant to achieve this fulfillment. As Carroll once said, "Perhaps the greatest Utopia would be if we could all realize that no Utopia is possible."