Thesis: Time is a meaningful concept in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. (this is valid, provable, true because of three of four major points (themes)
- this is a novel in which dreams and memories are very important
- Gatsby never stops believing in the American dream, even after it is fading and dying
- the structure of the novel uses flashback – Gatsby’s life and death has already taken place even before Nick goes into the details
Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is one of the most carefully structured stories of all time. The narrator, Nick, is a very clever and well spoken storyteller. Nick confides with the reader in the first pages of the novel. He says that he needs to tell the story of a man called Gatsby. It is as if Nick has to overcome disappointment and frustration with a man who has left him with painful memories. Nick says that, even though Gatsby did alright in the end, “it was the foul dust that collected in his wake” that disgusts him now. Nick, thus, begins the novel with uncomfortable memories. Time is a meaningful concept in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This thesis is valid for three main reasons. First, it is evident that dreams and memories are central to the overall plot and meaning. Secondly, the American Dream is a “green light” of desire that Gatsby never stops yearning for and something he will not forget over time, even as he is dying. This is so, even though no one cares about Gatsby or his dreams after he died, except maybe Nick. Finally, the fact that Fitzgerald uses flashback; that Nick is telling us about a main character after he has already died and before the story begins, is ultimate proof. The Great Gatsby is structured by Nick’s memory. Fitzgerald’s clever use of flashback throughout and within the novel is the greatest evidence that he intended his novel to be centered on memory and going back in time.
The first obvious proof that time is a meaningful concept in The Great Gatsby is the importance of dreams and memories throughout the story. In addition to Nick’s introduction, within the novel there are numerous references to dreams and memories. For example, Gatsby attempts to convince Nick of his greatness on a drive to New York using photographs and objects from the past. Meyer Wolfsheim talks about the past when Nick meets him in a seedy club. Jordon tells Nick the romantic story of how Gatsby met Daisy back at a time when Gatsby was going off to war and Daisy was momentarily willing to dream and fall in love with him. This memory proves later to be something Gatsby cannot forget. He cannot let go of the past. When he finally manipulates her back into his life at Nick’s house, he nearly knocks over a clock. Later, he refuses to believe Nick’s advice that, in love , you cannot go back in time. He will not accept it when Nick says, “You cannot relive the past.” Gatsby replies,”Of course you can, Old Sport.”
Paragraph 3 These examples lead up to a breaking point in Gatsby’s conflict with Tom in the hotel room. Gatsby is not satisfied with competing with Tom to simply relive a moment from the past. He wants more. He wants to go back in time and wipe out the memory that Daisy has spent with Tom in marriage. He wants to go back in time to his unyielding romantic memory, to an American dream of love where the boy next door is able to convince any girl he wants that they are meant for each other, no matter what, especially if she is glamourous and rich. By this point in the novel, the passage of time is also evident in the way Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s mansion. The glamourous parties are now a memory. Daisy, almost as soon as she agrees to visit Gatsby’s mansion, is visiting a shell, a memory of the place that held thousands of noisy guests. As soon as he manages to get her to this place, she becomes an object of memory that he can continually gaze at, like the green light. He cannot stop gazing at the past. Gatsby cannot cope with the reality of the present.
Paragraph 4 Gatsby never stops believing in the American dream, even after it is fading and dying. This is why Nick says Gatsby did alright in the end. As Wilson is aiming a revolver at him, Gatsby lies back on an air cushion in his unused swimming pool as the autumn leaves are blowing all around. The time of partying has long since passed. There is an atmosphere of death and betrayal. It may be shocking to Gatsby when he sees his own blood flowing from Wilson’s fatal gunshot, yet it should not be to the reader. This is a novel about believing in dreams, even when the time for that dream on earth to exist has long since passed. This may be why Fitzgerald ends the novel by referring to the dreams of newcomers who have crossed the Atlantic to come to America in the past and who will come again in search of that same dream. Perhaps when Fitzgerald was writing this novel, his own vitality as a writer had reached the end of its time. Perhaps the glamour and energy of the roaring twenties was almost over. At any rate, The Great Depression in the US happened shortly after the novel was published.
Paragraph 5 This is why the technique of flashback used in the novel is so important for a novel which is about the passage of time. The novel The Great Gatsby continually reminds the reader that America in the present is disappointing, compared to the apparent greatness of its past. The main character Gatsby is a symbol of this. When Tom reduces Gatsby to huckster in a pink suit hiding in the bushes, while he and Daisy coldly frame him inside over chicken and ale, we feel Nick’s agony. From this point on, nothing can stop the injustice. It turns out to be true that “rich girls don’t marry poor boys,” as Daisy tearfully says in a romantic memory. Since the beginning of the novel, Nick knows that Gatsby and all the people in the world who try to beat the system like him, will run out of time in the end. The game is fixed, like the world series. It is a foregone conclusion. However, flashback temporarily allows the reader to experience the disappointment to a high degree. Like Nick, we wonder in the end if it was worth all the wasted time. Probably not.
Paragraph 6 Conclusion. Like Gatsby, we forge ahead and continue to hope. We, the readers, are forced to share the pain of believing in a dream, after it has exceeded its best before date. The Great Gatsby is a novel about the inevitable and unrelenting march of time. Dreams do not die. They do, however, become real when the alarm clock rings and it is time to wake up.