The Theme of Regret About Past in The Great Gatsby

People wish if they can go back and change their past, but, in reality, you cannot and the concept is applied in the fiction novel The Great Gatsby, as well. The Great Gatsby is a fiction novel that tells the tragic story of Jay Gatsby, a millionaire, and his deep love towards Daisy Buchanan, a wealthy young woman whom he loved in his youth. Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who lives on Long Island right next to Gatsby’s enormous house narrates this novel. Gatsby is one of the main examples Fitzgerald uses in the novel to prove that the past cannot be changed. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction novel The Great Gatsby, the author uses flashbacks to show that there are good and bad memories in the past, but the past cannot be changed by anyone. 

At the beginning of the book, each and every character is getting introduced, but Gatsby got mentioned very little and there were many rumors of him which we don’t know if they are true. Nick gets invited to Gatsby’s party and hears many people talking about rumors of Gatsby. Some people think that Gatsby “killed a man” and others think “he was a German spy during the war.” These rumors are building up slowly to the true past of Gatsby and this creates suspense in the novel for the readers, as well. Later in the novel, Nick talks to Gatsby about the war, but he does not know that he is talking to Gatsby. When he finds out that he is talking to Gatsby, he gets very surprised and excited. Gatsby “smiled understandingly… one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.”Gatsby’s enchanting smile is like a mask, just as the “fun” of the Roaring Twenties hides an emptiness beneath. So far, Gatsby has had a smile and a bunch of rumors. Suddenly he has a story, a past, which he is going to reveal to Nick. Nick and Gatsby connect because they share a common past: the war. Nick is amazed by Gatsby’s past and the author shows here that Gatsby is happy with his past and shows the readers that Gatsby does not need to and wants to change the past, but, then later in the novel Gatsby will also reveal the bad memories in his past. 

The past has very bad memories that have affected many people in different ways and in the Great Gatsby, the Valley of Ashes is an example of this. Valley of Ashes is “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills.” (Fitzgerald 26) It represents the moral and social decline resulting from the uninhibited pursuit of wealth, as the rich are indulging in nothing but their own pleasure. It also symbolizes the plight of the poor, like George Wilson, who live among the dirty ashes and consequently lose their vitality. “Above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust” (Fitzgerald 26) is the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg which are “blue and gigantic.” (Fitzgerald 26). The “Valley of Ashes” represents the people left behind in the Roaring Twenties. The dust recalls Nick’s reference to the “foul dust” that corrupted Gatsby. Eckleburg’s eyes witness the bleakness and represent the past that the 1920s wasted. The author tries to show that there are a lot of bad things that have happened in the past and the effect is the result of that is the present: Valley of Ashes.

Gatsby reveals all the information about his past to Nick by telling about the love he had for Daisy in the past. Gatsby bought the house in West Egg because “Daisy would just be across the bay” from him. Daisy chose the security of money over love. So Gatsby made himself rich: he thinks that money will win her back. Now his mansion, the symbol of 'new money,' is direct across the bay from her house, symbolic of 'old money.' The green light represents both Gatsby's dream of recreating his past with Daisy and the corrupt American Dream of extreme wealth. Gatsby and Daisy have tea at Nick’s house and they meet each other after a long time, so Gatsby is extremely nervous. When he was talking to Daisy, he made the clock in Nick’s house “tilt dangerously,” but then he caught it with his “trembling fingers” and put it back to where it was. Gatsby’s blunder with the clock is symbolic because he knocks over time just as he tries to recreate his past with Daisy. Here there the author is trying to convey that even though you cannot change your past, you can still remake your past and that’s what Gatsby is trying to do in this situation. Nick wonders if Gatsby sees the difference between Daisy five years ago and now. Nick believes that “there must have 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.” Gatsby’s focus on the past prevents him from seeing how Daisy has changed. In fact, it impedes him from considering the possibility that she could have changed. This proves that the past can make one defocus on the present which is immensely terrible because if you cannot focus on your present, then the events that you will see in your future will be dreadful. Overall, worrying about the past will not help anyone in their life, but instead, try to focus on the present knowing that you cannot change the past.

In the past, one has faced pleasant and grievous memories, but changing the past is out of ones’ capable powers. The Great Gatsby has multiple instances where the author uses flashbacks to show that past is past and you cannot change it through different characters, but Gatsby is one of the main characters to support my thesis. Gatsby tries very hard to recreate his past but faces many struggles towards the end of the novel and fails to do so. Gatsby does not understand that you cannot change the past, so he focuses too much on the past and defocuses on the present which then leads him to awful events in the future. Therefore, the past is past, so stop worrying about it like Gatsby, and focus on your present to succeed in your life!   

29 April 2022
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