Give an example in which a character from The Great Gatsby must contend with some aspect of the past, either personal or societal, and show how the character’s relationship to the past...

Give an example in which a character from The Great Gatsby must contend with some aspect of the past, either personal or societal, and show how the character’s relationship to the past contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

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mdelmuro | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby after World War II, a war in which he attempted to participate in, but it ended before he was deployed. The effects of this war Fitzgerald wanted to fight in are demonstrated throughout the novel through Jay Gatsby, who is clearly affected by the war.

The story's plot is propelled by Gatsby's decision to fight in "that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War." He meets Daisy while he's a uniformed soldier. The uniform is symbolic in that it equalizes Gatsby with everyone around him. He could be rich or poor, but it is not obvious in what he wears or drives. But Gatsby leaves for the war full of hope that when he returns he'd have both honor and status because of Daisy.

When Daisy spurns Gatsby, he's still at war and does not have the ability to go after her. He describes the war as "a great relief" and that he "tried very hard to die." Perhaps this is because of his heartache after he learns of Daisy's marriage to Tom. But during the war, he becomes a hero and returns with medals and he even earns the chance to study at Oxford. 

Aside from Gatsby's stated desire to die, it seems as if he leaves the war with a plan to gain status and pursues that idea until it comes true. He's a character full of hope until the moment he is shot dead in his pool.

Overall, Nick, the narrator in The Great Gatsby, ends the novel with the feeling of disillusionment and hopelessness, the opposite of the way Gatsby lived. These ideas parallel the ideas of The Lost Generation and much of the world as a whole after the devastation The Great War brought on Europe and America in the early 20th Century.

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