Which characters in The Great Gatsby try to recapture parts of their past but end up failing?

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Jay Gatsby is the premier character that attempts to recapture his past. As a young man, Gatsby fell in love with the wealthy Daisy Fay, who was well above his social status at the time. Gatsby then lost touch with her when he was deployed overseas to fight in WWI...

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Jay Gatsby is the premier character that attempts to recapture his past. As a young man, Gatsby fell in love with the wealthy Daisy Fay, who was well above his social status at the time. Gatsby then lost touch with her when he was deployed overseas to fight in WWI and Daisy ended up marrying Tom Buchanan. After returning home from the war, Gatsby experienced a life of luxury sailing around the world with Dan Cody before entering the bootlegging business with Meyer Wolfsheim and amassing enough wealth to buy a mansion directly across from Daisy's estate. Five years have passed since Gatsby last saw Daisy and he desperately attempts to recapture their past by carrying on an affair with her. Unfortunately, Gatsby is not able to recreate their past, and she chooses a life of financial security by staying with Tom.

One could also argue that Daisy is also attempting to recapture her past by carrying on an affair with Jay Gatsby. She is clearly unhappy with her marriage and initially believes that she has a future with Jay Gatsby after all. However, Daisy also fails to recapture her past feelings after discovering that Gatsby is a bootlegger. She refuses to compromise her financial security by being with Jay Gatsby and chooses to stay with Tom.

According to Nick, Tom also makes an attempt to recapture parts of his past. As a former celebrated athlete, Tom seeks constant gratification and is a thrill seeker. One could argue that Tom's affair with Myrtle and his propensity for cheating on Daisy corresponds to his desire to recapture the excitement he once experienced as a college athlete.

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The easy answer to this question is that Jay Gatsby is the one who tried to recapture his past romance with Daisy, but the answer to this is not so simple.

One of the most famous quotes from the book comes in Chapter 6 when it seems as if Jay is trying to recapture his relationship with Daisy. Nick tells Gatsby that he cannot repeat his past and Jay responds, "Can't repeat the past?...Of course you can!" But this line isn't so simple. In his narration, Nick doesn't say Gatsby wanted to recapture his love for Daisy, but "he wanted to recover something, some part of himself, that went into loving Daisy." Then he says that since his days with Daisy, Gatsby's life has been "confused" and "disordered" and that he wants to "return to a certain starting place." Nick wants to make sure the reader understands that reclaiming the love with Daisy isn't the No. 1 priority for Jay, but making himself feel the way he felt before the war is what mattered.

This might seem like nitpicking, but the distinction between recovering his love for Daisy and recovering a part of himself when he was with Daisy is an important one. Before the war, Gatsby found out anything was possible, even a house like Daisy's. It was this idea of hope and dreams that Gatsby wanted to recover. Of course, this is not to say that Gatsby didn't love Daisy. He did and he hoped he could be reunited with her until the moment he died.

Tom and Daisy also wanted to recover parts of their past. Daisy wanted to feel the way she did with Jay before the war, which is why she engaged in the affair. But Tom also wanted to recapture his past. In Chapter 1, about Tom, Nick says, he "felt Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.

One might even be willing to argue that Nick's story is an attempt by him to perhaps recover something about Gatsby or perhaps to find a way to save Gatsby after his death.

The Great Gatsby is about how the world moves forward even when those living in it aren't ready for it to move forward. Or, in the words of Nick in regards to Gatsby's dream, "He did not know it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." 

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