What are common themes in The Great Gatsby and My Antonia?
A central theme of both novels is the longing for a past that cannot be recovered. Gatsby's great dream and driving ambition is to go back five years to the moment he and Daisy were first in love, before World War I and Daisy's marriage to Tom separated them, to start over as if none of that happened. Gatsby goes into denial when Nick tells him you can't stop time: Gatsby wants to believe he can, through his will and colossal desire, do exactly that. This destroys him.
Jim and Antonia in My Antonia also long for a past that can never return. Jim looks back to his childhood on the Nebraska prairie, and Antonia looks back to her life in Bohemia before their Nebraska existence led her father to commit suicide. Jim's desire to come to terms with the past sends him back to Nebraska. Like Gatsby, his memories of the past are nostalgic and heavily influenced by emotion. Yet, unlike Gatsby, Jim is able to come to a realistic relationship with what went before and thus to reconcile the past with the present instead of trying to recreate it as if no time has intervened.
There primary theme that is common between both novels is the characters' drive for the American Dream and the somewhat bittersweet results they get when they "achieve" hat dream.
In The Great Gatsby the American Dream is exemplified by Jay Gatsby, who has (by all appearances) risen from having nothing to having everything - wealth, respect, and position. He chose to pursue wealth, however, because he knew Daisy would never want a poor man. This causes us to question whether the American Dream really brings us true happiness.
In My Antonia we see the American Dream through the eyes of immigrants. Antonia and her family work very hard to come to America, and then work very hard once they are here. They view America as a land of opportunities, including money, land, jobs, and marriage prospects. However, the toll their new life takes on them also makes the reader question just how much the American Dream is worth.