What is Gatsby's attitude toward the forward march of time?
Gatsby believes that he can manipulate time. When Nick tells him he cannot repeat the past, Gatsby replies, "Why of course you can" (Ch. 6).
Having retained his romantic dream of reuniting with Daisy Fay of Louisville, Kentucky, Jay Gatz has refashioned himself into the lie of being a wealthy person that he created when he wanted Daisy to marry him as a young officer. Across the bay from the Buchanan's mansion, he purchases a mansion in West Egg from which he can gaze longingly at the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's pier until the day he can win her back. He throws lavish parties in the hopes that Daisy Buchanan will attend.
When Gatsby captures an opportunity to get together after five years with his former girlfriend through a meeting arranged by Nick Carraway at his cottage, Gatsby is so nervous that he knocks a clock off the mantle. But he catches it "with trembling fingers" and replaces it. Nevertheless, despite all his efforts to re-"catch" Daisy with his new wealth, his gold-plated fixtures, and his colored tailor-made shirts, Jay Gatsby, who is haunted by time, cannot recapture the past. His futile actions to regain the illusion of what young Daisy once was for him ends like all those illusions of tragic heroes.
Gatsby rejects the forward march of time. His whole life has revolved around going back to the moment five years before when he and Daisy were first in love. He believes he can erase the time between, that Daisy will leave Tom, and that he and Daisy will pick up exactly where they left off before the war. In fact, when Nick suggest to him that you can't repeat the past, Gatsby replies: "Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can."
Gatsby's triumph and tragedy reside in his belief that he can remake the world the way he wants it through his own will. Meanwhile, characters in the novel move forward: Daisy and Tom have had a child, which can't be undone, and Daisy has thrown her lot in with Tom, unwilling to leave him. The Daisy he has idealized is nothing but dream.