What are some examples of Time/Clocks as symbolism in The Great Gatsby?  

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Chapter Five of The Great Gatsby, Nick invites Daisy and Gatsby over to his house for tea, and this is the first time Gatsby has seen Daisy in five years. Gatsby has spent the last five years dreaming of Daisy and literally wanting to turn back time, so the theme of time is central to this chapter.

Gatsby has a kind of mistaken idea of time throughout the chapter. For example, at two minutes to four, when Daisy isn't even late yet, he says, "Nobody's coming to tea. It's too late!" (page 85). When Gatsby finally has a chance to speak with Daisy, she is perched nervously on a chair, and Gatsby leans "against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock" (page 86). A short while later, "the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place" (page 86). Gatsby is distraught at the thought he has broken the clock, but Nick assures him it is on old clock. Nick comments, "I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor" (page 87).

The clock symbolizes the passage of time, and Gatsby wants to turn back time because in the five years since he has seen Daisy, she has married Tom and had a child. If he could destroy the clock, he would be able to turn back time. However, it is clear that Gatsby has a distorted view of time--for example, he thinks Daisy is late when she isn't (though he knows exactly how long it has been since he has seen Daisy)--and he will never be able to turn back the clock. 

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slcollins eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Chapter 5 has the most obvious references to time and clocks as symbols in The Great Gatsby. When Gatsby shows up at Nick’s house to visit Daisy, he knows down to the number of months how long it has been since he last saw Daisy. She speaks much more vaguely about the time that has passed since they last met. This reference to time highlights Gatsby’s desire to change the past. Time is much more important to Gatsby (as opposed to Daisy) since he has spent the last 5 years pining away for her. Another reference to time is the broken clock on Nick’s mantle. When Gatsby leans against this broken clock while he talks to Daisy, it symbolizes the distance between them that can never be mended. He wishes he could repeat the past, and this proves an impossible for him.

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