What is the theme/conflict and symbolism in chapter 5 of "The Great Gatsby"?

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tsjoseph | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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One of the major themes in The Great Gatsby is the nature of time and the past, and we can see this playing out in Chapter 5.  Gatsby, awkward and nervous, leans back against Nick's mantelpiece and nearly topples the clock.  The symbol of the clock thus also represents one of the novel's themes as Gatsby is nearly knocked on the head by time.

Shortly after this episode, Daisy and Gatsby attempt small talk.  Gatsby knows exactly how long it's been since they've spoken: "Five years next November."  He (and Daisy) both pretend to ignore the passage of time, as if they can start their lives again where they left off, but yet they are both strangely attuned to the details of time--the exact moment of leaving, the time the tea was supposed to start.

Another major theme in this chapter (and throughout the novel) is the conflict between fantasy/idealism and reality--this is demonstrated through Gatsby's wonder at Daisy and through Daisy's emotional response to Gatsby's "beautiful" shirts.  Most celebrated is perhaps the symbol of the green light at the end of the dock--Gatsby's seemingly unattainable dream of Daisy.  At the end of the chapter, Nick remarks upon the inevitable collision of dream and reality, and the "colossal vitality of [Gatsby's] illusion."

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