What is the time motif in The Great Gatsby? (Chapter 5)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter Six, Nick tells Jay Gatsby not to expect too much from Daisy because "You can't repeat the past."

"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

This idealism of Gatsby leads him to believe that he can manipulate time; however, his is an inverted dream, a dream that begins as Jordan Baker suggests with a renewal of seasons in the fall--"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall" (Ch.7). Consequently, in Chapter Five when Gatsby is reunited with Daisy,  having been haunted by time in his angst of recovering his lost love, Gatsby experiences a "death of time" as he symbolically knocks a clock from the mantelpiece and catches it with trembling fingers. When he tells Daisy that it only took him three years to acquire his fortune, it becomes apparent that Gatsby builds upon the future, creating illusions rather than retaining the past as does Tom Buchanan.

Just as Gatsby attempts to manipulate time to his desires, Fitzgerald himself manipulates time, developing Gatsby's character in a non-chronological manner, thus creating the "great Gatsby," a almost archetypal figure. And, the reader, who learns of Gatsby through the evolving narrative feels more empathy for Gatsby and his idealism as a result.



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