In The Great Gatsby, why does Fitzgerald decide to tell the true story of Gatsby's past in the opening of Chapter Six, and not in earlier or later chapters?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something--an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago.   For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted....But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.

This last paragraph of Chapter Six is at the heart of Nick Carraway's memoir of Jay Gatsby.  He is reminded of the early Americans who had a strong sense of optimism and a "willingness of the heart" to make their goals reachable. After the reunion of Jay Gatsby and Daisy, Nick advises Gatsby to not seek so much from Daisy since "You can't repeat the past." But, the redoubtable Gatsby replies incredulously,

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

It is, thus, important that Nick save the memories of Gatsby until the reader gets to know him well. Thus, Fitzgerald's manipulation of time parallels Gatsby's intentions to repeat the past. Time, like so many other stylistic devices that Fitzgerald employs, becomes the objectification of ideas relating to characters. When, for instance, Gatsby knocks over the clock as he meets Daisy, time is thrown back  as Gatsby hopes to do with Daisy just as its objective corollary is. And, for such a character as Jay Gatsby, a man who reinvents himself, it is only right that time go backwards. For, his life resumes after his invented self has been created when he is reunited with Daisy. Additionally, the ebb and flow of time in Fitzgerald's novel also points to the segment of Gatsby's past clarifying some present actions.  This clarification also affords the reader background on Gatsby so that they the readers may better sympathize with him.

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The Great Gatsby

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