Past and Hope in The Great Gatsby
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (l80).
This last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel The Great Gatsby carries with it the weight of a warning carefully developed within its pages: each of us carries our past with us, but changing that past is an exercise in futility. The novel's narrator, Nick, gives Fitzgerald's warning a voice, informing the novel's titular character, “’You can't repeat the past,’” to which Gatsby replies, “’Why of course you can!’”(110). Despite their opposing views, the past exerts a powerful force over both characters' present circumstances, and here, Fitzgerald introduces another central idea: hope. Gatsby's past emerges in his “romantic hope” for the future—a blind optimism rooted in his personal powers of reinvention. Simultaneously, Nick's past, grounded in a sensible Midwestern upbringing, allows him to place his hope in those around him rather than in the material infatuations Gatsby treasures.
Nick's incorruptible Midwestern values (much like Gatsby's “incorruptible dream” of changing the past) guide him through the novel: “...’Just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages you've had,’ “Nick’s father instructed him (1). Nick continues, explaining that his father's words have forced him to “reserve all judgments” and that “reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope” (l). Nick, then, shares in a version of Gatsby's hope for the future. The important...