In the novel The Great Gatsby, Time is one of the themes that play a key role physically, philosophical and biologically. Fitzgerald portrays time as being a relentless force that cannot be controlled by men. As time passes from past, present and to the future, Fitzgerald not only manipulates time in the novel, he refers to time repeatedly to reinforce the idea that time is a driving force not only for the 1920s, a period of great change, but for America itself. We will see Fitzgerald also turns a critical eye to the American concept of time, in effect warning us all to avoid becoming trapped in time. People are seen trying to live in the past and some wanting to skip ahead towards the future, all on a journey to achieve their dreams.
Throughout Fitzgerald’s novel, Gatsby’s entire life was shaped by his preoccupation with his past and so he does not live in the present but lost in a dream, it was his illusion of his ideal future that made time a key dimension in his life. He tries to relive his relationship with Daisy, believing that he could once again rekindle their love. Gatsby still imagined Daisy as a pure, perfect, amazing woman he fell in love with, completely blinded by the fact that Daisy was not to his ideal illusion of “perfect” anymore and had changed, this is seen in the phrase, “She used to be able to understand. We’d sit for hours –’’. As time went on so did Daisy, but Gatsby kept insisting that they were in love. From Gatsby's illusions of the past preoccupying all his thoughts, he forgets about the key dimension he exists in which is the present. This is seen when he says “Can’t repeat the past? Of course you can!” Gatsby was described as being “incredulously” and “wildly” as he spoke, incredulous means being skeptical, proving that he was obsessed about reliving his relationship. Nick also did go back to the past, contradicting what he wrote at the end of the novel to move on. He writes and narrates the book about how great Gatsby was, admiring the fact he achieved his American Dream, evidence from the text would be “Only Gatsby…who represented every unbroken series of successful gestures.” Tom is also seen reminiscing about his pass, the phrase “.Tom would drift on forever seeking…for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game”, Tom had achieve his American Dream at a young age, wealth and fame, the word “irrecoverable” suggest that Tom longed to return to his glory days but will never be able to.
However, on the other hand, it was also shown that in the novel, the characters were also seen to look forward into the future. One of the significant themes in the novel, The American Dream, played a key role in looking into the future. Gatsby chased his dreams to reunite with Daisy and to do that, he had to let go of his past and changing his name “at the age of seventeen” and him creating a “platonic conception of himself” suggests that he is determined to create an idealistic flawless persona and let go of his past. He was willing to let go of his past and leave his family to pursue his dreams. Gatsby was described as a “son of God” by Nick, which proposes that his brand new persona was perfect and was driven and sure of his goal, therefore, worthy of the quotation “son of God”. In addition, the quote “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further…” can be conveyed that there is still hope for the future, however there is also a hint of despair, in the sense that Gatsby did not ultimately achieve his dream which he sacrificed so much for.
Throughout the whole novel, Gatsby constantly tries to control time. His obsession and his never-ending drive towards impressing Daisy makes it almost impossible for him not to live in the past, as that is the only time he ever actually had her. During his meeting with Daisy, we see that Gatsby tries to control time as when "the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously...he turned and caught it with trembling fingers" as if he was trying to salvage the moment he had in Daisy's presence. He then, "set it back in place" which metaphorically suggests that he tried to save the moment, desperately keeping Daisy's eyes on him, instead on what could have been a broken clock, as he has been longing to see her for the many years that has passed Moreover, Gatsby's schedule that was discovered after his death also symbolized how he tried to control his time. He was very specific and was very concerned about being able to fit everything into place and to control his time but later, came to realize that no matter how hard we try to control time, reality will eventually catch up with us and the only thing we would be able to control is our dreams.
Time plays a key role in the morality difference between past and the present. As time advances from past, present and to the future, so does the society change along with it. People become more oblivious towards the real meaning of the American Dream and instead prioritizes wealth and social status. A clear example would be Meyer Wolfshiem, he says “When a man gets killed I never liked to get mixed up in it..When I was a young man it was different – if a friend of mind died ..I stuck with them to the end.”He did not want to get involved in Gatsby’s death because he wanted to protect his business, however in contrast, he claims that when he was younger he was loyal. Wolfshiem used the word “sentimental” to describe himself, a word used also to do with holding on to something precious or meaningful, which is not seen when he heard of Gatsby’s death. This proves that in the 1920’s, people were self-centered and full of greed, their life was only focused on achieving wealth and being well-known. Myrtle also had a change in priorities when in the past she married Wilson because he was a “gentleman” and could take care of her she quotes, however she gets blinded by materialism, going after a man with money.
The significance of time is that, change comes with time. From morals to people's perspective, this change cannot be stopped neither can it be avoided. People can try living in the past and wishing to re-live it, but eventually, reality will catch up with us ensuring that time doesn't wait for anyone and the only place where we can control our time, is in our dreams. The way Fitzgerald portrays time as a relentless force that shapes and controls the life and dreams of men, something that is unable to be “bought” by wealth.