Nostalgia in the Great Gatsby

Nostalgia, that ache we feel in our hearts when we think about the past or what might have been. The Great Gatsby is filled with imagery that not only explores the theme of nostalgia but invokes it in the reader. Early on in the story, we meet Jay Gatsby, a millionaire who is plagued with regret. During the book, Gatsby is reunited with his onetime sweetheart, Daisy, who is now married. The two of them enjoy a brief fling before things get out of hand.

Before Gatsby reconnects with Daisy, he throws lavish parties for his rich neighbors, but spends all his time gazing wistfully out his window at a green light on the horizon. This light symbolizes his longing for what might have been, but remains always out of reach. The Great Gatsby explores the consequences of choice and the pain of not knowing how each decision will affect the future.

What is nostalgia? At its core, it is the human desire to transcend time and space. We feel nostalgia when remembering times we’d like to relive. Hollywood often exploits our desire to reminisce about the past in its marketing. Who didn’t feel a thrill of delight at the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, revisiting characters and worlds we remember fondly from childhood?

Nostalgia is an important thread to human existence. It is natural to feel regret over past choices or wish to revisit old times. However, this desire can become problematic when it takes over our consciousness, as we see happen to Jay Gatsby. In its own way, The Great Gatsby serves as both an outlet for our desire to relive the past as well as a warning not to let our nostalgia for the past replace our drive toward the future.

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