The Great Gatsby

by

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Themes and Colors
The Roaring Twenties Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) Theme Icon
Past and Future Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Great Gatsby, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Past and Future Theme Icon

Nick and Gatsby are continually troubled by time—the past haunts Gatsby and the future weighs down on Nick. When Nick tells Gatsby that you can't repeat the past, Gatsby says "Why of course you can!" Gatsby has dedicated his entire life to recapturing a golden, perfect past with Daisy. Gatsby believes that money can recreate the past. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as "overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves." But Gatsby mixes up "youth and mystery" with history; he thinks a single glorious month of love with Daisy can compete with the years and experiences she has shared with Tom. Just as "new money" is money without social connection, Gatsby's connection to Daisy exists outside of history.

Nick's fear of the future foreshadows the economic bust that plunged the country into depression and ended the Roaring Twenties in 1929. The day Gatsby and Tom argue at the Plaza Hotel, Nick suddenly realizes that it's his thirtieth birthday. He thinks of the new decade before him as a "portentous menacing road," and clearly sees in the struggle between old and new money the end of an era and the destruction of both types of wealth.

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Past and Future ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Past and Future appears in each chapter of The Great Gatsby. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Past and Future Quotes in The Great Gatsby

Below you will find the important quotes in The Great Gatsby related to the theme of Past and Future.
Chapter 1 Quotes
He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax. […] They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn’t believe it—I had no sight into Daisy’s heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes
But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes
“I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west—all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.”

He looked at me sideways—and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase “educated at Oxford,” or swallowed it or choked on it as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt his whole statement fell to pieces and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all.
Related Characters: Jay Gatsby (speaker), Nick Carraway (speaker), Jordan Baker
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
“Why didn’t he ask you to arrange a meeting?”

“He wants her to see his house,” she explained. “And your house is right next door.”

“Oh!”
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jordan Baker (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Related Symbols: Gatsby's Mansion
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes
"It makes me sad because I've never seen such — such beautiful shirts before."
Related Characters: Daisy Buchanan (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Related Symbols: Gatsby's Mansion
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
They were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy’s face was smeared with tears and when I came in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:
“That huge place THERE?” she cried pointing.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it, but I don’t see how you live there all alone.”

“I keep it always full of interesting people, night and day. People who do interesting things. Celebrated people.”
Related Characters: Jay Gatsby (speaker), Daisy Buchanan (speaker), Nick Carraway
Related Symbols: Gatsby's Mansion
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Related Symbols: Gatsby's Mansion
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.
Related Characters: Jay Gatsby (speaker), Nick Carraway (speaker), Daisy Buchanan
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes
The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "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.
Related Characters: Jay Gatsby (speaker), Nick Carraway (speaker), Daisy Buchanan
Related Symbols: Gatsby's Mansion
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
For over a year he had been beating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam digger and a salmon fisher or in any other capacity that brought him food and bed. […]

A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
“I wonder where in the devil he met Daisy. By God, I may be old-fashioned in my ideas, but women run around too much these days to suit me. They meet all kinds of crazy fish.”

[…]

Tom was evidently perturbed at Daisy’s running around alone, for on the following Saturday night he came with her to Gatsby’s party. Perhaps his presence gave the evening its peculiar quality of oppressiveness—it stands out in my memory from Gatsby’s other parties that summer. There were the same people, or at least the same sort of people, the same profusion of champagne, the same many-colored, many-keyed commotion, but I felt an unpleasantness in the air, a pervading harshness that hadn’t been there before.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Tom Buchanan (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Related Symbols: Gatsby's Mansion
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: “I never loved you.” After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that, after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago.

“And she doesn’t understand,” he said. “She used to be able to understand. We’d sit for hours—”
Related Characters: Jay Gatsby (speaker), Nick Carraway (speaker), Daisy Buchanan (speaker), Tom Buchanan
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes
“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once—but I loved you too.”
Related Characters: Daisy Buchanan (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
“She’s not leaving me!” Tom’s words suddenly leaned down over Gatsby. “Certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger.”

[…]

“Who are you, anyhow?” broke out Tom. “You’re one of that bunch that hangs around with Meyer Wolfsheim—that much I happen to know. I’ve made a little investigation into your affairs—and I’ll carry it further tomorrow. […] I found out what your ‘drug stores’ were.” He turned to us and spoke rapidly. “He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him and I wasn’t far wrong.”
Related Characters: Daisy Buchanan (speaker), Tom Buchanan (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, Meyer Wolfsheim
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes
“You ought to go away,” I said. “It’s pretty certain they’ll trace your car.”

“Go away NOW, old sport?”

“Go to Atlantic City for a week, or up to Montreal.”

He wouldn’t consider it. He couldn’t possibly leave Daisy until he knew what she was going to do. He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bear to shake him free.
Related Characters: Jay Gatsby (speaker), Nick Carraway (speaker), Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. So he made the most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously—eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.

He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her under false pretenses. I don’t mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself—that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact he had no such facilities—he had no comfortable family standing behind him and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal government to be blown anywhere about the world.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes
And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world.... And as I sat there, brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out Daisy's light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
“Did you start him in business?” I inquired.

“Start him! I made him.”

“Oh.”

“I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was an Oggsford I knew I could use him good. I got him to join up in the American Legion and he used to stand high there. Right off he did some work for a client of mine up to Albany. We were so thick like that in everything—” He held up two bulbous fingers “—always together.”
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Meyer Wolfsheim (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. Then he went into the jewelry store to buy a pearl necklace—or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons—rid of my provincial squeamishness forever.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis: