Theme of Nostalgia in the Novel 'The Great Gatsby' and the Film 'Midnight in Paris'

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Gold, something we associate with illumination, triumph and passion, and endless pursuit of our own personal endeavors. It is no surprise that the term ‘golden age’ refers to a period in time in which one believes that they would be happier, or more content with their life.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ is regarded as arguably one of the most iconic novels exhibiting the American Dream. We, as the audience, witness Gatsby, the protagonist, on an endless pursuit to fulfil his dream of winning Daisy’s love. An American love story, that incorporates the themes of triumph and failure, ultimately leading to his destruction, being his death. Alternatively, Woody Allen’s directed film ‘Midnight in Paris’ alludes to much of the themes introduced in Fitzgerald’s text and highlights the unobtainable nature of dreams that is informed by nostalgia. The protagonist, Gil Pender, emphasizes this through his ability to travel back to his golden age, Paris in the 1920s and experiences his misinformed dream before having to face his problems in the present.

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A notion of dissatisfaction and complication within the present is portrayed through the protagonists in both works. For Gil, this is his marriage with Inez. Their relationship is purely materialistic and based on surface level values, for example, agreeing on the small things like a common appreciation for pita bread. The incompatibility is evident from the opening scene, as she expresses his career pursuits in a demeaning way whilst he stands to the side, showing his isolation and distance in the relationship. It is here, we establish Gil as a dreamer, with hopeless nostalgia. His book, a symbol for his life.

Paul, the pseudo-intellectual, exclaims that “nostalgia is denial – the name for this is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in”. In order to escape his problem, Gil imagines Paris, during the 1920s as his golden age. Through his nostalgic views, he enables himself to disregarded and ignore his problems, encouraging his golden age thinking and disregard for his marital discord, which concludes as a failure. As the audience, we don’t think much of his ideals, until he travels back into the 1920s. But we know better. We know that this is simply impossible, and it is here that we see the golden age thinking in play.

His destruction, however, is not acknowledged until Chapter 8. This over-the-shoulder shot is employed to place the characters in their setting and establish the conversation. His realization leads him to escape his nostalgic views. When he explains to Adriana that “I’m trying to escape my present, just like you’re trying to escape yours”, this is where we understand that his destruction has been avoided through his self-proclaimed insight being that he has problems in reality that he needs to fix and that escaping his present cannot fulfil his dream.

For Gatsby, his fatal flaw is that he doesn’t have Daisy. We can all agree that he has built himself up, which Fitzgerald explores through his extravagant parties and extensive possessions. But for much of the novel we see him alone, waiting and watching from afar, caving into his moral failure not of wealth and status, but the one thing that he is missing, Daisy. Although an outsider would see his success from the American Dream, he is still unsatisfied, this is his problem, his dissatisfaction within the present due to the unobtainable nature of his dream, which is in the past. This causes him to crave the past, with an intolerable amount of nostalgia. His golden age is five years prior, before he had left for the war and had a flourishing relationship with Daisy.

His fatal flaw and destruction are in the very conversation that he has with Nick on page 106 exclaiming that you “can’t repeat the past, why of course you can”. This misunderstanding is the very essence of his failure and greatness. Fitzgerald has intentionally employed repetition, with Gatsby first repeating Nick’s sentence “can’t repeat the past”. This emphasizes Gatsby’s point of view and his fatal flaw, being his nostalgic views and the ways in which he believes the past can be repeated. Nick then narrates that “He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy”. Fitzgerald has intestinally continued to mention the past to emphasize its significance, especially to Gatsby. The surprise of Gatsby when Nick doesn’t agree reiterates his nostalgia and inability to accept that he is in the present, without Daisy. Nick can recognize Gatsby’s tragic pursuit filled with nostalgia and that consequences of his dream, but for Nick he does not know true passion, which justifies his impassive reaction to much of Gatsby’s dialogue. He knows that this ‘idea of himself’ is non-tangible and will ultimately catalyze his death but for Gatsby, he cannot distinguish his own illusion from reality.

To summarize, the nostalgia and golden age thinking of the dreams of some people, including the characters Gatsby and Gil, act as a catalyst for their destruction due to their problems in the present. The difference between these two characters in that one can recognize this and one cannot. The ability for Gil to recognize his overwhelming nostalgia leads him to making decisions in his present in order to fix these. For Gatsby, however, the failure to recognize and ignore problems in his present, leads him to his dire destruction.

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Theme of Nostalgia in the Novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the Film ‘Midnight in Paris’. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-nostalgia-in-the-novel-the-great-gatsby-and-the-film-midnight-in-paris/
“Theme of Nostalgia in the Novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the Film ‘Midnight in Paris’.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-nostalgia-in-the-novel-the-great-gatsby-and-the-film-midnight-in-paris/
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Theme of Nostalgia in the Novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the Film ‘Midnight in Paris’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Jun 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/theme-of-nostalgia-in-the-novel-the-great-gatsby-and-the-film-midnight-in-paris/
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