Study Guide

The Great Gatsby: Quotes about Memory and the Past

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Memory and the Past

Chapter 4
Nick Carraway

"It was a strange coincidence," I said.

"But it wasn't a coincidence at all."

"Why not?"

"Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay." (4.147-151)

Gatsby's entire present existence—the house, the money, the pink suits—is constructed so Daisy will notice him. It may look like he's living for the moment, with his flashy parties and careless wealth, but he's actually stuck in the past.

Well, about six weeks ago, she heard the name Gatsby for the first time in years. It was when I asked you – do you remember? – if you knew Gatsby in West Egg. After you had gone home she came into my room and woke me up, and said: "What Gatsby?" and when I described him – I was half asleep – she said in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know. It wasn't until then that I connected this Gatsby with the officer in her white car. (4.145)

This "strangest voice" tips us off that Gatsby is more than some dude Daisy used to flirt with. She had some real feelings for him—and those feelings of the past are about to burst into the present.

Chapter 5
Nick Carraway

He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third. After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an over-wound clock. (5.111-114)

What happens when you finally get what you've been working toward for years? For most of us, achieving a goal comes with a letdown. Having something in the present is never quite as good as your past self imagined it would be.

As I went over to say good-by 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. (5.152)

Gatsby's vision of Daisy is way better than the real Daisy. Maybe this is one reason she ends up with Tom—she knows she can't ever live up to who she was for him. (Or maybe it was just the $350K necklace.)

Chapter 6
Nick Carraway

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. (6.125)

Gatsby actually wants Daisy to erase the past, like in some sort of mediocre sci-fi movie. Sorry: this is real life, and it can't be done. Everyone has to live with the consequences of their past, whether they want to or not.

Chapter 7
Daisy Buchanan

"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." (7.261)

Life doesn't come with take-backs or do-overs, and for all that Daisy seems a little dim, she gets it—and Gatsby doesn't. Daisy's never going to be that golden-white girl again.

Nick Carraway

Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small, reluctant hand. Afterward he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before. (7.53)

There's nothing like meeting your former lover's child to remind you that she's really moved on. While Gatsby was busy living in the past, Daisy was engaged in the ultimate form of future-building: having a child.

Chapter 8
Nick Carraway

No telephone message arrived, but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o'clock – until long after there was any one to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. (8.111)

In the end, Gatsby does pay a high price for living too long with a single dream: death. Now, we're not saying that you'll end up dead if you don't give up your dream of have made Homecoming Court or a 2400 on the SAT—but we are saying that, at some point, you're probably going to have to move on.

Jay Gatsby

"I don't think she ever loved him." Gatsby turned around from a window and looked at me challengingly. "You must remember, old sport, she was very excited this afternoon. He told her those things in a way that frightened her – that made it look as if I was some kind of cheap sharper. And the result was she hardly knew what she was saying." (8.22)

Gatsby actually rewrites the past to make it look like his version of events. This is—we hate to say it—basically the equivalent of saying that "no" means "yes." In fact, for Daisy, no really does mean no this time.

Chapter 9
Nick Carraway

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (9.149-153)

As a wise man once said, the term "Future Perfect" will be abandoned "[when it is] discovered not to be." In other words? The future never lives up to our expectations—and, in fact, having expectations of it just binds us to the past.