Compare and contrast the ways in which Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby and Hardy, in selected poems, present the theme of time and transience.
Single spacing, size 14, arial or times new roman, intended paragraphs, page numbers
Thomas Hardy’s poems of 1912 to 1913 are written as a response to his wife Emma’s death and the ideas of impermanence and transience are brought to a forefront in these poems. However, the ideas of longevity and the primeval are used to juxtapose these themes and emphasize the emotional loss experienced by Hardy. One may compare the use of these opposing themes by Hardy to the way in which Fitzgerald portrays the difference between ‘old money’ and ‘new money’. The Great Gatsby is set in The Roaring 20s of America and Fitzgerald uses the novel to describe how ‘the American Dream’ is very much a lie and how the well-developed hierarchy with ‘old money’ on top is invulnerable. Hardy’s At Castle Boterel depicts “primaeval rocks” that have stood the test of time and survived long through the ages acting as bystanders. The longevity and untouchability experienced by these rocks could be likened to the position the ‘old money’ people find themselves in: a position of strength and safety that seems to sit above all other echelons of society. Tom and Daisy are described by Nick as people that “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money”; Gatsby, being a new money man, did not have the freedom to do such a thing and so disappeared with his illegal money. Even the land mass characterized by the new money people that lived there faded away: “And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away”. Nick describes the houses in West Egg as “inessential” which emphasizes the vulnerability of the new money people such as Gatsby. The Roaring 20s of America was followed by the Great Depression and the emergence from the Roaring 20s could be viewed as the melting away of new money which is depicted at the end of the book. Tom and Daisy lived in a “cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion”; the word “colonial” has connotations of power and dominance and could reflect Tom’s philosophical and racial viewpoint: white supremacy is fundamental. However, even considering the steadfast and permanent nature of Tom and Daisy’s social placing they are still physically moving and running around. Daisy described her move to East Egg as permanent but the reader instantly learns that she is most likely untrue from Nick as it is in the nature of Tom and Daisy to continuously hop from place to place. Hardy’s The Going captures the suddenness of death and, along with the first seven poems of Hardy’s 1912 – 1913 poems, attempts to deal with his sense of rupture and shock in reaction to Emma’s death. “Why did you give no hint that night … You would close your term here, up and be gone”, Hardy expresses his shock and arguably even anger at the loss of Emma; he seems to be railing against the fact that time has finally taken his neglected wife. The use of “term” conjures up ideas of fixedness and limitedness in the mind of the reader and it seems that the death of Emma is breaking Hardy out of his own mindlessness where he seemed to be unaware of his wife’s condition and her impermanence. The theme of time is large in many of Hardy’s poems and he uses nature as a symbol on longevity and invulnerability which juxtaposes the transience and fluidity of human life. Hardy realises that many of his memories of Emma are in fact permanent in his writing and in his mind. Hardy’s The Walk describes a memory of Hardy’s; his habitual walk which, even before her death, Emma had stopped accompanying him on. Hardy’s At Castle Boterel is a vivid memory which he describes as a “time of such quality” and goes so far as to say he sees a “phantom figure” on the slope behind him. The idea of transience is also clearly portrayed in At Castle Boterel, the reader is told that Hardy is at a “junction” which can be seen as a metaphor for a turning point in his life and he is driving his carriage away from the phantom figure of Emma; he is travelling with time. This idea of travelling with time is shown in The Great Gatsby where we see Tom and Daisy moving away from East Egg and Nick moving away from West Egg at the end of the novel.
The Great Gatsby encapsulates the idea of the unattainable future that not only escapes the person but surpasses time by using the green light as a constant theme in the novel. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us”, the “green light” for Gatsby was Daisy; not only did the green light represent the culmination of Gatsby’s ongoing, almost timeless love for Daisy but it physically showed where she was. Fitzgerald coined the word “orgastic” in his novel and it can be seen as a cross between orgasmic and orgiastic; Nick describes this future as an intense but disesteemed pleasure that is unattainable. This epitomic future is “year by year” strived for by Gatsby but no matter how much time one puts into this future it will always elude them. Somewhat contrastingly in The Convergence of the Twain, Hardy seems to guide the reader towards the viewpoint that everything is preordained, and it is the “Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything”. According to the narrator the “Immanent Will” prepares a “mate” for the Titanic and planned their convergence. This idea of an uncontrollable future is not necessarily found in The Great Gatsby, when Gatsby is cheated out of his inheritance he takes it upon himself to earn money and work his way up to West Egg. Gatsby, shrouded in mystery in the former half of the novel, appears to be very in control of himself and the reader ascertains that he got himself to where he was. There is, however, a similar tone of love in the poem: the clash of the Titanic and the iceberg are described as a “consummation”. Fate is pushing these two massive forces together and the massive loss of life as result of the sinking of the Titanic is being described as the consummation of the arranged marriage between men and nature.
Nick, at the end of the novel, combines the two antithetical ideas of the past and present: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”. Nick depicts a scene of a person in a boat feebly attempting to move forward towards their future but being pushed back by the current which is said to be too strong. He seems to describe movement to be homologous with time, associating backward movement with the past. However, this has potential paradoxical ramifications with the reader as movement, in reality, goes hand in hand with the progression of time. This twisted sense of time and movement at the end of the novel helps illustrate the significance of the past and how it holds one back from their future. The idea of the past holding one back from their future is exemplified by the use “ceaselessly”; the reader can interpret Nick’s words as saying that the past is so prevalent in our minds it is holding us back from the future that we want (the “green light”). Hardy’s At Castle Boterel’s lyrical voice refers to the present at the start and end of the poem, and in the middle part refers to the past. Similarly to The Great Gatsby, Hardy marks the past as fundamental in life, spending more time reflecting on the past than moving on in the present. At Castle Boterel is an elegiac poem but one could also view The Great Gatsby to be Nick’s reflection on Gatsby’s life. The 2013 film adaption of The Great Gatsby depicts Nick Carraway as a war veteran receiving treatment for alcoholism at a psychiatric hospital. Nick is presumably talking about Gatsby for the first time in such detail and it is this detailed posthumous storytelling that is making Nick feel better. By retelling his past in such intricate detail Nick is moving forward emotionally and it is perhaps Nick’s final resignation of the fact that we “ceaselessly” look back upon the past that allows him to cope with life. The final stanza of At Castle Boterel presents the narrator’s attempts to forget his vivid memories of Emma. The last stanza goes back to the present time and the narrator sees this “phantom figure” “shrinking, shrinking”. This repetition emphasizes the Hardy’s despair and anxiety after the death of Emma. He expresses a desire to change that memory and to get rid of it: “I look back at it amid the rain/For the very last time”. Hardy recognises he cannot overcome time and he will never be able to physically see Emma again. “for my sand is sinking” means that Hardy realises that he is growing old and time is running out so instead of the poem being Hardy forgetting his memories it could instead mean that he is unlikely to return to Cornwall (the location of this poem). Furthermore, the narrator acquires a tone of resignation as he admits he “shall traverse old love’s domain/Never again”. These final lines create a dramatic ending to the poem with the stresses on the first and last two syllables of “Never again” which are set on their own line emphasizing the finality of the statement. Hardy does in fact marry Florence Dugdale the year after Emma dies but she is forever in the shadow of Emma, this is exemplified by Hardy’s confession that he “shall traverse old love’s domain/Never again”. Just like the influence the past has on Gatsby, the narrator of At Castle Boterel is unable to let go of the memory of the “phantom figure” and will never be able to experience “old love” again.
Another character that wishes to go back in time is Tom Buchanan, he “had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football for New-Haven”