Time, Love, and Entropy in "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Essay, 2015

11 Pages

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F. Scott Fitzgerald is a distinguished author in American Literature. The novel, The Great Gatsby, is a national icon, representing an era of excitement and wonder. The novel is most recognized for its allusions to the American Dream. However, Fitzgerald’s allusions and symbols go further than that. I wanted to analyze the “secrets” and symbols ofThe Great Gatsby,especially the function of time throughout the novel.

I first began my exploration of the way time moves in the novel. I began to understand the different ways time functions in the novel and began to undercover multiple theories in relation to time’s purpose in the novel. As I went deeper into my exploration, my understanding of time expanded. I began to see a relationship between time and the characters of Gatsby, and how time, in combination with love, developed the character of Gatsby himself. I expanded on the theories involved with the forms of Time Gatsby exists in. I later learned about the physics of time and how science itself stopped Gatsby from reaching his goal.

At the end of my research,I concluded how all of these different factors of time functioned together. I adjusted my original research question from “To what extent does Fitzgerald use time in The Great Gatsby” to, “To what extent does Fitzgerald use time, love and entropy in relation one another in The Great Gatsby”. The forms Gatsby existed in evolved over time because of love, and living in one of those forms misledGatsby to believe he could bend the laws of physics.


Berman, Ronald. The Great Gatsby and Modern times. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1994. Print.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. New Essays on The Great Gatsby. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.

Donaldson, Scott. Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1984. Print.

Hendrick, Susan, and Clyde Hendrick. "A Theory and Method of Love."Ournal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (1986): n. pag. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

Messent, Peter B. "Speech Representation, Focalization and Narration in The Great Gatsby."New Readings of the American Novel: Narrative Theory and Its Application. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. N. pag. Print.

Nave, R. "Second Law of Thermodynamics."Second Law of Thermodynamics. Hyper Physics, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

Pendleton, Thomas A. I'm Sorry about the Clock: Chronology, Composition, and Narrative Technique in The Great Gatsby. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1993. Print.

Time is a complex additive in many literary works. Well-renowned authors like Marquez and Faulkner use time in a non-linear fashion. However, Fitzgerald approaches time unlike any other. Not only does Fitzgerald address the fragility of the past and present but he also uses time as an antagonist. Time is used in the characterization of Gatsby in different forms and creates an ideal in Gatsby’s mindset where time can be manipulated and transformed. Fitzgerald makes the impossibility of the task evident through the failure of young love.He presents a finite past and present in which time is completely independent from human manipulation. This essay seeks to explore how, on several complex levels, Fitzgerald presents time, love, and entropy in relation to oneanother in The Great Gatsby.

The character of “Gatz,” or Gatsby, is unknown and mysterious. We perceive him from the eyes of the public, which includes absurd rumors and legacies, which only add pieces to the puzzle that is Gatsby. The second perception we have of Gatsby is Nick’s (Bloom 56). Nick takes a more honest and real perspective on Gatsby, unlike the public’s view (Bloom56). Because of these opposing views, Gatsby’s character exists in three forms within the novel: the mythic, impersonal Gatsby; the “human” form of Gatsby as viewed by Nick; and the ultimate form of Gatsby which leads him to his death.

The first form that Gatsby exists in can be referred to as the “God” form. The rumors created by Gatsby and embellished by the public are so superior, unique, and powerful that they turn the character Gatsby into a God. The public expands Gatsby’s ideals and stories in such a way that it separates him into a different version of himself, the version that is debated at parties and whispered among the people of New York. A God is created in three ways: he has omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.Through the texts in chapters three and four, one observes how the people of New York view Gatsby in each of these three ways. On page 69, Gatsby begins to discuss how he came upon his lavish lifestyle. He embraces the first characteristic of a God by exclaiming he was educated at “Oxford.” By being educated at Oxford he becomes all knowing. It is significant that Gatsby was educated at a prestigious university that wasn’t American because this makes his knowledge truer than that of a person educated in the United States. The second quality of a God is omnipotence, something Gatsby is all too familiar with. He can get anything from anywhere. His unique, customized, one-of-a-kind Rolls Royce can represent this throughout the novel. Even on page 53 he assures Nick of his omnipotence by saying, “If you want anything just ask for it, old sport.” The last attribute of a God is his omnipresence. The rumors about Gatsby circulate from one side of the earth to the other. Specifically on page 70, Gatsby discusses the time of his life when he “lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of the world”(Bloom 56). Because the rumors about Gatsby consist of the same elements it takes to become powerful, Gatsby no longer exists as a man to the public, but rather as a divine creation in itself, a God. In a sense, this makes Gatsby timeless.

The second form of Gatsby is a bona fide one. It is seen in only one aspect, that of Nick's (Bloom 56).This form is more significant because it based on the true “James Gatz.” Nick's perception answers the question being asked throughout the entire novel: Who is Jay Gatsby? The character magnifies as the novel goes on, and we learn more and more about the real Gatsby. Nick gives Gatsby the power to excel into his pure form, and, ultimately, Nick is the only one who knows that true form at the end. Nick becomes the binoculars into Gatsby's true life and assures that he is the only one who sees this form of Gatsby when he states, “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (162). If Gatsby lived a true life and existed in the form that Nick saw in him, it is very much possible that the character Gatsby would have lived on.

The third and final state that Gatsby exists in is the most complicated. On page 97 of the novel, as Nick observes Gatsby, we are introduced to the third state for the first time through the line “he had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third." This state is consuming to Gatsby. This state drives him. It's the very thing that inclines him to become the great man he is. This state is pure and raw, the state he transcends to by being in love with Daisy, his “Daisy state.” Throughout the novel Gatsby experiences this state, in a quick and sporadic manner. On page 101 the essence of this state is expressed in the following passage:

“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.” (Fitzgerald, p. 101)

His love is so powerful that it turns into an obsession rather than an infatuation. Gatsby’s love completely becomes blind and nothing else matters, not even time. Gatsby might be trying to transcend time here, or surmount it, ignore it.

A second key concept of time in The Great Gatsby is Gatsby's struggle against time itself. Gatsby's notorious response to Nick--“Can’t repeat the past?” “Why of course you can!”-- is coincidentally why Gatsby meets his death. Nonetheless, Gatsby’s fight against time can be identified in specific ways. His memory and paradigm shifts becomeaffected by time while the imagery of the clock foreshadows his attempt to stand outside of time. These factors combined lead Gatsby to fail to keep Daisy and advance Gatsby to his death.

Just as all humans do, Gatsby’s mind changes over time. Over time, memory fades, and so do people. In addition, we all have our own individual and shared belief systems, our own paradigms by which we remember the details of our lives and the lives of others. In relation to time and memory, we might examine, for example, the scene in which Daisy marvels over the abundance of Gatsby's shirts. Page 98 reads, "They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such-such beautiful shirts." Through this text you can infer the damage Daisy’s heart and memory have experienced as time moved forward. Her memory no longer stands as that dazzling young man with a gleam in his eyes but rather the soldier that wouldn't return to her. Because Daisy's memory is so concisely focused around the thought that Gatsby left her, the paradigm in which she lives (where she truly loved Gatsby) crumbles. Her faith in love is lost and her faith in being a good wife to a man, no matter what, grows. In contrast to this, Gatsby’s memory of Daisy is untouched. He remembers the girl he left for the war and does not come to realize the woman she is today.She is, however, a woman who is in a different mindset and paradigm, one that does not correctly align with Gatsby’s never changing paradigm of her. Because we as people remember what we want, and are inclined to remember the bad over the good, both characters' memories are biased and create doom for any future relationship between the two.

In the preface of the Bruccoli edition of The Great Gatsby, it is noted that Fitzgerald uses "450 time words, including 87 appearances of the word time (xv)." It's obvious that Fitzgerald wants the reader to consider time in the novel and even the way it flows/moves within the book. Chapter five addresses the reconnection between Gatsby and Daisy for the first time in almost five years. A brief event that happens because of a mishap by Gatsby provides a critical foreshadowing in the novel. On pages 91 and 92 Fitzgerald describes the action of Gatsby knocking a clock over by saying, "luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place" (Bruccoli xv) The emphasis Fitzgerald uses to describe Gatsby knocking over the clock displays how important of a concept Fitzgerald thinks time is in his novel. Gatsby then goes on to say, "I'm sorry about the clock,” an explanation that sums up five years of desperation, separation, and depression. Gatsby does not realize that time is not a creation of the human mind. We as humans have defined time, but we did not create it. Thus, time is not a factor Gatsby can simply apologize for. The never-ending time allusions and metaphors all highlight the key theme to Fitzgerald’s novel: time runs on its own accord, one we humans cannot control.

As we read further on into the novel we learn more about the relationship between Jay Gatsby and time. Gatsby tries to use his endless power to overpower times' infinite reign. Gatsby approaches time in various ways: he tries destroying it, suspending it, or standing outside of it(Magistrale and Dickerson 120).He goes about destroying time in the hotel scene in chapter seven. When he pleads for Daisy to confess that she never loved Tom, he is asking for something he cannot control. He is asking for her to forget her past and memories. He is asking for something we can't control as humans. This is a primary example of Gatsby trying to destroy time. However he expands his battle with time and also tries suspending time. Fitzgerald alludes to this through the metaphor presented by Klipspringer's song, The Love Nest, played in chapter five. The lyrics run as "One thing's for sure and nothing's surer, the rich get rich and the poor get---children, in the meantime, in between time (101)". Fitzgerald makes a direct connection to Gatsby’s attempt to stand outside of time by the last line. Adding to that, Kilpspringeris a timeless character himself. He drifts around with no direction, a houseguest that never left, without understanding where he belongs. The antagonist in the play isn't Tom Buchanan but rather time itself.

Another connection between Gatsby and time in the novel involves another pressing element: Love. Love is the true foundation of the novel. This novel would mean nothing if love were not a component of it. A Jay Gatsby that was never in love would never experience the same unique drive he had because of his love for Daisy. It is clearly evident that Fitzgerald connects love and time in the novel. It is the very thing that makes Gatsby succeed as far as he does, and fail just as hard.

A rare element in Fitzgerald’s novel is the plotting itself. Fitzgerald starts the story from the end. He shows us what truly happens after the “happily ever after.” Yes, young love never dies, but the sheer power of it morphs and evolves into something it wasn’t before. Before this “evolution,” Gatsby and Daisy start off as eros lovers. Eros love is passionate, physical, and specifically based on the “love at first sight,” theory. It is everything young love lives up to be. It encompasses the excitement, the obsession, and the freedom of being with someone who is your biggest will and desire (Moseley “Philosophy of Love”).It inspires and is the very reason why Gatsby becomes so “great.”

This love is explained on page 117 through the following passage:

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the turning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (Fitzgerald, p. 117)

This night in autumn five years ago was the beginning of the end for Gatsby.

As time continues, the love Gatsby has for Daisy grows. However this growth proves to be impractical and torturous. Because of the patience and drive of Gatsby, the memories of Daisy become the oxygen he survives on. He is in love with a memory and not the real person anymore. Because of this, Gatsby’s pure and eros love transforms into manic love. It is possessive and creates an unhealthy mindset (Moseley “Philosophy of Love”).Because of time, Gatsby becomes a manic lover. This manic lover cannot coexist with Daisy, and on page 116 the manic side of Gatsby filters his ideals: “He wanted less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ After she had obliterated three years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken.” These statements exemplify the blindness Gatsby experiences as a manic lover, the same blindness that ignored reality and the two laws time operates on.

Time is a fundamental quality, a quality human beings have not created but have defined. Throughout the novel, Gatsby tries to become a “cause” in time, to have it happen because of his actions. However, Gatsby does not accept the natural laws of the world and attempts to bend those laws. He fails in his goal, as a matter of physics.

Time has been defined and redefined by a number of brilliant people; this is possible because they are explaining what already exists. In contrast to that, Gatsby tries to reverse what already exists and construct his own creation of time. It is evident that Gatsby’s goal is to create something entirely new, to create a time matrix that connects to his personal desire. We recognize Gatsby’s “time matrix” in its process, before it can come to any conclusion, whether it be a failing or one where he exists in complete happiness, re-visiting the past and living the life he and Daisy once shared all over again, specifically on page 83. While discussing Gatsby’s mansion in location to Daisy’s, Nick explains “it was a strange coincidence,” while Jordan Baker retorts that “it wasn’t a coincidence at all, Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.” By this text it is inferred that Gatsby is messing with fate, a factor of time; with time being an impossible fundamental quality to reverse due to the second law of thermodynamics and entropy.

Entropy is defined in numerous ways. Entropy is considered to be the energy we cannot use, “the energy which is unavailable to do work (Second law of thermodynamics).” It is also a “measure of the disorder in a system (Hall “Second law of Thermodynamics”). Entropy is a factor that will always increase, which is the opposite of Gatsby’s intentions. The second law of thermodynamics states “entropy will either increase or stay the same (Hall “Second law of Thermodynamics”). Gatsby attempts to “decrease” this entropy by returning to the past. In able to reverse the past, Gatsby would literally have to freeze time because “For a given physical process, the combined entropy of a system and the environment must remain as a constant if the process can be reversed (Hall, “Second law of thermodynamics”). In the novel, the environment changes generously because the environment is Daisy’s life in motion. Because Daisy’s life isn’t at a constant, it cannot be reversed. Neither her memories nor the love she has for Tom can be forgotten. Tom himself alludes to the irreversibility of time by his rambling about the earth becoming hotter or colder and how this will lead to the destruction of human kind (Vince n.p.). Ultimately, as previously stated, Gatsby’s greatest enemy in the novel is not Tom Buchannan, but rather time and how our physical world exists.

When looking at entropy in relation to time, the phrase “time’s arrow” comes to mind. This addresses the fact that in entropy “order goes to disorder,” and thus “one thing can happen before the next (Hall, “Second law of thermodynamics”). This simply means there is one route someone can take to get to his or her goal. However, Gatsby tries re-routing the route to end up at the very same goal that only has one approach to it. Gatsby does try to step “in between time,” as suggested by in Klipspringer’s song, The Love Nest.

The exact moment at which Gatsby loses his control of time and the moment he realizes this occur in two different scenes. Gatsby asking Daisy to say she never loved Tom marks the same moment Gatsby attempted to bend the laws of the physical world. Gatsby is asking Daisy to bend the laws of physics for him, something that is a simple request in Gatsby’s mindset, but it is an impossible request leading to Gatsby’s ultimate murder. The map is already drawn out for Gatsby. The moment he realizes what he drew is the moment his true self emerges, a person of the real world with real emotions, with anger, jealously and uncertainty. In chapter twelve, as Gatsby raises his fist to Tom, he expresses his recognition of the infinite power of time and the physical world it controls. Within the first lines of page 142, Nick alludes to Gatsby’s harsh reality check by the statement, “this is said in all contempt for the babbled slander of his garden.” Tom is the factor that brings Gatsby to the realization of reality; Tom symbolizes the "babbled slander" while Gatsby’s plan to reinvent time is symbolized by the garden. The text on page 142 goes even deeper into this realization with statements such as “he looked like he just killed a man,” and “so he gave that up and only the dread dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, despairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.” At this moment Gatsby has come to realize that some things cannot be restored, no matter how much money, fame, love, hope, or faith one puts into the restoration process. Gatsby’s green light fades, as do his ideals of hope, and his concept of time begins to unravel.

The Great Gatsby is unlike any other novel. Fitzgerald even exclaims that the novel“is my immediate duty---without this I am nothing.” (VII) The novel’s originality and the various themes that play throughout the story support what a work of genius it is. Fitzgerald leads the reader (but not Gatsby) into the future rather than the past and even expands the character of Gatsby in his own death. This is achieved by three means: time, love, and death. When the “state” Gatsby enters in his third realm (eros lover) sustains the punishment for bending time, Gatsby finally grasps his true dream. Eros love is established through beauty and passion. Thus, the Platonic-Socratic position maintains that the love we generate for beauty (euros love) on this earth can never be truly satisfied until we die (Moseley “Philosophy of Love”). Fitzgerald leaves the soul of Gatsby in harmony at the time of his death. It is a death caused by time itself. As Gatsby dies over uncontrollable factors, his character undergoes a full revelation of the love he has been searching for his entire life. Gatsby is “borne back ceaselessly in the past,” by his own death.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Major Literary Characters: Gatsby. New York U.a.: Chelsea House Publ., 1993. Print.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. "Preface." Preface. The Great Gatsby: The Authorized Text. New York: Scribner, 1953. N. pag. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby: The Authorized Text. New York: Scribner, 1953. Print.

Magistrale, Tony, and Mary Jane Dickerson. The Language of Time in the Great Gatsby. No. 2 ed. Vol. Vol 16. N.p.: John Hopkins UP, 1989. Print. College Literature.

Moseley, Alexander. "Philosophy of Love."Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Its Authors, n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.

"Second Law of Thermodynamics."Second Law of Thermodynamics. Ed. Nancy Hall. National Aeronautics and Space Administraction, n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.

Vince, Raymond M. "The Great Gatsby" and the Transformations of Space-Time: Fitzgerald's Modernist Narrative and the New Physics of Einstein. Vol. 5. N.p.: Penn State UP, 2006. Print. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review.

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