There is a very fine line between nostalgia and obsessing on the past. Many people argue that one should not waste today reliving yesterday. Unfortunately, the human psyche is delicate and we need to process our past in order to move forward. For example, when mourning the loss of a loved one, most of us tend to be paralyzed or stuck in the past because we have to process what happened. How long it takes to move through the negative and positive events of the past is highly dependent on the individual. The protagonists in the novels The Great Gatsby by F.
Scott Fitzgerald and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger uniquely put forth the dangers of existing in the present, but psychologically living in the past. Both of these novels portray these themes in different ways. The Great Gatsby tells the story of a millionaire named Jay Gatsby, during the 1920s in New York. Jay Gatsby is passionately in love with a married woman named Daisy Buchanan, a woman he lost five years before the start of the book. In this novel, Gatsby orders his life around his one desire: to be reunited with Daisy.
Gatsby’s mission in this story leads him from poverty to wealth, into Daisy’s arms, and eventually into his death. Gatsby sees Daisy as embodying the past that can be again in the future. He is completely obsessed with returning to the time when he and Daisy fell in love. “He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was. “(117; ch. )
This clarifies why Gatsby is so desperate to reclaim Daisy and why he is stuck living in the past. In a way, Daisy represents a prize to Gatsby. Acquiring this prize is his dream, his salvation, and eventually it becomes his temperament. This love for Daisy is no longer a harmless attraction to Gatsby. It becomes an unhealthy obsession that completely takes over his life. In The Great Gatsby, it is shown that the occurrences and experiences from our past shape the present and future. Gatsby’s whole life was changed when he first met Daisy. He fell in love, thus changing the course of his life from that point on.
Our past has an enormous effect on our entire lives; some for the better and some for the worst. Everything Gatsby does after eeting Daisy was an attempt to lure her back into his arms; including breaking laws such as selling alcohol over the counter in hopes of becoming wildly rich so that he can properly care for her. He is completely consumed with getting Daisy back. “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. ” (101; ch. )
Gatsby was doing anything he could to entice Daisy through very expensive, luxurious and extravagant parties, hence the mentioning of, “decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. ” He was engulfed with the fantasy of the love he and Daisy had in the past that he does anything he can to rekindle that love in the present. In another attempt to get her back, Gatsby begins working with a gangster named Meyer Wolfsheim, and gets into the bootlegging business and other criminal activities so that he can make enough money to finally be able to provide for her.
Gastby also buys a house right across the bay from Daisy and her husband’s house so that he can reconnect with her and show her how successful he’s become in the past five years. In the end, his love for Daisy is what ultimately kills him. Despite Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby towards the end of the novel, he refuses to believe that it is real and is sure that he can still get her back. His love for her is so intense that he doesn’t even think twice about covering for her and taking the blame for Myrtle’s death.
In fact, his infatuation is so intense he barely seems to understand that there’s been a death, or feels any guilt at all. This moment further displays how much Daisy means to Gatsby, and how his focus on Daisy prevents him from thinking clearly The Catcher in the Rye is about a 16 year old boy named Holden Caulfield during the 1950s. Even though he is not very specific about his location while telling the story, he makes it very clear that he is undergoing treatment in a mental institution. The story Holden tells the reader is about what happened to him during Christmas time of the previous year.
He begins the story at Pencey Prep School and how he was expelled for failing four out of his five classes. He decides to leave the school early and travels to New York City. During his time in New York, he spends time with many different people; he then goes back home to visit his younger sister, Phoebe. He ends up having a nervous breakdown and seeks help from his family because he realizes—while watching Phoebe on the carousel—that he cannot be the catcher in his fantasies and stop children from crossing into adulthood. Throughout the novel, Holden’s depression gets more and more intense.
Part of Holden’s depression is due to him desperately holding onto the past because he likes things that don’t change and as an adolescent, change is constantly happening no matter what you do to try to prevent it. In fact, change is one of Holden’s biggest fears. This causes Holden to live in the past; because being young was a simpler time for him. Once he was in New York, Holden decided to visit the Museum of Natural History, which held a lot of memories for him when he was younger. When he visited the museum on school field trips, life for him was simpler and easier.
Allie—his younger brother who died of leukemia, was still alive and the rest of his family was in a much happier state of mind. “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. ” (157; ch. 16) Most importantly however, to Holden a museum and its history never changes, which ultimately provides him with comfort. For Holden, change only seems to be bad. Since Allie’s death, there’s been nothing but negative changes in Holden’s life, like getting expelled from failing all but one of his classes and the suicide of one of his classmates, James Castle.
Holden also lives in the past because he feels guilty for being alive while his little brother Allie is dead. In Holden’s opinion, Allie was the smartest in the whole family as well as the sweetest. In the novel, Holden talks to Allie like he is still there. For example, Holden would talk to Allie every time he reached the end of every block saying, “Allie don’t let me disappear. Allie don’t let me disappear. Allie don’t let me disappear. Please Allie. ‘ And then I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing and I’d thank him. ” (198; ch. 20) Here, Holden chants for Allie to not let him disappear.
In this quote, disappearing represents how Holden believes that his old self is disappearing. Because he is constantly going through change as he gets older, the younger and innocent version of himself disappears. As this version of himself fades away, the memories Holden has of Allie begin to disappear as well. This is why Holden is desperately trying to talk to Allie; because he misses his brother and thinks of Allie as someone who used to help him through tough times. Everyone has different struggles in this world so as a result, we all cope with our problems differently.
Some of us refuse to move forward with our lives and hold on to the past because we may fear for what may come in the future and because the past is familiar. Others may live in the past because they don’t want to deal with the present. Self-reflection is inevitable; no matter what all of us are going to reminisce on past experiences. Ultimately, living in the past robs you of the opportunity to enjoy the present. Although both of these novels share the same basic theme, the storylines could not be more different.
The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story about a man that desperately tries to reunite with his true love, while The Catcher in the Rye is about a teenage boy mourning the loss of his little brother. And while the theme of each book is about how the past is a very messy thing to escape, The Great Gatsby focuses on rekindling a relationship and The Catcher in the Rye concentrates on mourning the death of a family member. The novels The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger embody the basic theme of existing in the present, but living in the past.