How does one give up on a dream they had once achieved? Some may move on, but for many, it is easy to remain stuck in those vivid moments they think of every time they close their eyes. Anything other than staying determined is unthinkable, although it is not an easy feat with every obstacle – including time – working against them. Fixation on the past turns a once- motivator to a manic hindrance. Fitzgerald, Mannilow, Coldplay, and Quinonez explore this phenomenon in different ways, connected through literary devices such as perspective and foreshadowing.
Collectively, The Great Gatsby, “Copacabana”, Viva la Vida”, and Bodega Dreams feature one character that struggles with well revered memories turning to a point of weakness that distracts them. Instead of continuously using the moment as a motivator, they freeze up and become more comfortable living in a fantasy world. Memories serve as mementos to carry and take as they please, not to keep someone firmly lodged in time. Longing for the past had grown over time as each characters’ memories rushed back, weighing heavily in their pockets.
Only over time were motives revealed to the audience, after decisions had been made and contracts sealed. The idea of an individual stuck in one past moment is portrayed through perspective and limited omniscience as each character fights to remain in the nostalgic landscape of their own minds. The choice of each author to tell each enigmatic character from a third person point of view added to the atmosphere of curiosity and mystery surrounding how long they had been staring wistfully at that “green light” as represented in The Great Gatsby and alluded to in Bodega Dreams.
Instead of telling the story of Lola through her directly, Manilow sings of her aspirations and sadness, “Now t’s a disco / But not for Lola” (Manilow 26). but never through her. Both Fitzgerald and Quinonez tell the story of Gatsby and Bodega through the eyes of another character. The audience is never given true insight to the characters’ stream of consciousness, only led to believe certain truths those characters choose to reveal. Even the fallen king of “Viva la Vida” never has his intentions fully stated, and his plight is told in a first person perspective.
He admits he “used to rule the world” (Coldplay 1) and that he still “[hears] Jerusalem bells a- ringing” (Coldplay 13) but never fully reveals how or when he ost his empire. Even with a clearer perspective, the idea of how long he has been fixed on this spot in time remains, and deeper thoughts are obscured from view. This moment that plays over and over, similar to Gatsby with each party he throws and waits for Daisy to show up, and it is never clear as to what exactly the character is thinking.
Even as Nick listens to Gatsby’s story and draws his own conclusions, the reader will never know exactly why Gatsby made the decisions he made. This perspective blocking irony crafts a new lens on the idea of being infatuated with the past. Each character is mentally years before their stories take place, rising to fame as a showgirl or parading the streets as a young lord. They have become trapped in a bubble long ago popped, refusing to acknowledge the lights have gone out and the show is now a disco. The extent of disassociation each character has with their current life is never revealed.
From this, a dynamic is created in which there is a visual disconnection from the present, and a fixation on the past. This The past, in the period of time that follows, works as a motivator. It becomes a thing of wonder and inspiration to achieve. In this phase of parabolic happiness, the stories of the characters begin on an incline, gaining respect and wealth with the past not far behind them. Here, the authors used motive and diction to convey a forward driving past. Restoring the projects of Spanish Harlem was part of Bodega’s ‘dream’, propelled by his love for his days as a Young Lord as well as Vera.
He is noted as “a lost relic from a time when all things were possible” (31), using this hope he dragged with him to recreate the now-projects. He remembers a time when Spanish Harlem was “young and full of people and not projects” (105), nd uses this nostalgia to motivate himself towards fixing everything. “I’ve always loved you… I fixed up everything like it was before” (Quinonez 46). Gatsby used his relationship with Daisy to motivate him towards gaining money and a higher social status. As distance between past and present grows, the unobtainability of older times turns fond memories to obsessions.
Through use of mood conveyed in later chapters, the slow slide towards a negatively impacted present begins to vocalize itself. Instead of a happiness at finally being returned to the past, they become afraid and desperate, unwilling to let go fter years of waiting. When Bodega finally has Vera back, he makes sure she sleeps soundly and peacefully, whispering his conversation with chino and making sure not to step on a squeaky floorboard. When they are together, he holds tightly to “her hand like a drowning man in a life raft” (Quinonez 122).
Similar to Bodega in this respect, Gatsby is so intensely focused on Daisy he begins to feel “as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real” (Fitzgerald 112) and comes close to tripping down a flight of stairs looking at her. He reads a Chicago paper “just on the chance of catching glimpse of Daisy’s name” (Fitzgerald 152). The once King of Viva la Vida reminisces daily on a failed kingdom he betrayed. Every morning, he goes out to “Sweep the streets I used to own” (Coldplay 4).
A mind preoccupied with regaining the past is easily susceptible and can be quickly torn apart. In one fluid motion, similar to the crash and burn of Romeo and Juliet, obsession gives way to an untimely fate. Manic fixation gives way to miserable end, prominent through tense and predicated by foreshadowing. Eventually this repetitive paranoia over losing the dream settles in their bones. With quotes such as “Who could ask for more? ” (Manilow 8), and “I used to roll the dice” (Coldplay 5), a sense of impending doom befalls the audience.
From the start, the works have an uneasy feel, almost announcing the end will not be a happy one. There is always a fear of having everything only to have it ripped away, and these characters have experienced this phobia to the fullest extent. From the beginning of each work, happy endings are declared. Hope is abandoned, although some not as slowly as the others. Bodega only begins losing hope once Vera’s husband is killed, ut is relieved that he will serve a short jail time and get out of his cell to a single Vera.
Only when Nazario shows up with a gun does he give up. Lola can only think of Tony bleeding on the floor, and “Drinks herself half blind” to forget “[losing] her youth and [losing her Tony]”. “Bodega’s dreams were dead” Chino comments, and in comparison to his dreams, that “They died quickly” (197) The past does not serve as a goal or a motivator, but a destructive force that must not be latched on to. The Great Gatsby calls this an “extraordinary gift for hope”, an unshakable determination to reach the green light.
It was evident in Bodega, who wanted to rule Spanish Harlem with Vera by his side; it was prominent in the King, who wanted to lead his people once more, no longer a “puppet on a lonely string” (23); it was even seen in Lola, who only dreamed of having Tony back. However, the past is not to blame for their failures, and could have been something to drive them forward. It was the constricting grip on times they found impossible to let go that left them to miserable lives. It was “what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams” (Fitzgerald 3) that gave way to their demise or defeat.