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The Past: Guidance, Not Life (In the Classroom)

The Past: Guidance, Not Life (In the Classroom)

by Mackenzie Lo

“‘I wouldn’t ask too much of her…You can’t repeat the past.’ ‘Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” (110). Jay Gatsby wishes to return to the past, the past where his Daisy is in love with him. This book, The Great Gatsby, is written by F. Scott Fitzgerald during “the Jazz Age,” the 1920s. Gatsby would like to believe that the past can be relived, but is it really possible? Can the past be retrieved, just so one can live “the golden days” again? Contrary to Gatsby’s belief, the past cannot be recovered or relived, but should instead be used for guidance.

At this particular point in the story, where Gatsby claims he can repeat the past, Daisy and Gatsby have just reunited, after not seeing each other for five years. Daisy is now married to Tom Buchanan, her previous infatuation with Gatsby apparently forgotten. Gatsby tries hard to win her back, but Gatsby wants Daisy to completely revoke the past, which is where Nick suggests, “I wouldn’t ask too much of her.”

The past cannot be recovered because nothing will ever be exactly the same. Gatsby wants Daisy to say “I never loved Tom.” However, she cannot do that. “Oh, you want too much! …I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past!” (132). Gatsby wants to not only relive the past, but to also forget and obliterate the four years during which Daisy and Gatsby are separated. The way Gatsby wants the past to be repeated means he wants everything to be exactly “the way it used to be” but he does not realize that nothing will ever be the same, which is why the past, is past. In a way, the past is dead. It is, literally, in the past, and it has already happened. Gatsby wants to live in the past and relive what happened in the past. Unfortunately for Gatsby’s dreams, life does not mix with death, just as the present does not mix with the past. It is impossible to relive the past, which is dead, thus man should not try.

The past cannot be recovered because man is not in control of this world. Man cannot find purpose in this life without the will of God, as Solomon says. At the end of a life of rebelling against God, Solomon writes Ecclesiastes reflecting on this world. He concludes, “Fear God and keep his commandments…For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13b-14, NIV). Solomon writes to show that man should enjoy life, but within God’s law. “Everything is meaningless!” he says, and everything in this world is, but by knowing God and keeping His commandments, man can find purpose in God. (Ecclesiastes 12:8).

When people want to recover the past, most of the time, they want to escape their present lives. “[Gatsby] talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy” (110). In the past are the “golden days,” so many wish to recover the past, to return to the past, where everything is supposedly perfect. But man does not belong in the past, and one cannot hide in the past forever, which is why God made man for the present, and to hope for the future.

However, many people say that recovering the past is possible, and in the way they mean “recover” that is true. However, when they say recover, they actually mean “repeat.” History can be repeated. For example, World War I started because of Germany’s thirst for power and domination of the world. The rest of the world hoped another world-wide war would never come, but they naively ignored the power-gaining Hitler, and his desire for world-domination. He even details his plans for “Aryan” domination in his book, Mein Kampf, “My Struggle.” He claims, “As a conqueror [the Aryan] subjected the lower beings and regulated their practical activity under his command, according to his will” (295). Because the other leaders of the world did not realize history was “repeating itself,” World War II happened. Instead of looking to the past for guidance, the leaders simply hoped nothing would happen. The leaders ignored the past, and they reaped the consequences.

While the past cannot be repeated, this does not mean man should ignore the past entirely. Man must look to the past for guidance, but not for life. Life is not found where death is. Life is found with Jesus Christ! Life is found, not in the past, but in the present where Christians hope for the eternity to come with their Lord and Savior.