It may be reasonable to assume many would concur with this statement, considering that the two novels embody characters that struggle with their pasts. The titular character in The Great Gatsby is arguably made more complex through his conflicting capacity to both abhor elements of his former days whilst simultaneously yearning to relive other parts. Gatsbys longing to recreate his past affair with Daisy is ultimately unattained and leads to his death. When Gatsby goes to confront Tom about how, at least from his perspective, Daisy only ever loved him, Daisys immediate response of please dont! shows her reluctance to endure any affliction resulting from a complete overhaul of her comfortable yet unfulfilling life.
The exclamation mark enhances her desperation to keep her life unaltered, perhaps implying she is too indecisive to determine what she really wants for herself. Consequentially, it is feasible to infer that Daisys feelings for both Tom and Gatsby are therefore shallow. Daisys emotions about confronting Tom oppose from those of Gatsbys which is demonstrated by the way in which he sprang to his feet in order to declare, without a shred of doubt, that Daisy only ever loved him.
The adjective sprang shows his eagerness and confidence in his own perception of Daisys feelings for him. The disparity between Daisy and Gatsbys feelings for one another stresses the impossibility of Gatsbys objective to be with Daisy, as the mutual affection between them never existed. Not in the present nor the past.
McEwans protagonist Briony fails debatably less than Gatsby as her endeavour to rectify her past faults does not lead to more hurt for herself or even to others. In fact, she seems to view it as a final act of kindness rather than a weakness or evasion showing that her pursuit to atone has at least given her some sense of peace, even if it took years to obtain. A more sceptical interpretation of this however may be that McEwan was simply highlighting that Briony, tormented by her own feelings of culpability, reverted back to her juvenile habit she had as a child of creating fiction of the people around her in order to escape her reality. Her adamant denial of this may only serve to show that while she is aware of this, she cannot consciously accept it.
McEwan also uses his characters to demonstrate how proceeding actions can have unexpected and colossal repercussions in the future. At the end of the eleventh chapter there is a glimpse forward a break in narrative that seems to encourage the reader to think about how Robbies decision to hunt for the twins alone transformed his life. McEwans choice to use the verb transformed signals that what is going to happen to Robbie will not just change aspects of his life but rather his life as a whole, likely creating a sense of tension and foreboding within the readers.
One of the techniques Fitzgerald and McEwan adopt to express how the past affects their characters, is found in their narrators. In McEwans case he uses a metanarrative- what David Lodge defines as fiction about fiction: novels and stories that call attention to their fictional status and their own compositional procedures. This idea is scrutinised in part three where Briony muses how a novelist such as herself can achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? This question is not answered by Briony, leaving it open for readers to consider the answer for themselves. In comparing Briony to a God McEwan not only illuminates the authority that a writer has over the worlds they create, but also draws an allusion to Christian theology where the main goal for man is to seek reconciliation with God and repair the harmonious relationship, they had with him prior to original sin. Perhaps this allusion spotlights the immense undertaking it is for Briony to atone for her sins. This is because of how long and how hard of a task it is for man to repair their severed link to God. Yet regardless it is still possible for man to make amends with God through Jesuss sacrifice, meaning that Briony could also be capable of amending her mistakes and escaping from her suffocating guilt. Furthermore, it could be argued that through comparing herself to a God, Briony still retains at least a fragment of the same childlike self-absorbance that she possessed at the age of thirteen. On the other hand, Brionys identification with a God could be spotlighting the sovereignty that a writers imagination holds over themselves. After all, whilst young Brionys imagination did bring about pain to those around her, it also allowed Briony to attain some semblance of ease for the people she harmed. Or at least according to her she did. In this way, perhaps Briony was able to use her gift of writing and creativity to escape from her past.
Fitzgerald, in contrast to McEwans usage of shifting points of view, chooses to exclusively use the first-person perspective of Nick Carraway. McEwan may have used an assorted number of narrators in his novel to better exhibit Brionys power as an author to control everything including all of her characters cognitive processes and mental states. Fitzgerald using a singular narrator means that he can focus entirely on Nicks recollection of his experience at Long Island. Through this choice, he is able to express the traumatising yet profound impacts that the past can permanently leave on a persons character by showing how the past can affect an individual on a psychological level. Fitzgerald delves into this regarding how Nick still firmly clings onto his fathers lessons, Ive been turning over in my mind ever since, which illustrates the preliminary role old teachings have in shaping the thought processes of individuals. Nick cares to believe that because of his fathers counsel, he is in consequence inclined to reserve all judgements. The critic Claire Stocks controverts this notion stating that, Nick wants to portray Gatsby as great and to ignore or edit anything that might undermine that image. Evidence supporting this criticism is how Nick was once was an editor for the Yale News, conveying the impression that he also might have edited parts of the story to retain Gatsby being as great as the title of his book proclaims. Traces of this bias is manifested in how when Nick encounters an obscene word on Gatsbys step he removes it without actually telling the readers what that word was, thus editing it out of the story and hiding it from the readers knowledge. Indeed, this act may underline how Fitzgerald wanted to show Nick as an unreliable narrator, undermining Nicks assertion that he has taken on board his fathers advice. Perhaps in this way, Fitzgerald could maintain that the past does not always have much affect on the present, making it very easy to escape.
In opposition to this there is a great quantity of vivid detail sprinkled throughout the narrative that Nick can recall. For instance, his memories have enough clarity for him to remember that the turkeys at Gatsbys party where bewitched to dark gold, despite the fact that this seems to be a rather minor observation. Nicks attention to detail denotes the psychological impact it has had on himself, and how time has done very little to lessen his memories. In this sense, Fitzgerald may ratify that whilst positive and useful past experiences and lessons are subject to being easily forgotten or disregarded, even if this isnt intentional, negative memories are far more poignant. Alternatively, Fitzgeralds intent may be rather be to show how lessons that you learn through personal experience rather than advice you a told from a second-party is a far more effective way of retaining knowledge ascertained from the past. In this sense, Fitzgerald appears to have a favourable opinion towards the past as it can be employed as a learning tool to better yourself in the future. Because of this you shouldnt try to hide from your past because of this.
Another theme that the two novels have in common which also relates to the overarching theme of time, is a sense of innocence being lost. In Atonement Briony starts off not only being young but also, she is described as being the baby, which has connotations of naivety and vulnerability, of the family, showing that she is the youngest and therefore supposedly the most innocent. However, Briony clearly resents this label as she feels insecure about nobody taking her seriously. As seen by the way that she feels that Lola, her condescension being wholly restrained, was only participating in the play to appease her rather than out of any personal desire, much like how a mother would only play with her children to entertain them. These thoughts are only seen through Brionys eyes however, perhaps indicating that Brionys fear of being seen as childish by her older cousin is being substantiated in the way that Briony misinterprets Lolas true intention. Yet despite her ambition to be taken seriously, there is a deep sense that Briony still hasnt quite earned this respect quite yet which is propagated in chapter four when Cecilia tries to console her conspicuously distraught sister. When she tries to express her distress to Cecilia, Briony attempts to use the word genre, but mispronounces it causing Cecilia to not understand her. This word, shows that whilst Briony has to an extent some insight about the world around her, yet her incorrect pronunciation reveals her inexperience and innocence. The reader is more likely to find Brionys fumble amusing rather than acknowledging her linguistic sophistication as she anticipated Cecilia would. McEwan through his characterisation of Briony in this scene, reduces her to ridicule which goes against Brionys serious-mindedness. The majority of readers will presumably find Brionys attempts to act grown-up endearing which will then make Brionys crimes and subsequent loss of innocence disconcerting. They will likely miss Brionys puerility and want her to go back to that state. However, McEwan only further ages and matures Briony until in part three she is an elderly woman. Through the passage of time McEwan shows how finite aspects of personality are, possibly even teaching his readers how important it is to cherish the present as the good aspects of it will eventually fade into obscurity in time. Similarly, to how Fitzgerald could be recommending that you shouldnt try to escape your past because of the benefits it can bring, McEwan advocates that you shouldnt try to escape from the present because of the value thats restricted to it. Hence McEwan in this fashion proposes that the past is not so much inescapable as it is unreachable as the past seems to represent something that can never be obtained again.
During the year of nineteen thirty-five that the first part of the novel takes place in, the theme of innocence becoming obsolete is reflected in a Britain that is about to enter another world war. As well as the protagonist Briony being an adolescence who is rapidly approaching adulthood and thus the hardships that come with it, McEwan uses setting to also mirror Britains inevitable depletion of peacetime. In the course of part one, the narrative events take place in and near to the Tallis country house. The land it occupied is construed to be a scene that could easily have accommodated, in the distance at least, a medieval castle. Bringing up imagery of a medieval castle shows that the scene is symbolic of a stable past thereupon making the home seem safe and secure from any outside danger. Much like how firm castle walls can protect those residing within from any external threat. But McEwan also hints that the stability the home provides is malleable. He uses imagery of deterioration and weakness. For instance, the eighteenth-century island temple, representing the past, has a mottled and diseased appearance and its exposed laths, themselves rotting away, showed ribs of a starving animal. Adjectives like mottled, diseased, rotting and starving combined paint a bleak atmosphere and have connotations of death, disease and suffering. Sharply contrasting with the descriptions of an idyllic country home in the midst of a pleasant summer. The subtext of this representing world war two being around the corner, threatening the traditions and views of the older generation would be overtly clear to a 21st century reader. The naivety and false sense of security of some British citizens prior to World War Two is personified through Emily Tallis who isnt very proactive in the story and simply just allows things to work themselves out. In chapter twelve does not fret about the lost twins as she is certain that they will return safely sooner or later. However, through McEwan building suspense in prior chapters readers can ascertain that something distressing will happen. Through the events following this Emilys sense of apathy is ravaged and the readers apprehension is proven right, creating a sense of dramatic irony. Much like how Lola was violated and used, many British civilians lives were going to take a drastic change for the worse. In summary, McEwan uses this technique to not create a sense of dread within modern readers but also to show the inevitability of the past escaping you through time. Readers know that in nineteen thirty-five the start of the second world war was creeping closer meaning that the current pleasant lives of the characters were about to become an antique of the past, and nothing could prevent it.
Through the character of Robbie Turner, McEwan continues capitalizing on the idea of writing for post-World War Two readers. Writing Atonement on the fringes of a new millennium, McEwan could have seen people discussing the exciting new future ahead whilst simultaneously looking back at the past for some sense of guidance. He might have therefore used Robbie as a mouthpiece when Robbie ponders how no one would know what its like to be here. Without the details there could be no larger picture, epitomising the nature of how history is recorded. Since the character of Briony is supposedly writing this, it could be evinced that Briony may be trying to create a reason to record her story. Through Robbies inner dialogue she is able to construct a vital role for herself to fill. Her role is necessary s so that history can be accurately recorded through her writing. The critic Claire Messud may support this interpretation as in her introduction to Atonement she maintains that with the passage of time the Second World War can be reduced to names and dates, to some version of the reasonable view and it falls to the novelist to bring it fully back to life. If Briony is truly capable of fulfilling this role could be questioned however because through her editing and tweaking the narrative, crucial parts of the plot such as Cecilia and Robbie dying during the war have been changed to better suit what Briony thinks they would have wanted. Therefore, factual events have been cut out painting an inaccurate retelling of the story. Through Brionys latest draft of the story, Cecilia and Robbie are given a happy ending which will be what future readers will believe. Their legacy will therefore be able to live on instead in the way that Briony wants it to. However, it could be argued that this is not what Cecilia and Robbie would want; Briony is not always accurate in interpreting others nature and aims. If she was, Briony would have never accused Robbie of assaulting Lola in the first place. So Brionys attempt to let the lovers live on could be read as her simply exerting control and creating order rather than it being an act of kindness. As it may be McEwan could simply be showing that the past can be escaped through only fiction and delusion rather than it actually being escaped.