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The Way Phenomenon of Nostalgia is Shown in Books and Films

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Personally, I have felt nostalgic for a better time period. Take me back to the days, 2010 was the year. You would get home from school, settle into your couch and watch hours of the newest episode of Wizards of Waverly Place or Hannah Montana, without a single worry in the world. Here, watch an exert of Disney Channels “It’s on” Advertisement for summer. It brings back some memories, right?

Although, not as intense as Gil or Gatsby’s situation, we can all relate to experiencing the effects of nostalgia. Reminiscing, about the relationship that didn’t work out or the ease of childhood. While doing so, we fail to realise that our dreams and real life are two completely different realities, an illusion. It’s hard to notice, but nostalgia isn’t what meets the eye. We use nostalgia to distract us from the truth of the present and to protect us from the pain of reality. These memories are seen by us as something beautiful, something irretrievable and somewhere that will always be better than the present.

Put simply, this is the ultimate downfall of the main characters, Jay Gatsby from the Great Gatsby and Gil Pender from Midnight in Paris. Their inability to be present and acknowledge the truth of the reality, consequently distorts their perspective of their relationships and the toxicity of their environment.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is undoubtedly a novel about nostalgia; it explores the impossibilities of recapturing the past, the role of myths in our lives, the shattered dreams of our youth, and the unrealized ambitions of the founders of America. In Chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby, Nick and Jordan are talking about Gatsby’s extravagant house. Jordan says “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay”.

Gatsby’s entire present existence, the mansion, the money, the pink suit is constructed so Daisy will be impressed, he knows how much money means to her. His obsession with the past to achieve his dream of Daisy is a romantic illusion, he thinks his wealth and extravagance can win her back. But in reality, Daisy has moved on, she is older, a mother and wife, Gatsby himself is not the young innocent man that he was when he first met Daisy. He wiped away his poor background through illegal means and changed his name to Jay Gatsby.

Throughout the novel, Jay is seen staring optimistically at the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s pier often, hoping to recreate the love they had before he left for the war. This green light symbolises Gatsby’s hopes and dreams. It represents everything that haunts and beckons Gatsby: the physical and emotional distance between him and Daisy, the gap between the past and the present, the promises of the future, and the powerful lure of that other green stuff he craves—money.

Nick although having experiencing nostalgia, understands the dangerousness and highlights this in Gatsby, in “He 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. His life had been confused and disordered since then”. Gatsby’s only wish was to have everything the way it was five years ago, back when he had Daisy. During that five-year void, Gatsby began to lose himself, and he though recreating the past and getting back Daisy would allow him to get his old self as well. He made Daisy into some sort of elusive object and goddess who was the answer to all his problems.

In the film, Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen portrays the main character, Gil Pender is an awkward guy who unknowingly wants to escape his crumbling relationship with his fiancé Inez. Allen uses nostalgia throughout the movie almost as time machine, for Gil to enter his personal golden age of the 1920s. Gil himself is obsessed with nostalgia, I mean he wrote a novel about a man that owns a nostalgia store.

When Gertrude Stein is giving Gil feedback on his novel she points out “he doesn’t quite believe that the protagonist doesn’t quite see that his fiancé is having an affair right before his eyes”. Gil follows this up with “that’s called denial”. Gil had been repeatedly entering the past, becoming obsessed with it to the point where he didn’t even realise his fiancé is cheating on him with their friend Paul.

The use of a yellow hue of lighting emphasises that Gil is trying to find happiness in the past, as yellow is associated with joy and pleasure. This explains why Gil feels more confident and calm in the past, so as to why he is so obsessed with it and uses it as coping mechanism. This is contrasted with the harsh, white lighting of the modern day, where Gil is seen as excluded, uncomfortable and on edge. Furthermore, it highlights the incompatibility of Inez and Gil, where he feels joy with the past and its simple ideals, while Inez enjoys the present, showing the differences in their values.

Particularly, in this scene the yellow hue is contrasted with Gertrude’s confronting statement, highlighting that Gil has come to realisation he has been living in the past and denying his present. The statement is said in the 1920s, but it is relevant to his present life, showing the turmoil of his denial finally coming to light. The scene then abruptly changes to the present day, where the lighting is white and harsh, showing Inez and Gil fighting about the affair. All the denial of his reality through nostalgia and his golden age has finally come to the surface and has turmoiled in their break up.

Earlier before this scene when Adriana asks “Aren’t you getting married?”, he replies with “everything’s a little up in the air right now”. Now, you wouldn’t be saying that about the women that your engaged to, about to marry. It shows that he not fully committed to her and leaves a part of his heart with Adriana in the past, highlighting his use of nostalgia has an erroneous coping mechanism.  

As a conclusion, Dr Seuss, once said ‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.’ Dr Seuss, isn’t wrong. Nostalgia is a human thing, for years we have been longing for a better time period, whether it be to dance again in the 80s or just a time without technology. The important thing is how we go about it. Do we long for it, hoping to recreate the past or do we simply acknowledge its place in your life and move forward.

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The Way Phenomenon of Nostalgia is Shown in Books and Films. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from
“The Way Phenomenon of Nostalgia is Shown in Books and Films.” GradesFixer, 07 Jul. 2022,
The Way Phenomenon of Nostalgia is Shown in Books and Films. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Jan. 2023].
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