Comparing the Past in The Ice Palace and The Great Gatsby

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The Nature of the Past in The Ice Palace and The Great Gatsby

In "The Ice Palace" and The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the nature of the past. He shows us that we can neither return to nor escape from the past. In "The Ice Palace" he writes about the pasts of two different societies, the North and the South. In The Great Gatsby he writes about Daisy's relationships with two men, Tom and Gatsby. “In both of these stories some characters want to escape from the past and others want to return to the past”(Pendelton, 37). These characters find that neither of these is possible, that the past and the present have become intertwined.

The first society Fitzgerald deals with in "The Ice Palace" is the North. Here people try to ignore the past. We see this when Harry Bellamy tells us that "Everybody has a father, and about half of us have grandfathers. Back of that we don't go"(Fitzgerald, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" and Other Stories, 72). They have no interest in what has gone before. Even their buildings are new. An example of this is the library of the Bellamy house. Many of the books haven't been read and the items in it "all looked about fifteen years old"(71). The epitome of Northern buildings is the ice palace, which stands for a winter and then melts away. It is an attempt at a building without a past, built fresh each time. In the Southern graveyard, when Sally Carrol is talking about Margery Lee, Harry Bellamy looks at the grave and says "There's nothing here"(68). To him headstones have no reality beyond the immediate physical one. In the North the snow hides the gravestones, making each "a light shadow against light shadows"(80). The hiding of the headstones demonstrates the entire Northern attitude toward the past. They feel that it isn't important and should be ignored.

Despite all of these efforts the North is unable to escape the past. The gravestones may be covered with snow, but they are still there. Eventually the snow will melt and everyone will be able to see them. Even the ice palace, the attempt at a building with no past, falls victim to it. The last time an ice palace was built was in 1885, but it is still "peopled by those shades of the eighties"(80).

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