Examples of Nostalgia In Literature

Definition of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is defined as a sentimentality of the past or specifically a time or place with positive personal affective ties. The term derives from the Greek terms “nostos”, which means homecoming and “algos”, which means pain or ache.

In literature, nostalgia refers to a feeling of loss and a desire of the past and especially, a desire for the seemingly happier and more uncomplicated life people used to have in the past. This feeling can be evokes by things, individuals, or situations that are not longer available, which forms the mixture of joy and sorrow.

Function of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is useful and serves several purposes in the literature. Firstly, it reveals characters’ and narrators’ consideration of past events and allows for understanding their motives, wants, and feelings.

This reflection can indeed recreate for readers the possibility of characters’ experiences since their essence relate to human emotions such as loss and desire.

Nostalgia may emphasize such things as motivation, transformation and time, thus pointing at such paired opposites as before and after.

An appeal to nostalgia can also be a critical gesture, and authors use it to call the reader’s attention to certain issues where society has taken a turn for the worse after a specific period of time.

Examples of Nostalgia in Literature


“In Search of Lost Time” by Marcel Proust

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

In the passage, Proust gives his anecdote that captivates the reader by the question how the ordinary sensation of the taste can turn into the vivid reminiscence of the past.

The attempt made by J. M. Coetzee to convey nostalgia with the help of strict realism is also significant. For instance, the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea awakened childhood in the narrator.

This moment is linked to the idea of memory, which stands at the core of the narrative and refers to the manner in which the past affects the present.

See also: Naturalism in Literature


“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce

His soul had arisen from the grave of boyhood, spurning her grave-clothes. Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable. He would create proudly in the ecstasy and radiance of the vision freshly affirmed to him, out of the freedom and power of his soul.

Here, Stephen Dedalus looks back at childhood years and young ages having realized that it acts as the age of development.

Through reminiscence at the beginning of the novel, Joyce underlines the process of Stephen’s identity search and his desire to become an artist.

The passage shows how references can give people ideas, and enable them to do things in the present and in the future.


The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

The writer employs nostalgic descriptions of Gatsby’s parties and the general image of the Roaring Twenties presented to the reader.

By the reflection of Nick Carraway, the novel captures such tendencies and the subsequent collapse.

The nostalgia showcases the themes of lost glamour and excitement of the past, which is typical of the novel’s main motifs of desire and disappointment.


“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be. They stayed that way, still lovable, still mysterious to each other. She who had been so long alone was now the center of a small but adored circle of people. All that leaving and never returning, things she had had to remember and forget, things she had forgotten and remembered for the first time in a rush of ice water: once there was a baby who she loved and who she killed in defense of herself.

Morrison deals with the parameters of memory and love in the novel. Many characters are shown to have experienced some form of trauma in their past, especially in relation to racial oppression.

The main character Sethe, for example, murders her daughter to spare her a life of bondage before thinking better of it.

It therefore presents the cultural exploration of the effects of slavery as pertinent to the theme of the novel and as extending into the present not only through its consideration of the family as lost but through the appeal to the memories of the gruesome past.

See also: What is narrator in literature?


“Speak, Memory” by Vladimir Nabokov

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the master of life. In the palace of memory, the corridors are dark, spider-haunted, dusty. They lead to dismal halls where vague monsters patrol the shadows. The best part of it is that one can build one’s own chambers of memory with as much artifice as he can muster.

The autobiography of Nabokov is truly a masterpiece and the title gives a clear idea about it. In this passage, he discuss reality and the purpose of the memory to give meaning to life.

Tracing the meticulous and detailed accounts about the “palace of memory”, it aims to deconstruct the contradictions and dynamics in depicting and reconstructing the past to stress on the discursive play between the individual and collective memory as well as creativity.


One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. Macondo was then a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

The element of past and particularly nostalgia acts in this initial passage as a key to establishing the magical realist environment. Memory of discovering ice is a point of reference for Colon Aureliano Buendia that creates connection of his present to a past that is almost mythological.

The detailed and picturesque portrayal of Macondo as a small, innocent, and pure village is opposed to the chaos which the Buendía’s family is going to encounter later in the story. It establishes the major concepts of this novel, and emphasizes the themes of change and stability.

Read also: Novella Examples In Literature

Literary Devices Related to Nostalgia

1- Flashback

A flashback is a literary device in a story, where the main plot is interrupted to go back in time and show past events. Essentially, flashback is employed to deliver background details, character development, and emotional appeal by which the readers feel the past experiences along side the characters.


In “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, the character Scout Finch narrates her childhood experiences through flashbacks. She gives a deep understanding of the events that changed her understanding of morality, justice and empathy. These flashbacks arise a sense of nostalgia for her growing years and the lessons learned during that time.

2- Imagery

Imagery is a pictorial description accompanied with appeals to the reader’s senses. This feature opens up the possibilities of the appeal to senses in order to create images that would stir up emotions related to the past to increase the nostalgic level of a piece of literary creation.


In “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, the poet uses the imagery to describe the dividing paths in the woods. It symbolizes the choices of the life and the passage of time. The clear description of the “yellow wood” and the “grassy” path arise a sense of nostalgia for moments of decision in the life of the poet.

Examples of Nostalgia In Literature

To conclude, Nostalgia is a significant aspect and a common theme in the literature. The author is able to discuss numerous aspects concerning memories, the people here, their process of growing, etc. Techniques such as the dramatic use of the flashback and imagery also build on the nostalgic experience of a story to make the reading experience all the richer. Through the feelings of longing and recall, literature can elicit a nostalgic feel in an individual, thus helping him to understand the impact of the past on the present and even the future.

See also: Literary Devices That Start With N

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