The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:September 24, 1896
Date of Death:December 21, 1940
Place of Birth:St. Paul, Minnesota
Read an Excerpt
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
ScribnerCopyright © 1925 Charles Scribner's Sons
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought - frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon - for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction - Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament" - it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No - Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.
My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this middle-western city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan and we have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on today.
I never saw this great-uncle but I'm supposed to look like him - with special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting that hangs in Father's office. I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe - so I decided to go east and learn the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business so I supposed it could support one more single man. All my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a prep-school for me and finally said "Why - ye-es" with very grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance me for a year and after various delays I came east, permanently, I thought, in the spring of twenty-two.
The practical thing was to find rooms in the city but it was a warm season and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees, so when a young man at the office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weather beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington and I went out to the country alone. I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
"How do you get to West Egg Village?" he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees - just as things grow in fast movies - I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
There was so much to read for one thing and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. I was rather literary in college - one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the "Yale News" - and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the "well-rounded" man. This isn't just an epigram - life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.
It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals - like the egg in the Columbus story they are both crushed fiat at the contact end - but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly over-head. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.
I lived at West Egg, the - well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard - it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion. Or rather, as I didn't know Mr. Gatsby it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eye-sore, but it was a small eye-sore and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn and the consoling proximity of millionaires - all for eighty dollars a month.
Across the courtesy bay the white places of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed and I'd known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago.
Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven - a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax. His family were enormously wealthy - even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach - but now he'd left Chicago and come east in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance he'd brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.
Why they came east I don't know. They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it - I had no sight into Daisy's heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.
And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens - finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold, and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.
He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body - he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage - a cruel body.
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked - and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.
"Now, don't think my opinion on these matters is final," he seemed to say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are." We were in the same Senior Society and while we were never intimate I always had the impression that he approved of me and wanted me to like him with some harsh, defiant wistfulness of his own.
We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.
"I've got a nice place here," he said, his eyes flashing about restlessly.
Turning me around by one arm he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep pungent roses and a snub-nosed motor boat that bumped the tide off shore.
"It belonged to Demaine the oil man." He turned me around again, politely and abruptly. "We'll go inside."
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling - and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it - indeed I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.
The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise - she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression - then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.
"I'm p-paralyzed with happiness."
She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I've heard it said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)
At any rate Miss Baker's lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly and then quickly tipped her head back again - the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.
I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.
Excerpted from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Copyright © 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgements Introduction F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Chronology A Note on the Text
The Great Gatsby
Appendix A: Fitzgerald’s Correspondence about The Great Gatsby (1922-25)
Appendix B: Contemporary Reviews
- H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun (2 May 1925)
- William Rose Benét, Saturday Review of Literature (9 May 1925)
- William Curtis, Town & Country (15 May 1925)
- Carl Van Vechten, The Nation (20 May 1925)
- Gilbert Seldes, The Dial (August 1925)
Appendix C: Consumption, Class, and Selfhood: Eight Contemporary Advertisements
Appendix D: The Irreverent Spirit of the Jazz Age
- From F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931)
- Duncan M. Poole, “The Great Jazz Trial” (1922)
- From H.L. Mencken, [“Five Years of Prohibition”] (1924)
- Zelda Fitzgerald, “What Became of the Flappers?” (1925)
- From Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (1929)
Appendix E: Race and the National Culture, 1920-25
- From Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920)
- From Henry Ford, Jewish Influences in American Life (1921)
- From Frederick C. Howe, “The Alien” (1922)
- Miguel Covurrubias, “The Sheik of Dahomey” (illustration, 1924)
What People are Saying About This
James Dickey Now we have an American masterpiece in its final form: the original crystal has shaped itself into the true diamond. This is the novel as Fitzgerald wished it to be, and so it is what we have dreamed of, sleeping and waking
Reading Group Guide
This Scribner reading group guide for The Great Gatsby includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The Great Gatsby, one of the classics of twentieth-century literature, brings to life America’s Jazz Age, when, as The New York Times puts it, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.” Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and veteran of the Great War, moves to Long Island in the spring of 1922, eager to leave his native Middle West behind. He rents a tiny house in West Egg, dwarfed by a mansion owned by the most celebrated host of the season, Jay Gatsby. Everyone loves to drink and dance at Gatsby’s legendary parties, and everyone loves to gossip about Gatsby’s secret past. Directly across the bay in the tonier town of East Egg lies the home of Nick’s beautiful cousin and her millionaire husband: Daisy and Tom Buchanan. When Nick starts dating Daisy’s friend, the famed but deceitful golfer Jordan Baker, he finds himself caught up in a different romance: Gatsby begs for a reintroduction to Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy fell in love years ago, but the war and Tom Buchanan came between them. As the love triangle of Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby resurfaces – and Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, grows desperate with jealousy – Nick finds himself missing the plains of the Middle West, where hope can thrive in a wider landscape.
The discussion questions and activities particularly address the following English Language Arts Common Core State Standards: (RL.9-10.1) (RL.9-10.2) (RL.9-10.3) (RL.9-10.10) (RL.11-12.1) (RL.11-12.2) (RL.11-12.3) (RL.11-12.9) (RK.11-12.10)
1. On page one, Nick Carraway, the narrator, quotes his father, “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you’ve had.” Later, Nick adds, “In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments.” Discuss how characters throughout the story judge one another, fairly or unfairly. What does Nick mean by his belief that “reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope”?
2. Nick describes East Egg and West Egg in chapter one. Discuss the differences between the Buchanan and Gatsby mansions. How does Fitzgerald’s language hint at the tension between the “old money” class and the nouveau riche?
3. Appearances play a significant role in The Great Gatsby. Discuss your first impressions of Nick, Tom, Daisy, and Jordan. What specific lines of dialogue or gestures begin to reveal their true characters? Daisy confides to Nick that she’s “‘had a very bad time . . . and I’m pretty cynical about everything.’” What does it mean to be cynical? How does cynicism appear throughout the story?
4. Discuss the role and treatment of women in the novel. Daisy tells Nick that upon the birth of her daughter she said: “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Do you think Daisy believes what she says? What does Nick mean when he states, “‘Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply’”?
5. Rumor, innuendo, fabrications, and speculations pervade the story, especially around the true identity of Jay Gatsby. Daisy brings up Nick’s engagement to a girl “out West.” Nick replies that it’s “libel.” Daisy rejects Nick’s straightforward response by exclaiming, “‘We heard it from three people, so it must be true.’” Discuss how Daisy’s insistence relates to the way untruths and false information permeate today’s society.
6. At chapter one’s conclusion, Nick witnesses Gatsby reaching across the bay toward a single green light. This light has come to be one of the most enduring symbols in twentieth-century literature. What does the green light represent to Gatsby in this part of the story as compared to its symbolic meaning near the end of the book? Discuss other recurring symbols in the text, including the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg; the colors white and yellow; and New York City.
7. People flock to Gatsby’s parties compelled by the stories they’ve heard of their mysterious host. Discuss Nick’s observations of these people: “It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in the world.” How does Gatsby encourage the rumors surrounding his true identity? What affectations does Gatsby employ to protect the façade? How does the man with the owl-eyed spectacles foreshadow that Gatsby is not who he claims to be? How and why does Nick see through Gatsby’s pretense from the start? Although Nick seems somewhat immune to gossip, how do his observations betray his apparent detachment?
8. Discuss the role of class in the novel. How do Tom and his friends condescend to those whom they determine are below them? Gatsby strives to be accepted by Tom and the East Egg residents, but they look upon him and his outward displays of wealth. How does this scorn reveal their hypocrisy? Discuss the character of Myrtle Wilson. How does she adopt the snobbery of the upper classes? In the New York apartment, Nick notices “The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur.” What does hauteur represent to Myrtle? When Myrtle says Daisy’s name out loud, Tom breaks her nose. Why does he feel entitled to enact violence on Myrtle?
9. Although The Great Gatsby is set in the 1920s during the Prohibition Era, many scenes feature alcohol. What commentary might the author be making in regard to how drinking affects human relationships? How does alcohol play a role in the Plaza scene? During the Prohibition Era it was illegal to purchase, sell, or drink alcohol, but booze flows freely in East and West Egg, as well as in NYC. How is this an example of privilege?
10. Why does Gatsby care about Nick’s opinion of him? While Nick believes that Gatsby is lying about his past, he is still drawn to him. Why is Nick so fascinated by Gatsby? How is this fascination with Gatsby’s life story for Nick “like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines”? As Gatsby and Nick drive into New York City, Nick thinks, “‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge . . . anything at all.’ Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.” What does Nick mean by “Even Gatsby could happen”?
11. Ethnographic stereotyping occurs throughout The Great Gatsby, and references to racist and white supremacist ideologies are introduced in chapter one: “It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.” In addition to Tom’s embrace of “Nordic” supremacy, anti-Semitic descriptions of Meyer Wolfsheim and his secretary appear disturbing and out-of-touch to the twenty-first-century reader. Discuss the overt language and stereotypical imagery that Fitzgerald employs. What purpose, if any, does the language serve to reveal character? What does it tell you about this period in time in which the novel was first published?
12. In chapter five, Gatsby and Daisy are reunited in Nick’s cottage. Discuss how each character reacts on this occasion. How does Gatsby reveal his insecurities? How does the author use the weather as a metaphor for their emotions? Gatsby believes that Daisy has only truly loved him, yet he goes to extremes to impress her. Why do you think that is? What do you think Daisy means in Gatsby’s room when she says, “‘They’re such beautiful shirts. . . . It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.’” Gatsby shows Daisy news clippings he has collected about her that. In what other ways has Gatsby’s love or infatuation for Daisy become an obsession?
13. In chapter six, Nick wonders why the “inventions” surrounding Gatsby’s identity “were a source of satisfaction” to James Gatz. The reader learns that then seventeen-year-old James Gatz concocted “The most grotesque and fantastic conceits [that] haunted him in his bed at night.” Discuss the following line in relation to Gatz’s early machinations for a different life: “For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.” How does the phrase “unreality of reality” relate to aspects of twenty-first-century life in America?
14. In chapter six, how does Tom’s and Daisy’s presence at the party illuminate differences between the old-moneyed families, represented by the Buchanans, and the newly moneyed, represented by Gatsby and certain partygoers, including movie producers, celebrities, and bootleggers. How does Tom reveal his disdain for Gatsby, and by association his condescension for people he deems below him? Why does Gatsby insist on introducing Tom as “the polo player,” and why does Tom say, “‘I’d a little rather not be the polo player”? At the end of the evening, Nick surmises that the party “offended” Daisy, noting, “She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented ‘place’ that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village—appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.” Discuss the meaning of this complex sentence, and rephrase it using simpler terms.
15. Hopes and dreams figure prominently in The Great Gatsby. Toward chapter six’s conclusion, Gatsby feels bereft after Daisy leaves the party. Although he convinces himself that he can re-create the past and marry Daisy, the illusion begins to crumble. How does the “desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers” foreshadow the shattering of Gatsby’s dreams?
16. The story’s tone abruptly shifts at the start of chapter seven. Gatsby has fired his servants, and the parties are no more. Discuss the simile “So the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes.” Why are the parties and staff no longer necessary to Gatsby? Discuss how Tom confronts Gatsby in the Plaza suite, as well as Daisy’s ultimate betrayal by choosing Tom over Gatsby. Why does Daisy’s admission of her love for Tom “bite physically” into Gatsby?
16. What does Nick mean in writing that Jordan, “Unlike Daisy, was too wise to ever carry
well-forgotten dreams from age to age”? Ultimately, why do you think Daisy chose Tom over Gatsby? Given the corruption of Gatsby’s life, why is his dream “incorruptible”? What are Gatsby’s dreams? Discuss how Gatsby’s need to fulfill these dreams destroyed him in the end.
17. When Mr. Wilson, distraught with grief, stares out at the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, he says, “‘God sees everything.’” What message can you glean from this simple statement? What comment do you think the author is trying to make by equating God with an advertisement?
18. As Nick says goodbye to Gatsby during what will be the last time he sees him alive, he says, “‘They’re a rotten crowd . . . you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’” Do you agree or disagree with Nick? Do you think Nick really believes this? Explain your answers.
19. Discuss the final three paragraphs of the book. How is this conclusion a statement on the dangers and delusions of holding on to the past? Explain your answer.
1. A Sense of Place
The various settings in The Great Gatsby provide Fitzgerald with opportunities to describe each place in detail and also to reveal the class contrasts so foundational to the narrative. Read the following analyses of the various settings in the story: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z48cqp3/revision/1.
Then place students in small groups; assign each one a setting. Create a class mural that depicts key imagery from each setting; if available to you, consider working with the art department to help with design and supplies. For example, the East Egg section of the mural might contain the Buchanan interior that Nick first visits in chapter one, the green light, or the expansive rose garden. The valley of ashes might include the train line, Wilson’s garage, and the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg billboard. Encourage students to layer words and phrases into their sections of the mural in addition to significant images. Allow time for each group to present their section.
2. Molar Cufflinks and the Yolks of Their Eyes
Racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes appear in The Great Gatsby. From chapter one in which Tom expounds on “The Rise of the Colored Empires” to Fitzgerald’s bestial description of Meyer Wolfsheim (whose surname is inspired by a ferocious predator), to Nick’s observation of three African Americans being chauffeured across the bridge by a white driver (“In which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry”), the author’s use of language and description of African Americans and Jews has long been discussed and questioned. Have students research race relations and anti-Semitic sentiments in 1920s America. How did government policies, postwar attitudes, and cultural shifts inform the public’s views of minorities and promote stereotypical thoughts and attitudes?
3. You Can’t Relive the Past, Old Sport
The themes that run through The Great Gatsby have been analyzed and debated by generations of students, scholars, and lay people alike. Some of the prominent and widely agreed-upon themes in the novel include class division; artifice and delusion; money and greed; loss of youth; the pursuit of the American Dream; dreams and disillusionment; and decadence and the degradation of moral values. Invite students to choose one of these themes to analyze in the text. Then they can write an essay that presents how Fitzgerald wove the theme into the story, using specific examples from the text.
4. Perspective on a Classic
Since its publication in 1925, The Great Gatsby has been the subject of scorn—having been poorly reviewed when first published—dismissal, rebirth, and adulation. Today it is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, American novel of the twentieth century. Have students each read one article or review of The Great Gatsby. Then they can present the piece’s main ideas and perspectives to the class. Have them choose one main point and lead a class discussion, encouraging debate and commentary from classmates. Here are examples of articles that can generate rich conversation:
“The Road to West Egg”
“The world's most misunderstood novel”
“The Master Race? Xenophobia and Racism in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby”
“Why ‘The Great Gatsby’ Is the Great American Novel”
“Fitzgerald and the Jews”
5. Ain’t We Got Fun?
The Great Gatsby is the ultimate novel of the Jazz Age. Place students into small research pods and assign each a cultural aspect of 1920s America. For example, students can research prohibition laws and the effect they had on crime; fashion; music; visual arts; and other sociocultural aspects of American life. Have students create a slide presentation or other artifact to demonstrate their findings.
This guide was created by Colleen Carroll, reading teacher, literacy specialist, curriculum writer, and children’s book author. Learn more about Colleen at www.colleencarroll.us.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.