Although F. Scott Fitzgerald did not live long enough to witness its eventual critical acclaim, The Great Gatsby is considered a masterpiece of twentieth century American literature. Hunter S. Thompson, the eccentric, “Gonzo” adventurer and journalist, even retyped all of The Great Gatsby once to get a feel for writing a great novel! With its compressed lyrical style, masterful descriptions, and sharp dramatic focus, Gatsby is a remarkable achievement. The novel, published in 1925, serves as excellent social commentary, capturing a unique period in American history. Occurring between the unimaginable carnage of World War I and the bleakness of the Great Depression, the 1920s, sometimes called the “Roaring Twenties” or, as Fitzgerald coined it, the “Jazz Age,” was both a time of great hope and optimism and a decade of disillusionment and wasteful excess. Fitzgerald, via Nick Carraway’s detached perspective, chronicles this turbulent period and weaves a page-turning story, rich in evocative language and peopled with fascinating and complex characters.
Marking the beginning of what we consider the modern era in American culture, the twenties saw the rise of the automobile culture, a swell in industrialization, the enormous increase of wealth and power in the hands of a relative few, the advent of advertising and materialism, and a growing sense of disillusionment felt by a generation who witnessed the ravishes of a world war. It was also a time of unprecedented societal freedom, at least for those who were young and white and had some cash to spend. The strict morals of the 19th century were tossed out the speakeasy window. The intoxicating rhythms of jazz were in the air, and the illicit taste of grain alcohol was on the tongue. Prohibition was the law of the land, but few followed the rules; speakeasies flourished, opening their doors to a diversity of people who would not normally have socialized together.
While The Great Gatsby is a decidedly specific portrait of American society during the Jazz Age, it’s also a universal tale, as old as the union itself: it’s the rags-to-riches, Horatio-Alger-with-a-twist, story. It centers on America’s complex relationship with class, at once dismissing its importance while staunchly maintaining its existence. Rampant materialism is also a major theme of the book and one of the downsides of this new age, embodied by the purposeless wealthy that Fitzgerald examines in The Great Gatsby, describing them as “careless people,” those who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made . . . .”
In the self-invented Jay Gatsby and his tireless, single-minded pursuit of Daisy Buchanan, her voice “full of money,” The Great Gatsby dramatizes the still alluring pull of the American Dream while warning us of its perils and limitations. It is a cautionary tale at its heart—a story focused on a small group of people in a small village on Long Island that opens up to encompass the social history of not only New York or the East but the whole of America itself, where the desire to reinvent oneself is all but irresistible. Some who yield to this urge are rewarded with power and wealth, while others, as the author is quick to warn, are destroyed by their dreams and the illusions they created.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Identify and discuss the first person narrative point of view of Nick Carraway and its importance to the story.
2. Discuss the significance of the title of the novel, and relate it to a major theme in the book.
3. Describe the key character traits of Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby, and discuss motivations for their actions in the novel.
4. Gain a basic understanding of the setting of the novel and the historical/cultural background of Jazz Age America.
5. Identify key images and symbols from the novel—the valley of ashes, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, Daisy’s voice, etc.—and discuss their significance.
6. Explain the idea of the American Dream and how the novel shows the perils and limitations of this concept.
7. Identify the themes of both artificiality and reinvention in the novel, and cite specific examples from the story.
8. Gain an appreciation for Fitzgerald’s fine, lyrical use of language, masterful description, and skillful development of plot.
9. Explain why the novel is considered a classic, and describe what aspects of this story are timeless.
ESL and Differentiated Instruction
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Chapter Guide
The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Chapter Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
1. We view the events and characters of The Great Gatsby through the eyes of Nick Carraway. What is he like? Can we trust him? How might his character, values, and experiences color the story and the way we see the other characters in the book?
2. Geography, specifically East vs. West, is a recurring theme in this novel; in fact, Nick even says near the end of the book that “this has been a story of the West . . . .” What part does geography play? Give some examples of how geography is used and what you think these places represent. How is this a story of the West?
3. Class is another recurring theme in The Great Gatsby. Give some examples of how class and social order are...
(The entire section is 1092 words.)
abortive: unsuccessful, failed
complacency: self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness
discontented: unhappy, restless, dissatisfied
dissimilarity: unlikeness, difference
epigram: a saying or witticism
extemporizing: improvising, ad-libbing
fractiousness: contentiousness, irritability, unruliness
incredulously: doubtfully, skeptically
plagiaristic: copied, unoriginal
preemptory: seized upon, taken for oneself
revelation: an act of revealing to view or making known
riotous: violent, disorderly, unruly
supercilious: arrogant, condescending
turbulence: commotion, confusion
wistfully: in a manner full of yearning or...
(The entire section is 856 words.)
anaemic: weak, feeble, pale
apathetically: indifferently, lazily
contiguous: adjoining, attached
desolate: bleak, deserted, isolated
ectoplasm: a substance held to produce spirit materialization and telekinesis
hauteur: snobbishness, arrogance
immoderately: extravagantly, wastefully
impenetrable: impassable, dense, solid
inexhaustible: endless, limitless
languid: unhurried, lazy
oculist: an eye doctor
pastoral: rustic, rural
rakish: stylish; casual; confident
shiftlessness: inefficiency, the lack of ambition, laziness
strident: forcefully, noisily
sumptuous: luxurious, extravagant
(The entire section is 861 words.)
apparition: ghost, specter, spirit
ascertain: determine, establish
cataracts: cascades, waterfalls
caterwauling: a shrill howling or wailing sound
contemptuous: disapproving, scornful, condescending
corpulent: fat, fleshy
dissension: disagreement that leads to discord
florid: fancy, ornate, extravagant
gaudy: showy, flashy, garish
homogeneity: similarity in nature
impetuously: impulsively, rashly
innuendo: implication, insinuation
jauntiness: dash, self-confidence, spryness
obstetrical: of or relating to childbirth
provincial: simple, unsophisticated
provocation: aggravation, irritant
(The entire section is 1171 words.)
Armistice: truce, peace agreement (in this case, referring to the truce that ended WWI)
bootlegger: someone who illegally produces and/or sells alcohol
juxtaposition: combination or concurrence that shows contrast
knickerbockers: baggy-kneed trousers
labyrinth: maze, web
punctilious: scrupulous, meticulous
retribution: vengeance, justice
skepticism: doubt, cynicism
somnambulatory: carried out while sleepwalking; going through the motions
succulent: juicy, moist
wan: pale, ashen
1. Gatsby takes Nick on a ride and tells him some things about his family, his...
(The entire section is 562 words.)
colossal: massive, immense
confounding: mystifying, puzzling
counterfeit: fake, imitation, sham
distraught: troubled, distressed
exultation: ecstasy, delight
postern: a secondary door or gate
recurrent: repeated, regular
reproach: scolding, blame, accusation
scrutinized: examined closely
vestige: trace, sign
1. At the beginning of the chapter, what sight does Nick discover upon returning home late the night of his talk with Jordan?
Gatsby’s house is all lit up “like the World’s Fair.” Gatsby himself soon emerges to...
(The entire section is 834 words.)
antecedents: background, past history
contingencies: provisions for future events
debauchee: a person given to excessive indulgence
dilatory: slow, dragging
euphemisms: a mild or vague term used in substitution for a harsher more direct one
incarnation: embodiment, materialization
ineffable: indescribable, overwhelming
ingratiate: curry favor by flattering someone or trying to please
laudable: praiseworthy, admirable
lethargic: sluggish, tired
menagerie: strange or diverse collection
meretricious: attractive but having no intrinsic value or worth
notoriety: reputation, infamy
(The entire section is 804 words.)
boisterously: exuberantly, energetically
caravansary: a large inn built to accommodate caravans in central and western Asia
clamorously: a loud outcry
coupé: a sports car
expostulation: earnest reasoning in an effort to dissuade or correct
incoherent: confused, unintelligible
inviolate: free and safe from harm
libertine: a person who behaves without moral principles
locality: area, neighborhood
luminosity: radiance, shine
medium: a psychic, someone who can talk to the dead
prig: a self-righteously moralistic person
rancor: resentment, bitterness
scalloped: wavy, like the...
(The entire section is 1152 words.)
cahoots: colluding or conspiring together secretly
corrugated: ribbed, wavy
fortuitously: casually, luckily by chance
garrulous: talkative, chatty
holocaust: destruction or slaughter on a massive scale
pneumatic: operated by air or gas under pressure
ravenously: hungrily, greedily
stratum: level, echelon
1. “’Jay Gatsby’ had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice.” This is a wonderfully descriptive sentence....
(The entire section is 679 words.)
adventitious: coming from outside, not native
commensurate: in proportion
defiance: open resistance
incessantly: ceaselessly, continually
pasquinade: a satire or lampoon
squeamishness: easily sickened or shocked
unpunctual: after the appointed time
1. The true story of why Wilson murdered Gatsby never comes out in the press. What becomes the “simplest” story instead?
Wilson was a man “deranged by grief” who acted irrationally and randomly.
2. Nick is almost haunted by Gatsby after his...
(The entire section is 597 words.)
Part I: Multiple Choice
1. Nick and Gatsby live (and much of the story is set) in
A. West Egg, New York.
B. East Egg, New York.
D. an unnamed Midwestern City.
E. New Haven.
2. The Great Gatsby is set in what time period?
A. just after World War II
B. just before the turn of the century
C. just before the Vietnam War
D. just after World War I
E. during the Great Depression
3. How does Nick describe his mood as he leaves Tom and Daisy’s house after the dinner party?...
(The entire section is 4140 words.)