Can you help critique my intro paragraph of my Great Gatsby essay?   A descendent of immigrants himself, current Los Angeles Mayor Villaigarosa, once deliberated about the idea of coming to America. He said, "we come to work, we come for a better life.. [and] to participate in the American dream". According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, this dream, which is dreamt by immigrants arriving to the USA everyday, is "an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and material prosperity". Though with persistence and a touch of luck one can achieve material prosperity, through F. Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby and its critique of society, the reader is dumbfounded to realize that maybe this dream is not as achievable and as grand as they once thought it to be. That despite what they have been told, they will never amount to as much or be considered as one of the social elite and are confined to the class of which they are born. Ultimately though, The Great Gatsby is a novel about the distorted perception of the American Dream by the large majority, who strive endlessly to achieve the unachievable, and how the chosen few who have been born into a world resembling the life of an American "living" the "American Dream" are the only ones who realize the flaws and imperfections of such a dream.    

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a very good start, however, I would want to question your assertion at the end of your paragraph where you talk about how the masses still labour under the delusion of the American Dream and that success and material prosperity could be just around the corner for them. I don't think that this is the messge of the novel at all. Consider the character of George Wilson and the important symbol of the Valley of Ashes. There do seem to be characters who realise how futile their struggle to make it rich is and identify their lives with the Valley of Ashes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Here is part of a hand-out I used to give my students; it may be helpful to you.  I will message the entire hand-out to you.  Good luck with your project!



Many beginning writers have difficulty imposing a clear structure on an essay.  They aren't sure how to begin, what to do next, or how to end.  While there is no single way to write an essay, setting up a clear introduction, body, and conclusion is often a good idea.

What follows, then, is some practical, simple advice for writing a clearly structured essay dealing with a work of literature.  Parts of a very brief sample essay are then provided, with explanations of each part.




Begin by stating some basic information (author, title, genre [e.g., "short story"]) and indicate the identities, relationships, and roles of the characters.

Announce your theme (or thesis). Your theme is the basic idea you are trying to communicate, the fundamental argument you are trying to make. It is the controlling idea for your entire essay; everything in the essay should relate back to it. One crude (but effective) way to generate a theme about a short story, for instance, is to ask yourself: what is the "point" of this story? What is the essential meaning of this story? Does this story illustrate or relate to any important idea? Or you might choose some aspect of the story itself as your theme -- for instance, the use of setting in the story. Remember that your theme will usually be an assertion or an argument and should be stated as such.

Break the theme down into some specific topics. At this stage, ask yourself: how will I develop my theme? how will I support my argument? What kinds of evidence can I mention in order to convince the reader of the basic point I want to make? Clearly indicate these topics to the reader in the opening paragraph, and make sure that you link the topics clearly and logically to your theme.

Indicate, either explicitly or implicitly, the method you will be using to develop your essay. For instance, if you plan to compare or contrast certain elements of a story, don't force your reader to guess this or to discover it haphazardly. Indicate that method clearly in the opening paragraph.

Give some brief plot summary so that even a reader who has not read the story you are writing about will be able to follow your basic argument. Do not get bogged down in plot summary; do not let the plot of the story impose its structure on your essay. Your obligation is to impose a structure of your own, which is why emphasizing your theme, topics, and method in the first paragraph is so important. Remember to stress your theme, so that there will be no question about the point you are trying to make. State the theme clearly at the beginning of the paragraph, emphasize it throughout, and return to it one last time at the end of the paragraph, where you may want to develop its larger implications. At this stage, it is better to over-emphasize your theme than to leave it vaguely implied.



Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

You could, perhaps, omit the first sentence, though I actually quite like the quote you've chosen. I don't think it's necessarily too long, though you may want to shift the focus of the paragraph toward telling how you're going to make this argument, as post #2 says. There are also some areas where you could omit a few words, thus tightening up your prose a bit. The last sentence, in particular, could be reduced to simply saying that the book demonstrates the paradox that people living the dream are the ones most likely to perceive its limitations. In any case, it reads like the beginnings of a very good paper.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is much too long and philosophical for an introductory paragraph. The introduction sets the stage for the rest of your paper - you don't need to go into great depth in this paragraph. You have stated your thesis - the American Dream isn't as easily achieved or wonderful as many people think. If you have developed specific ideas you are going to use to support that thesis, you might briefly summarize them in your introduction, but leave the full development for the body of your paper.

Connecting Gatsby's perceptions and hopes with a contemporary quote is a great way to open your essay. Providing the definition of exactly what is meant by the American Dream establishes the specific goal you are discussing. Omit the discourse that follows and end your introduction by picking back up what you've written at "The Great Gatsby is a novel..." That sentence effectively summarizes the viewpoint you are going to develop with the rest of your paper.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial