Write a well-organized paragraph essay showing how a specific scene of The Great Gatsby helps illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A few thoughts as we begin:

  • Every essay should always be well-organized, but I think the fact that your teacher included this instruction suggests that a significant portion of your grade is going to be based on organization. I suggest reviewing the materials your teacher has provided on essay organization; you can easily find some resources online, but you should stick to your teacher's guidelines just in case they differ in significant ways that would affect your grade.
  • "Avoid mere plot summary" tells me that your teacher has been through this process before, and has seen what happens when lazy or procrastinating students do this assignment; they give the teacher what they think the assignment is asking for, rather than what it actually wants. Essays like this require that you've read the book, AND that you've formed a series of opinions about it. It's the opinions and support for them that really matter here, with assistance from the evidence that you draw from the book.

So, there are two essential things we need to focus on; a specific scene, and the meaning of the work as a whole.

In order to maximize the organization of this essay, you should probably start by identifying the meaning of the work as a whole, and then selecting a scene. You could do it the other way around and make it work, but this would be harder to do and more dependent upon the scenes you choose, and without being able to actually see your ideas I would advise against it.

The next step is to decide what the meaning of the work is. Again, there are a huge variety of options here, and I would strongly advise that, if you're just trying to get the assignment done and receive a good grade, don't try to push the boundaries too much. While I personally would love to read an essay that argues a position like "Gatsby was a figment of Nick's imagination and the expression of his unfulfilled desires" - this is probably not what your teacher is expecting, and may be too much for them to approach with an open and appreciative mindset (don't forget that they're grading a whole bunch of other essays too). It might serve you, and your grade, best if you focus on a more "traditional" interpretation, such as "Success can corrupt people and ideas".

Remember that it's not necessary to make the perfect choice - to find THE meaning, because there will always be interpretations. What's important is that you choose a meaning and lay out arguments as to why THAT is the most important one. You can do this most effectively by addressing other possible meanings and explaining why they are less significant or less supported by the text, but don't devote a lot of space to doing this.

Once you've selected a meaning, you have only to choose a scene. Again, don't focus on choosing THE best scene; just choose one, preferably one that gives you a lot of material to work with. You might consider doing a little research here (don't be scared off by that idea). For example, if you decide that the central theme is corruption, ask several people what scene or details about the book come to mind first when they think about corruption.

When you're done, your organizational structure should probably look something like this:


  • Brief introduction of the ideas at play in this essay, for example "there are many ideas at play in The Great Gatsby, but the most important one is ____"
  • A short description of your argument and its most significant implications.
  • Your thesis statement.

Paragraph 1: Background

  • Short discussion of the themes in the book.
  • Short discussion of Fitzgerald's writing ideas and style and his reasons for writing the book.
  • The book's legacy and how it figures into our culture (i.e. you're reading it in high school).
  • Some possible alternative meanings that aren't as important as...
  • The main message of the book.

Paragraph 2: The Scene

  • Introduce the single scene as a good way of summarizing the message
  • Acknowledge that a single scene doesn't present every nuance, but it is powerful evidence because of (whatever particular reason you've chosen).
  • Describe the scene; use quotes
  • Restate your connection to the thesis

Paragraph 3: Connections

  • Make at least three specific connections between elements of the scene and elements of the thesis. Conclude with whatever you feel is the strongest one, and state why it is the strongest evidence.

Paragraph 4: Extensions

  • Use your argument and evidence to explain other scenes (don't get into the full scene description, just use short elements or quotes). Show how your message appears throughout the story.
  • Consider deeper meanings of your scene and the way that further research could give a more nuanced meaning to your argument.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion

  • Acknowledge once again how it can be difficult to come to a conclusion regarding a work of fiction, but reiterate why this is important to us as readers and as a society.
  • Restate your thesis
  • Restate its implications
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[It is not the policy of eNotes to compose essays, but we will gladly assist with ideas.]

Thesis Paragraph

  • A thesis paragraph has an argument in every sentence
  • However, the argument becomes more and more specific until the writer succinctly tells his reader what it is that he will defend. 
  • The entire argument is given
  • There are no digressive sentences.
  • The thesis statement is one that passes the test, "Can I disagree with this?"


Consider Chapter Five of The Great Gatsby as illustrative of the satire of the Jazz Age in which many of the rich confuse monetary values with emotional, moral, and aesthetic ones. Having been purchased as a wife with a $35,000 pearl necklace, Daisy Buchanan is lured by the materialism of the re-invented Jay Gatsby to his mansion that resembles a French Hotel de Ville, where there are imitation Marie Antoinette rooms and a bathroom whose fixtures are gilded. While Daisy is escorted through music rooms and Restoration salons Jay Gatsby re-evaluates everything through her eyes. When he opens his closet and pulls from it his English tailor-made shirts and tosses them upon his bed, Daisy buries her head in them and cries "stormily." Clearly, Gatsby impresses Daisy with his material possessions, but he begins to realize the falsity of his riches as he mentions to Daisy the green light that burns at the end of her dock all night, and somehow there is no longer any significance to that light for him. Even though she is impressed with his mansion, somehow Daisy has fallen short of his dreams as Gatsby realizes Daisy's individual personality is lost in materialism. The charm of Daisy's voice becomes a "deathless song,"empty of value as Gatsby senses the corruptive forces of mixing love with economic values as individuality is lost.

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The Great Gatsby

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