The Great Gatsby is my favorite book. If you don't like it, I'll duct tape you to a chair and convince you that teaching The Great Gatsby is a great idea. Then I'll go to prison where I'll lift weights and read the book all day long!
Who am I to question the literary merit of a novel that T.S. Eliot calls "the first step" American fiction has taken since Henry James. F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of the American Dream gone badlyThe American Dream: According to Fitzgerald, is the American Dream Dead? Is the American Dream dead today?
- Prohibition: What were the effects of prohibition? Would it work today?
- Profligate living: How did profligate living lead to the destruction of so many lives? How does such a lifestyle lead to destruction and woe today?
Modern marriage: How are marriages portrayed in The Great Gatsby? Is marriage dead? What are some issues facing married couples and families today?
- Greed: How does greed lead to Gatsby's downfall?
- Obsession: Is obsession ever a good thing? How does obsession lead to Gatsby's death?
- The importance of social status: What role does social status play in the novel? What role does social status play in high school?
When teaching The Great Gatsby, you may want to focus on the following literary devices:
- Foreshadowing: Gatsby's impending doom is hinted at from the beginning. The narrator writes it as a history and is looking back on events that have already occurred.
Setting: if you want to provide an example of how to use setting to enhance a novel's meaning, teach The Great Gatsby.
- Mood: Fitzgerald establishes the proper mood for each scene: the party scenes feel gay and happy; tension dominates the Buchannan family scenes; and Fitzgerald deftly creates suspense as the novel's tragic ending unfolds.
- Tone: Higher level students may detect an overriding sense of sarcasm and humor to the entire description. I read the book through for three consecutive days. By the third time, I was laughing hysterically and wondering how I had not caught the narrator's nuances before.
- Plot: There is not one wasted word.
- Characterization: The characters are brought forth through their actions, words, and deeds.
- Conflict: individual v. society; individual v. individual; individual v. self
- Byronic Hero: some consider Jay Gatsby a Byronic hero.
- Tragic Hero: others consider him a tragic hero.
- Symbolism: the novel abounds with symbols; some consider it allegorical.
Not all students understand Fitzgerald's writing style and diction. For that reason, teaching The Great Gatsby may require a more hands-on approach for average and below average readers. However, the novel's brevity and clear scene breaks make it a natural read for the classroom. Once you get past chapter 1, students will look forward to coming to class.
Teaching The Great Gatsby fits in perfectly for college bound classes: 1) it's an outstanding literary work; 2) it forms part of the foundation of American Literature; 3) it's taught at just about every university in the country.
For additional help with The Great Gatsby, check out this study guide by Trent Lorcher.