The Great Gatsby is number 2 on the Modern Library’s list of great 20th Century novels. (The book is also included in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the 20th Century at number 46). I have to admit that this book is one of my favorites. First published in 1925 and dedicated “Once Again To Zelda”, the novel is a case study of life in the Jazz Age and an exploration of that oft quote theme – the Amercian Dream.
It’s opening lines are perfect in their economy:
‘In 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 any one,” 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.’
Fitzgerald’s story is insightful and written in a style that has a unique voice. Often included in highschool, college and university reading lists, The Great Gatsby is considered to be one of the great American novels. When evaluating this novel be sure to sneak a cheeky whiskey or two in, and be sure to ‘sneak’ it in, that way it will feel more like Prohibition.
Here are a list of topics to consider:
- If The Great Gatsby could be considered a tale about morality, what do you think the morals promoted by this story would be?
- The story is told from first person point of view, but the story presented is only in part that of the narrator’s. It is predominantly the story of another character. Why do you think Fitzgerald chose Nick Carraway as the narrator of the story rather than Jay Gatsby?
- Consider the character of Daisy. Is she likable? If so, why? Compare how you felt about Daisy at the start of the novel and at the end.
- What is the role of class in this novel? Compare the circumstances between Tom and Myrtle with that of Daisy and Gatsby.
- Two settings are utilized in the novel – Great Neck, Long Island and Manhattan, New York City. Nick decided to live in West Egg when he moved East because he “had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees”. He works in Manhattan and from time to time, he and the other characters in the novel travel to the city for pleasure. What thoughts and images are conjured up when considering these two settings?
- The billboard displaying the ‘eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’ is an interesting symbol first invoked in Chapter 2. Situated in the ‘valley of ashes’ along the road from West Egg to New York, this billboard could perhaps be interpreted as a omnipresence figure who observes the goings on of the characters that shuffle between these two locations.
- In Chapter 9, Nick Carraway recalls his youth in the West and states, “I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all – Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life”. What do you think the ‘deficiency’ is that Nick is referring to?
- Fitzgerald is considered a member of the ‘Lost Generation’, and perhaps Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby are as well. Consider the possible impact of WWI on the characters lives.
- What does the The Great Gatsby say about the state of the American Dream in the 1920s? How is the book relevant today?
- Why do you think The Great Gatsby is considered a great American novel? Do you think it should have been included in the Modern Library’s list?
Below is a list of links that may help you prepare for thoughts on The Great Gatsby: