The Great Gatsby
Great Gatsby, The: Research/Discussion Topics
1. Consider the references to people in literature or history in the chapter. What purpose(s) do they serve?
2. Write a character sketch of Daisy (or Tom or Jordan), focusing on the recurring “tag” used to describe them. Daisy leans forward and talks in a low voice; Tom is restless and hulking; Jordan balances something on her chin almost in an athletic stance. What is Fitzgerald’s purpose in thus describing them?
3. Explain how the first chapter of this novel is critically important in the development of plot, characters, and themes.
1. Consider the possibilities of an agrarian society being the epitome of the American Dream. Find evidences of farming or pastoral scenes and diction in the first two chapters which suggest the belief that such a society fulfills the ideal American Dream.
2. Contrast the green light at the end of Chapter 1 and the gray images in the Valley of Ashes in Chapter 2. What thematic statement do the contrasting images reveal?
3. How can George Wilson be said to symbolize the American Dream? Consider the Horatio Alger (“rags-to-riches”) motif, as well as his undying desire to better his situation.
4. Write about Fitzgerald’s poetic style, focusing especially on the vivid metaphors and images, such as this description from Catherine: “Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle, but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face.” How is Fitzgerald a disciplined writer with great control of his prose?
5. Research descriptions of archetypal heroes, including their mysterious beginnings associated with rumors and mythical power. Consider Gatsby as such a hero, based upon the rumors surrounding him.
1. Trace references to music in the Jazz Age—specific songs, types of instruments, description of the sounds—and draw a conclusion about their purpose(s). Discuss the dominant musical types of the 1920s.
2. Find a list of the seven deadly sins and the seven cardinal virtues. Analyze some or all of the characters in regard to these sins and virtues. Which vice or virtue does each manifest?
3. Study Nick as a symbol of honesty and Jordan as a symbol of dishonesty. Write a character sketch which reveals their likenesses and differences in terms of veracity and credibility.
1. Show how the American Dream associated with America’s past has succumbed to mercenary, almost exclusively materialistic values, derived from get-rich-quick schemes. Find evidence of the historical basis in fact and corresponding evidence in the novel.
2. Elaborate on the epigram: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.” Show how it contributes to the development of plot, character, and theme in the novel. Give justification for its being the single most important line in the novel.
3. Determine where this chapter fits on the pyramid of dramatic structure: antecedent action (or what has taken place before the action of the novel begins), inciting moment (or the catalyst which creates interest in the actions and conflicts which follow), rising action (or the intensifying of interest and suspense), climax (or most intense moment from which there is no turning back for the protagonist), reversal (or falling action), and denouément (or tying up of loose ends). Defend your decision.
4. Select one or more of the names Nick lists on his timetable, and research to discover their stories and to comprehend Fitzgerald’s choice of those names. How were they involved in American history?
5. Research Montenegro and discern its role in World War I. Gauge Gatsby’s account of wartime activity by these historical findings.
1. Consider ways in which Gatsby might be a counterpart to Don Quixote.
2. Consider ways in which Tom Buchanan and George Wilson are alike, in that the wives of both men are capable of being lured away by another man. Therefore, both men, different as they are, are cuckolds (a Middle Ages term, defining men whose wives are unfaithful. In the legendary account, such husbands were said to grow horns, thus becoming monsters).
3. The reunion of Daisy and Gatsby, a rather sordid relationship, signals simultaneously the beginning and the end of Gatsby’s dream and of his success. Justify this statement.
1. Study the various parties and guests at the parties in order to construct a thesis and arguments that typify America and Americans at play in the 1920s. What do the parties reveal about these guests?
2. Consider all the meanings of Daisy’s admiration for the movie director leaning over his wife. Does she see herself in that image? Is Fitzgerald simply magnifying film, a new medium in the 1920s?
3. Gatsby grew into adolescence after being introduced to a tawdry lifestyle on Dan Cody’s yacht. Show how the boy on the yacht was ironically more worldly and realistic than the unrealistic adult gazing longingly at the green light.
4. In what ways can Nick be said to be the real hero of the story? Prove your answer.
5. Select a line or a passage about time and show its thematic significance.
1. Compare Trimalchio, the hero or protagonist of The Satyricon, to Gatsby.
2. Trace the recurring image of eyes, and ascertain the purposes of those images. Consider blindness on any level as well as sight.
3. Compare the two passages below from T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland with remarkably similar ones from The Great Gatsby. Better still, find a copy of the poem and discover other passages which correspond. What do the similarities suggest?
“I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones . . . ”
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
With my hair down, so, What shall we do tomorrow?”
and from Gatsby, Chapter 2:
“It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms—but apparently there were no such intentions in her head.”
and from Chapter 7:
“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?” cried Daisy, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”
4. Explain the significance of the comments: “They weren’t happy . . . and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together.”
1. Some of the characters in the novel symbolize a production ethic; others symbolize a consumption ethic. Classify the characters accordingly, and draw a conclusion about the American Dream, as you understand it, from Fitzgerald.
2. Eyes and sight recur frequently in the novel. What is Fitzgerald’s statement about the ability to distinguish between illusion and reality?
3. How is this story an ironic inversion of a knightly quest for the grail?
1. Why does Nick compare the Dutch sailors to Gatsby? How does the comparison help to state Fitzgerald’s conclusion?
2. How is the story an ironic twist of the American Dream? Consider Daisy and Gatsby, Daisy and Tom, Myrtle and George Wilson, Myrtle and Tom, Nick and Jordan.
3. Nick speaks of the “corruption” of Gatsby’s guests and Gatsby’s “incorruptible dream.” How do these phrases begin to pull all the threads of the story together?
4. How does Fitzgerald make statements about pseudo-intellectualism?
5. Fitzgerald demonstrates the power of proper names. Prove this statement.
6. Compare the beginning and the ending of the novel. Has Gatsby changed? Has Nick changed? Explain and justify your responses.