F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby has become a staple in the English classroom, often bearing the title of "Great American Novel." Published in 1925, Gatsby explores the dark side of the Jazz Age and the damaging and careless nature of the upper classes.

Much of Fitzgerald's inspiration for the novel came from his own experiences. He and his wife, Zelda, spent several years in Europe with other American expatriates, living a life of near-constant partying and decadence. In many ways, Gatsby reflects on the instability and hollowness of their lifestyle abroad.

The extravagant lifestyles of Fitzgerald's characters stem from the country's economic prosperity in the years preceding the Great Depression and the lucrative bootlegging business that came along with Prohibition. Students reading the novel will likely be acquainted with this period in history, but it is important to contextualize the era in relation to characters in the novel—their motivations and ultimate downfall.

It is also important to discuss why Gatsby is considered the "Great American Novel." What does this title mean? What themes does the work contain that make it "Great" and "American"?

1. Summarize The Great Gatsby

Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest, moves to Long Island to learn about the bond business. He finds that his neighbor, an enigmatic man named Jay Gatsby, throws lavish parties every weekend to which New York's most elite members of society are invited.

Soon after moving to West Egg, Nick begins to learn more and more about Gatsby's past and his connection to Daisy Buchanan. The events that unfold after Gatsby and Daisy are reunited force Nick to critically reevaluate the lifestyle of the rich and the decadence of the Jazz Age of which his he has become a part.

Content Warning: This novel contains murder, adultery, and elements of anti-Semitism.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching The Great Gatsby:

  • Analyze and discuss Fitzgerald's depiction of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby.
  • Identify and discuss the prominent symbols that appear throughout the novel, including the eyes of T. J. Eckleburg, the valley of ashes, and the light at the end of the dock.
  • Elucidate the influence that society has on the characters and the novel's outcome.
  • Determine whether or not Nick Carraway is a reliable narrator, and discuss how the story would change if it were narrated by a different character.
  • Discuss Jay Gatsby's character in relation to the American Dream.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 216 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1070
  • Publication Date: 1925
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10-11

Literary Elements

  • First-person narrator
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Paradox
  • Symbol

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • The American Dream — Gatsby's meteoric rise into exorbitant wealth epitomizes the rags-to-riches American Dream, but his life falls apart in the end, showing the futility of having such a dream in the first place.
  • Class & Wealth — Fitzgerald's novel examines the shallowness of the upper classes as they become increasingly wrapped up in lives of decadence.
  • Relationship to the Past — Gatsby is determined to relive his past with Daisy, which hazards a warning from Nick Carraway who tells him he can't.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of The American Dream

Theme of Class & Wealth

Theme of Relationship to the Past

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The fast-paced Jazz Age setting of the story.
  • Fitzgerald's clear, observational writing style.

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Some of the characters' behavior.
  • The anti-Semitic undertones in sections of the novel.

9. Order The Great Gatsby Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
The Great Gatsby Paperback Student Edition
The Great Gatsby Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Great Gatsby AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Great Gatsby Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Great Gatsby Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Great Gatsby Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible

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