F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby has become a staple in the English classroom. Many people consider it the “Great American Novel.” Published in 1925, Gatsby is a study of American society through the lens of Fitzgerald’s experiences and observations. At the center of this exploration is the concept of the American Dream. Students can consider what the American Dream means to them as the narrator, Nick Carraway, takes them to Long Island in the summer of 1922 to witness Jay Gatsby’s pursuit of his own American Dream.

The Great Gatsby is a product of its time, and it’s important that students understand the political, economic, and social conditions of American society in the period between the end of World War I and the Great Depression. A pre-reading lesson on the decade known as the Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age, will give students a solid foundation on which to study the novel and contextualize the era in relation to the characters and the motivations behind their actions.

Fitzgerald also drew inspiration from his own life; the decadent lifestyle of the upper class in Gatsby parallels his in many ways. Before teaching the novel, consider sharing some background information on Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, with your students so they can make connections to the story as they read.

Several themes are revealed as the story develops—most prominently the American Dream and whether it’s attainable. Invite your students to discuss how Fitzgerald’s depictions of Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and Daisy and Tom Buchanan characterize America’s ideals of social and class mobility. Other ways to approach aspects related to this theme are to have students write alternate endings and describe how those changes would affect the story. Students can identify how racism and classism is depicted through character descriptions, and they can explain what barriers to the American Dream exist for some of the characters.

Fitzgerald is known for his evocative writing style, and his carefully crafted prose is one of the reasons The Great Gatsby is so enjoyable to read. The novel is rich with literary devices and techniques that can be examined and discussed in depth. Students can explore how Fitzgerald uses symbolism, characterization, imagery, allusion, figurative language, and other elements to develop the themes and ideas he wants to convey. Activities such as using passages with vivid imagery to create poems, plotting the story’s settings on a map, researching allusions, identifying literary devices and explaining their meanings, and creating social media profiles for the characters are just a few of the ways to study the novel. In addition, you can ask students to determine how Fitzgerald’s use of symbolism, especially the green light at the end of the dock, conveys the underlying theme of the American Dream woven through the novel.

Without further ado, here’s your “green light” to read more about The Great Gatsby!

Summary of The Great Gatsby

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1925
  • Length: 216 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1070
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-12

Nick Carraway is a young man from the Midwest who has moved to the wealthy community of West Egg on Long Island, New York. Nick’s next-door neighbor is an enigmatic millionaire named Jay Gatsby, who throws extravagant weekend parties attended by the elite members of society. Nick’s socialite cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, live across the Sound in East Egg, a community of old-money millionaires.

Over the course of the summer of 1922, Nick learns more about Gatsby and his connection to Daisy. He gets drawn into the drama of their reunion and witnesses the consequences of Gatsby’s attempts to recapture the past and achieve his American Dream. As the events unfold, Nick is forced to critically reevaluate the lifestyle of the wealthy and the decadence of the Jazz Age.

Content Warning: The Great Gatsby addresses the subjects of adultery and organized crime, and contains incidents of violence, alcohol abuse, and racism.

What Your Students Will Love About The Great Gatsby

  • Fitzgerald’s poetic writing style
  • The setting of New York during the Jazz Age

Potential Student Struggles With The Great Gatsby

  • Dated language and challenging vocabulary
  • Shallow, immoral, and unsympathetic characters

Learning Objectives for The Great Gatsby

  • Analyze Fitzgerald’s representation of the American Dream through Jay Gatsby, the Buchanans, and the Wilsons.
  • Determine whether Nick is a reliable or unreliable narrator and defend the position.
  • Consider how the story would change if it were told by a different character or through third-person omniscient narration.
  • Identify and discuss the symbolism in the novel including the green light, East and West Egg, the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, the valley of ashes, New York City, and the colors green, gold, yellow, white, blue, and gray.
  • Examine themes and motifs relating to the American Dream, illusion vs. reality, the stratification of the upper classes, the lack of integrity of the upper class, and the past.
  • Conduct character studies of and comparisons between the main characters: Gatsby, Nick, Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Myrtle, and George.
  • Identify the conflicts in the novel and the characters involved in those conflicts: character vs. self, character vs. character, character vs. society.
  • Study the historical context of the novel and understand how it serves as the foundation on which the story is built.
  • Note how elements of Fitzgerald’s life are reflected in and lend authenticity to the novel.
  • Discuss whether The Great Gatsby can be considered the “Great American Novel.”
  • Hold a class discussion on whether the novel’s themes are still relevant today, and in what ways is today’s society similar to and different from the Roaring Twenties.

Literary Elements in The Great Gatsby

  • Allusion
  • Characterization
  • Conflict
  • First-person Narration
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Sarcasm
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Unreliable Narrator
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Great Gatsby

The American Dream — Gatsby’s meteoric rise to 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.

Related Works:

Class and Wealth — Fitzgerald’s novel examines the shallowness of the upper class as they become increasingly consumed by their decadent lifestyle. It also shows the difficulty of achieving upward social mobility, even among the wealthy.

Related Works:

The Past — Gatsby is determined to relive his past with Daisy, which hazards a warning from Nick Carraway, who tells him that doing so is impossible.

Related Works:

Other Resources for The Great Gatsby

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 Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Great Gatsby Levels of Understanding Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Great Gatsby Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set