The Great Gatsby Essay
As you write your essay, make sure to:
1. Format your essay according to Modern Language Association guidelines. The essay must be typed in either Cambria or Times New Roman, size 12, double-spaced, and at least THREE pages in length.
2. Include DETAILS! DETAILS! DETAILS! Don’t be vague.
Essay Deadline: TO BE DETERMINED
1. Explain how the novel does or does not demonstrate the death of the American Dream. Is the main theme of Gatsby indeed “the withering American Dream”? What does the novel offer about American identity? (Reference the characteristics of the American Dream within the body of your paper.)
2. Explain how the novel demonstrates the characteristics of modernism.
3. Discuss whether or not Gatsby is a romantic hero in the modern era.
4. Discuss how the novel exemplifies the dehumanizing/corrupting nature of wealth (consider examining characters, plot, symbols, etc.). Consider doing a Marxist interpretation. Or, more generally, explain the theme of the corruption of people and society through an examination of characters in the novel who are corrupt.
5. Describe Fitzgerald’s satirical portrait of modern society using Gatsby’s parties as support.
6. Compare and contrast the homes of characters (consider Nick, Gatsby, Tom, and George/Myrtle Wilson). How does each home to (is a symbol for) its owner/renter (how does each home reflect the personality of its renter/owner)? Consider comparing and contrasting the characters, also focusing on their attitudes/ beliefs/values.
7. Argue who is/are the most admirable and/or despicable character(s) in the novel and why.
8. Compare and contrast the major female characters in the novel: Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle. How does each act towards men? What are their motivations/goals/interests/values? How are they treated by men (including the narrator/author)?
9. Show how Fitzgerald uses clothing (and the changing of costumes) to tell the reader more about the characters and/or express theme(s). Consider discussing colors, fabrics, etc.
10. Do a close reading of a passage of your choosing, explaining the passage in light of the entire novel. *Note: the passage must be approved by me first!
Example: In reference to Tom and Daisy, Nick remarks, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy; they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (180-181). Explain this passage in light of the entire novel.
11. Discuss Fitzgerald’s use of symbolism (this is a large topic that must be significantly narrowed – such as focusing on one symbol and analyzing it in detail – with a specific thesis). How does it function in the novel (consider discussing how it relates to theme, communicates information about characters, develops the plot, etc.)? Possible symbols to discuss include: colors, eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, clothing, cars, the green light, biblical allusions (God, Jesus, grail), characters’ houses, weather, water, music, celestial bodies (moon, stars, planets), nature’s bounty (flowers, shrubs, trees, fruit), etc.
12. Trace the development of the narrator, Nick Carraway – how does he change, and how are these changes significant (how do they relate to the themes of the novel)?
13. Discuss how an aspect of 1920s society appears to change throughout the novel.
14. Is what Gatsby feels for Daisy love, obsession, affection, or accumulation/objectification? What is Fitzgerald’s message here? Consider discussing whether or not Gatsby can really love, given his characteristics.
15. Who is the real person: Jay Gatsby or Jimmy Gatz? Does he become “the Platonic conception of himself”? What does that mean? Is it a peculiarly American phenomenon?
16. Discuss how The Great Gatsby is the quintessential American novel. What does it have to offer about the American identity and the American Dream?
17. Morally ambiguous characters—characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good—are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a character from the novel who is morally ambiguous and write an essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his/her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole.
18. Discuss the novel’s theme that the American Dream is corrupted by the desire for wealth. What does the novel and its theme offer about the American identity?
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