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The Great 






The Great 



A great nation 
deserves great art. 

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The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting 
excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, 
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an 
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest 
annual hinder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner 
cities, and military bases. 

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for the nations 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create 
strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute 
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to 
sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support 
professional development. 

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opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based 
in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state 
region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South 
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States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. 

Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg 

Published by 

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Excerpts reprinted with permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 
from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, © 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Copyright renewed 1953 
by Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan. 


David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives 

Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education 

Writer: Sarah Bainter Cunningham for the National Endowment for the Arts, with a preface by Dana Cioia 

Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts 

Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington, DC 

Image Credits 

Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for The Big Read. Page iv: The Great Gatsby book cover, cover painting by 
Francis Cugat, used courtesy of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group; F. Scott 
Fitzgerald, American Stock/Getty Images; Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. Inside back 
cover: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Getty Images. 

July 2008 

Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 

Lesson One: Biography 4 

Lesson Two: Culture and History 5 

Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6 

Lesson Four: Characters 7 

Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8 

Lesson Six: Symbols 9 

Lesson Seven: Character Development 10 

Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11 

Lesson Nine: Themes of the Novel 12 

Lesson Ten: What Makes a Book Great? 13 

Essay Topics 14 

Capstone Projects 15 

Handout One: Prohibition 16 

Handout Two: Gatsby's Guide to Manhood 17 

Handout Three: Harlem in the Jazz Age 18 

Teaching Resources 19 

NCTE Standards 20 


"If personality is an unbroken series of 
successful gestures, then there was 
something gorgeous about him, some 
heightened sensitivity to the promises 
of life, as if he were related to one of 
those intricate machines that register 
earthquakes ten thousand miles away. 
This responsiveness had nothing to do 
with that flabby impressionability which 
is dignified under the name of 'creative 
temperament' — it was an extraordinary 
gift for hope, a romantic readiness such 
as I have never found in any other 
person and which it is not likely I should 
ever find again." 

from The Great Gatsby 





Welcome to The Big Read, a major initiative from the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading 
in American culture. The Big Read hopes to unite communities through 
great literature, as well as inspire students to become life-long readers. 

This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through 
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Each lesson has four 
sections: a thematic focus, discussion activities, writing exercises, and 
homework assignments. In addition, we have provided suggested essay 
topics and capstone projects, as well as handouts with more background 
information about the novel, the historical period, and the author. All 
lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required in the 
fiction genre. 

The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews, 
commentaries, and excerpts from the novel, The Big Read CD presents 
first-hand accounts of why Fitzgerald's novel remains so compelling eight 
decades after its initial publication. Some of America's most celebrated 
writers, scholars, and actors have volunteered their time to make Big Read 
CDs exciting additions to the classroom. 

Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with 
interviews, booklists, time lines, and historical information. We hope 
this guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while 
introducing them to the work of a great American author. 

From the NEA, we wish you an exciting and productive school year. 

£$ju& H$&\t 

Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment for the Arts 




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Day Six 

FOCUS: Symbols 

Activities: Discuss the symbols in the novel. 
Write about the "American Dream." 

Homework: Chapter 6 (pp. 97-111). 


Day Seven 

FOCUS: Character Development 

Activities: Explore how characters change 
within the story. Examine whether the 
landscape reflects point of view. Copy 
Handout Two. Write about the novel as a 
coming-of-age story. 

Homework: Chapter 7 (pp. 113-145). 


Day Eight 

FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds 

Activities: Chart a timeline of the story. 
Develop a plot for the sequel. 

Homework: Chapters 8 and 9 (pp. 147-180). 

Day Nine 

FOCUS: Themes of the Novel 

Activities: Have students propose potential 
themes to examine more closely. Develop an 
interpretation based on one of the themes. 

Homework: Begin essays. Complete outlines 
for next class. 


Day Ten 

FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great? 

Activities: Explore the qualities of a great 
novel and a voice of a generation. Examine 
the qualities that make Fitzgerald's novel 
successful. Peer review paper outlines 
and drafts. 

Homework: Essay due during the next 
class period. 

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Examining an authors life can inform and expand the reader's 
understanding of a novel. Biographical criticism is the practice of analyzing 
a literary work through the lens of an authors experience. In this lesson, 
explore the authors life to understand the novel more fully. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Minnesota childhood and New York adventures inspire 
events in Nicks and Gatsbys lives. As a child, Fitzgerald liked to imagine 
he was from British royalty and had been abandoned on his parents' 
doorstep. A weak student, Fitzgerald was sent to boarding school. His 
parents hoped that this education would improve his prospects. Like the 
characters in the novel, Fitzgerald took a train from his Midwest home in 
St. Paul, Minnesota, to New York City. Many of his short stories explore 
the effects that a physical departure from the Midwest could have on a 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to The Big Read CD, Track One. Students should take notes as they listen. 
Ask students to discuss what they learned about F. Scott Fitzgerald from the CD. 

Copy Reader's Guide essays, "F. Scott Fitzgerald" (pp. 6-7), "Fitzgerald and 
the Jazz Age" (pp. 8-9), and "Fitzgerald and His Other Works" (pp. 10-11). 
Divide the class into groups. Assign one essay to each group. After reading and 
discussing the essays, each group will present what it learned from the essay. Ask 
students to add a creative twist to make their presentations memorable. 

Writing Exercise 

The novel begins with a quote from Thomas Parke D'lnvilliers, a character from 
Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise: "Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; / 
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,/ Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high- 
bouncing lover,/ 1 must have you!" What does this poem mean? Ask students to 
examine the intention behind this epigraph. Based on what they learned from the 
CD, why do they think Fitzgerald chose this quote? 

H Homework 

Read Chapter I (pp. 1-21). Prepare your students to read roughly 20 pages per 
night in order to complete this book in ten lessons. As they read, students should 
consider these questions: Why is Nick telling this story? Why is Nick "confused 
and a little disgusted" at the end of the chapter? 


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Culture and 

( ultural and historical contexts give birth to the dilemmas and themes at 
the center of the novel. Studying these contexts and appreciating intricate 
details or the time and place help readers understand the motivations of 
the characters. 

The Great Gatsby is set in the mid- 1920s, a prosperous time at home and 
abroad. The United States had joined World War I in 1917, three years after 
its eruption. The 1919 Peace of Paris established accord between nations 
that ended the war. Many considered American intervention the best way 
to a decisive and quick Allied victory. 

Prohibition at home led to a growing world of organized crime, as the sale 
of alcohol went underground. Even the 1919 World Series was affected, as 
members of the White Sox (the team favored to win) decided to "throw" 
the series, creating larger profits for those gambling against the Sox. In 
Harlem, the northern migration of African Americans created an artistic 
expansion of literature, music, plays, political tracts, and visual art. And 
around the country, technology produced new opportunities for Americans, 
including radio, motion pictures, automobiles, and electric appliances. 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to The Big Read CD, Track Two. Maureen Corrigan explains that in this 
novel, "you can't get at the truth." Ask students the following questions: From 
what you heard on the CD, what do you think Corrigan means? Is there any 
indication, in the first twenty-one pages, that we will not "get at the truth"? 

Go to NEA's Jazz in the Schools Web site, Enter 
the Web site and click on the "Listen" heading. Here you will find samples of 
legendary jazz recordings. Play King Oliver's "Chimes Blues," which includes Louis 
Armstrong's first recorded solo. Move on to Armstrong's "Sugar Foot Stomp" 
and "West End Blues." How does Armstrong's music change from 1923 to 1928? 
Before you answer, listen to each piece again. How does this music capture the 
spirit of the 1920s? 

Writing Exercise 

Have students read Handouts One and Three. After reading these handouts and 
listening to The Big Read CD and/or Louis Armstrong's music, students should 
write a one-page summary of the arts and culture of the era. In the first twenty- 
one pages of the novel, is Fitzgerald's depiction consistent with what they have 
learned? Why or why not? 

23 Homework 

Have students read Chapter 2 (pp. 23-38). What does Nick learn about Tom at 
the end of Chapter 2? How does Tom's treatment of Mrs. Wilson affect Nick? 

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and Point of 

The narrator tells the story with a specific perspective informed by his or 
her beliefs and experiences. Narrators can be major or minor characters, 
or exist outside the story altogether. The narrator weaves her or his point 
of view, including ignorance and bias, into telling the tale. A first-person 
narrator participates in the events of the novel, using "I." A distanced 
narrator, often not a character, is removed from the action of the story 
and uses the third-person (he, she, and they). The distanced narrator may 
be omniscient, able to read the minds of all the characters, or limited, 
describing only certain characters' thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the 
type of narrator determines the point of view from which the story is told. 

The Great Gatsby is told in the first person by Nick Carraway. The novel 
begins from the point of view of an older Nick, reminiscing on the events 
of one summer. Nicks perspective, entangled in the dramatic action, 
subjectively depicts a series of events. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students to list the things they've learned about Nick Carraway in the first 
two chapters of the novel. How might his background color the way he tells this 
story? How trustworthy is Nick? 

How might the perspective of Chapter I change if F. Scott Fitzgerald had chosen 
to narrate the story in the third person from Daisy's "sophisticated" point of 
view? Have the class brainstorm the outline of this new chapter. 

Writing Exercise 

Based on the previous activity, write a few pages of Daisy's version of the story. 

Chapter 2 begins with the "valley of ashes" and the "eyes of Doctor T.J. 
Eckleburg." What do they reveal about Nick's character and point of view? 
What do they reveal about the landscape? 

EJ Homework 

Read Chapter 3 (pp. 39-59). What do we learn about Gatsby from Nick's 
observations before we meet him? 


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The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist. 
The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often 
overcomes a flaw, such as weakness or ignorance, to achieve a new 
understanding by the works end. A protagonist who acts with great 
honor or courage may be called a hero. An antihero is a protagonist 
lacking these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or 
purposeful, the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. 
The protagonists journey is enriched by encounters with characters 
who hold differing beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that 
contrast with the protagonists and highlight important features of the 
main characters personality. The most important foil, the antagonist, 
opposes the protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success. 

Nick Carraway narrates the story, but it is Jay Gatsby who is the novel's 
protagonist. Gatsby s love affair with Daisy, her marriage to Tom, and 
Gatsby s quest to regain Daisys affection provide the story's narrative arc. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask your students the following questions: What kind of person is Nick 
Carraway? How does he compare to narrators in other novels your students 
have studied? How might Nick's narration color the way readers view the other 
characters? Is he a reliable narrator? 

Divide the class into groups. Assign each group two secondary characters: Daisy, 
Jordan, Tom, Myrtle, Wilson, Mrs. McKee, Catherine, Mr. McKee, or Gatsby's 
party-goers. Ask students to review the first three chapters of the novel. Have 
each group list key attributes of its characters. Prepare a presentation that 
documents moments when these characters bring out reactions from Nick. 
What do these characters teach Nick about himself? What do we learn about 

Writing Exercise 

Have students write two pages on the character they believe to be an antagonist 
to Nick, to Gatsby, or to both men. What qualities does this character have that 
make him or her an opposing force? How might encounters with the antagonist 
change Nick or Gatsby? 

EJ Homework 

Homework: Chapter 4 (pp. 61-80). Ask students to consider Fitzgerald's 
descriptions as they read. Find the three most vivid descriptions in Chapter 4. 
Are they effective? Why or why not? Why does Nick say, "There are only the 
pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired" (p. 79)? 

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W nrers use figurative language such as imagery, similes, and metaphors 
to help the reader \isualize and experience events and emotions in a storv. 
Imagery — a word or phrase that refers to sensorv experience (sight, sound, 
smell, touch, or taste) — helps create a physical experience for the reader and 
adds immediacy to literary language. 

Some figurative language asks us to stretch our imaginations, finding 
the likeness in seemingly unrelated things. Simile is a comparison of two 
things that initially seem quite different but are shown to have significant 
resemblance. Similes employ connective words, usually "like," "as," "than," 
or a verb such as "resembles." A metaphor is a statement that one thing is 
something else that, in a literal sense, it is not. By asserting that a thing is 
something else, a metaphor creates a close association that underscores an 
important similarity between these two thir. _ 

Discussion Activities 

Divide the class into groups. Assign each group a chapter (1-4) and ask them to 
identify figurative language used in that chapter. They should specifically identify 
images, similes, and metaphors. In those chapters, how does the figurative 
language assist in telling the story? Have groups present their findings to the class. 

Writing Exercise 

Have students pick literary terms out of a hat and write a sentence that reflects 
the literary technique. Have each student read aloud the sentence he or she 
wrote. The rest of the class must identify what technique the student was 
attempting to master. 

Have students write a few paragraphs telling a story about an important 
childhood event. In their stories, students should use imagery, simile, and 
metaphor at least twice. Can they see how developing figurative language in a 
story contributes to the artistry of the novel ? 

E Homework 

Read Chapter 5 (pp. 81-96). Students should find examples of one (or two) of 
the literary techniques discussed in class. They should be ready to present them 
to begin the next discussion. 

8 • 3 READ 

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Symbols arc persons, places, or tilings in a narrative that have significance 
beyond a literal understanding. The craft of storytelling depends on 
symbols to present ideas and point toward new meanings. Most frequently, 
a specific object will be used to refer to (or symbolize) a more abstract 
concept. The repeated appearance of an object stiggests a non-literal, or 
figurative, meaning attached to the object. Symbols are often found in 
the books title, at the beginning and end of the story, within a profound 
action, or in the name or personality of a character. The life of a novel is 
perpetuated by generations of readers interpreting and reinterpreting the 
main symbols. By identifying and understanding symbols, readers can 
reveal new interpretations of the novel. 

Discussion Activities 

Discuss the valley of ashes in Chapter 2. Keeping in mind the historical and 
cultural contexts of the novel, what might the valley symbolize? Why might 
Fitzgerald want to underscore an important theme, such as the pursuit of wealth, 
so early in the story? What do we learn about Nick from his description? 

Discuss some of the other potent symbols in the story. How are these 
interpretive keys to the novel's meaning? How might the "two young women... 
buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon" (p. 8) symbolize the women of 
this generation? 

Gatsby looks for Daisy in the green light at the end of her dock. Does anyone in 
the story truly know Daisy? Does the light become a symbol for something else? 

Writing Exercise 

Nick describes that Gatsby had created an illusion of "colossal vitality." Write 
three paragraphs from Nick's point of view considering what Daisy has come to 
represent. Why has Gatsby created such a "colossal" illusion? How does Nick 
feel about the elevation of Daisy to almost epic status? 

E3 Homework 

Read Chapter 6 (pp. 97-1 1 1). At the end of Chapter 5, Nick says, "It was the 
hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating on the air" 
(p. 95). What happens in Chapter 6 to fulfill Nick's prediction? 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 9 

Lesson Seven 



Novels trace the development of characters who encounter a series of 
challenges. Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and vices. 
Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves, 
overcome fears, or reconsider dreams. The protagonist may undergo 
profound change. A close study of character development maps, in each 
character, the evolution of motivation, personality, and belief. The tension 
between a characters strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing 
about what might happen next and the protagonist's eventual success 
or failure. 

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores characters in relation to their 
landscape, their wealth, and their prior relationships. The more we know 
about these characters, the more their lives shift from idyllic islands of 
wealth to colorless portraits floating through a "valley of ashes" with 
"grotesque gardens." In this lesson, examine Fitzgerald's ability to present 
characters in both their ideal and real countenances. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students to consider whether any of the main characters have changed in 
the novel's first six chapters. Examine Tom, Daisy, Nick, Jordan, and Gatsby. 
Are there any moments when these characters have a realization about their 
circumstances or change a firmly held opinion? 

In the beginning of the novel, Daisy says contemptuously "Sophisticated — God, 
I'm sophisticated!" (p. 17). Now that we know more about Daisy, what did she 
mean? Does her life represent the free spirit of the Roaring Twenties? If not, 
why not? 

How does the way Fitzgerald describes the Long Island landscape parallel the 
internal struggles of the main characters? 

Writing Exercise 

Have students read Handout Two and write a brief essay on whether or not this 
is a coming-of-age story. Which characters are growing in maturity and insight if 
this is a coming-of-age story? Students should support their conclusions by with 
quotes from the novel. 

EJ Homework 

Read Chapter 7 (pp. 1 13-145). Come to class with the two most important 
turning points in the plot of the novel. 

I * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


The Plot 

The author crafts a plot structure to create expectations, increase suspense, 
and develop characters. The pacing of events can make a novel either 
predictable or riveting. Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the author to 
defy the constraints of time. Sometimes an author can confound a simple 
plot by telling stories within stories. In a conventional work of fiction, the 
peak of the story's conflict — the climax — is followed by the resolution, or 
denouement, in which the effects of that climactic action are presented. 

The Great Gatsby has a remarkable structure. Chapter 5 provides the 
emotional center of the drama: when Gatsby reunites with Daisy, when 
Nick experiences a grand foreboding, and when Daisy's voice becomes 
a "deathless song." Some chapters exhibit parallels. Chapters 2 and 8 
are physically violent turning points, with grotesque landscapes, dust, 
and ashes. The novel begins with Nick's arrival to Long Island and his 
memories of his father's words. Nick wants "the world to be ... at a sort 
of moral attention forever'' (p. 2). The novel ends with an encounter with 
Gatsby s father and Nick's realization: "I see now that this has been a story 
of the West after all . . . [Pjerhaps we possessed some deficiency in common 
which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (p. 176). 

Discussion Activities 

Have students identify the most important turning points in the novel. Ask them 
to identify the passages from the novel, explaining why these events are the most 
significant. Use this information for the next activity. 

Map a timeline that depicts the dramatic build-up in the novel. This map should 
include the most significant turning points but also examine the lesser events that 
build tension. As students develop their maps, they should define the beginning, 
middle, and end of the plot. 

Writing Exercise 

Outline a sequel to Fitzgerald's novel. How would this plot unfold? How might 
students map the beginning, middle, and end? Have them write the opening 
paragraphs to the sequel. 

Rewrite the novel's ending as if Gatsby and Daisy reunite. Would the novel be as 
powerful? Why or why not? What might make this new plot successful? 

E3 Homework 

Read Chapters 8 and 9 (pp. 147-180). Why does Nick think that Gatsby paid a 
"high price for living too long with a single dream"? 

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Themes of 
the Novel 

Themes are the central, recurring subjects of a novel. As characters grapple 
with circumstances such as racism, class, or unrequited love, profound 
questions will arise in the reader's mind about human life, social pressures, 
and societal expectations. Classic themes include intellectual freedom versus 
censorship, the relationship between ones personal moral code and larger 
political justice, and spiritual faith versus rational considerations. A novel 
often reconsiders these age-old debates by presenting them in new contexts 
or from new points of view. 

Discussion Activities and Writing Exercise 

Discuss as a class several of the major themes of the novel using the topics below 
and those that the students identify. Ask students to write a two-page essay 
on what they consider to be the book's most important theme exploring the 
reasons the topic would have resonated with readers when the book was first 
published. Is the topic still relevant today? If so, why? If not, why not? 


At one party, Nick observes, "People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go 
somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other 
a few feet away" (p. 37). Soon afterward, Tom breaks his lover's nose. Does 
Fitzgerald use parties to highlight his characters' failures to relate to one another? 
Do Gatsby's parties reflect genuine celebration or a kind of mourning? 


Nick is the only person, aside from Gatsby's father, who attends the funeral. 
What kind of friendship do Nick and Gatsby have? What does Nick derive from 
this friendship? Is it true friendship, or does Nick simply pity Gatsby his "romantic 


In Chapter 7, we learn of Gatsby's origins as James Gatz of North Dakota. In the 
novel, Gatsby has become his alter ego, leaving James Gatz behind as he travels 
the world as Dan Cody's steward. Was Gatsby doomed to tragedy as long as 
he disguised his mid-western origins in favor of a more extravagant, fictional 
biography? Is Nick judging Gatsby for these imaginative exploits or admiring this 

The American Dream 

In an era of new technology, new opportunity, and artistic expansion, does 
Fitzgerald's novel comment on American morality and idealism? Is The Great 
Gatsby a satire or critique of American life? If not, why not? 

EJ Homework 

Begin essays, using the essay topics at the end of this guide. Outlines are due at 
the next class. 

I 2 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives in the 
larger context of the human struggle. The writers voice, style, and use of 
language inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating opportunities 
to learn, imagine, and reflect, a great novel is a work of art that affects 
many generations of readers, changes lives, challenges assumptions, and 
breaks new ground. 


What Makes 
a Book Great? 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Put these on 
the board. What elevates a novel to greatness? Then ask them to discuss, within 
groups, other books that include some of the same characteristics. Do any of 
these books remind them of The Great Gatsby! Is this a great novel? 

A great writer can be the voice of a generation. What kind of voice does 
Fitzgerald provide through Nick and Gatsby? What does this voice tell us about 
the concerns and dreams of their generation? 

According to avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, this was the novel of the Lost 
Generation. How might it represent the hopes and dreams of Americans during 
the 1920s? 

If you were the voice of your generation, what would be your most important 
message? Why might you choose to convey this in a novel rather than a speech or 
an essay? What story would you tell to get your point across? 

Writing Exercise 

Have students work on their essays in class. Be available to assist with outlines, 
drafts, and arguments. Have them partner with another student to edit outlines 
and rough drafts. For this editing, provide students with a list of things they should 
look for in a well-written essay. 

23 Homework 

Students should finish writing their essays to hand in during the next class period. 
Celebrate by participating in a Big Read community event or show a film version 
of The Great Gatsby. 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | 3 

The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, 
as do the Discussion Questions in the Readers Guide. Advanced students can come up with their 
own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided 

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or 
thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting 
reasons should be backed by references to the text. 

1. Is Fitzgerald writing a love story that embraces 
American ideals, or a satire that comments 

on American ideals? Have students refer to 
passages and quotes to build a thesis. 

2. In Chapter 7, Nick says, "You can't repeat 
the past." Gatsby replies, "Can't repeat the 

past Why of course you can!" Gatsby then 

describes a moment when he had kissed Daisy. 
Nick describes Gatsby 's memory as "appalling 
sentimentality," after which Nick himself 
remembers a "fragment" and an "elusive 
rhythm." Are these passages about Nick or 
Gatsby? What has Nick forgotten that he is 
trying to retrieve? Finally, does Gatsby misuse 
the past and his memories in order to enliven 
the present? Does this make him part of the 
Lost Generation? 

3. Originally titled On the Road to West Egg, then 
Trimalchio, then Under the Red, White, and Blue 
or Gold-Hatted Gatsby, Fitzgerald had difficulty 
settling on his title. Help F. Scott Fitzgerald 
rename the novel. Provide an argument to 
explain why your new title ideally suits the 

4. Nick says: "I am one of the few honest people 
that I have ever known." When you consider 
his role as narrator, do you believe that he is 
honest? Are his depictions of others honest? If 
he is not honest, why does he believe he is so 

5. Examine the last page of the novel. Fitzgerald 
writes, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the 
orgastic future that year by year recedes before 
us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter — 
tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our 
arms farther. . . . And one fine morning — " 

(p. 180). Why does Fitzgerald leave this 
sentence unfinished? What does Nick think 
will happen one fine morning? Are hopes and 
dreams always centered on a future belief? Is 
this more important than the actual satisfaction 
of one's desires? Why or why not? 


National Endowment for the Arts 

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read 
community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, 
or a bookstore. 

1. Have students create lists of their "general 
resolves" as Gatsby did in his Hopolong Cassidy 
book (see Handout Two). Are the students' 
resolves realistic and attainable? Are they 
consistent with what American culture expects 
of an educated young person? 

2. Have students write about their vision of the 
"American dream." If their American dream 
is fulfilled, what will they be doing when they 
are Nick's age (thirty)? Have students create 
portraits of themselves as adults who have 
realized the American dream. Alternatively, 
have students write monologues from the 
perspective of themselves as thirty-year-old 
adults who have achieved the American dream. 

3. Invite your school's visual arts specialist 
to assist students. Draw a portrait of a 
favorite character in The Great Gatsby. Other 
students can illustrate the inside and outside 
of Gatsby 's house, Nick's house, or Tom's 
house. Still others can create a version of 
the billboard with Dr. Eckleburg's eyes. 
Team with a local bookstore to display 

the visual art. 

Parents' Night: Have students choose a 
dramatic scene from the novel and draft a 
script using F. Scott Fitzgerald's dialogue. 
Memorize the lines. Before each presentation, 
have a narrator explain the context of the 
scene. Then, have students act out the scene. 
After each scene, have a commentator explain 
why the students chose that particular scene. 

Ask students to produce a scene in which they 
put one of the characters of The Great Gatsby 
on trial for murder. Who would go on trial and 
why? Does this require rewriting the ending 
of the novel? The scene can be produced at a 
student assembly; try to include a discussion 
session afterward. 

Explore the historical period of the 1920s 
by creating posters that provide in-depth 
information on what is happening in the 
following artistic communities: music and jazz, 
theatre, visual arts, photography, and dance. 
Display these posters in the school 
or classroom. 

National Endowment for the Arts 




In Fitzgerald's novel, Jay Gatsby is a mythic figure 
in the Long Island landscape. All-night parties 
at his mansion include servants, famous guests, 
live music, and enough alcohol to make each 
event unpredictable. While Gatsby s occupation 
is a mystery, some speculate that he must have 
questionable associations in order to obtain such 
generous amounts of wealth and liquor. 

In January 1920, Congress enacted the 18th 
Amendment to the Constitution in order to 
control the abuse of alcohol and limit political 
benefits that emerged from the liquor business. 
This amendment stated that it was no longer 
legal to sell, manufacture, or transport alcohol 
for the purpose of consumption. While owning 
and drinking alcohol was legal, one could not 
import alcohol from another country, nor could 
one transport alcohol anywhere within the United 
States. Prohibition was intended to increase the 
general health of Americans while decreasing 
alcoholism, corruption, and crime. 

While organized crime existed prior to the 18th 
Amendment, Prohibition enabled Al "Scarface" 
Capone to expand his Chicago crime syndicate 
to include "bootlegging," the illegal trafficking of 
alcohol. In 1925, Capone may have been the most 
powerful mob boss in the nation. Prohibition only 
amplified crime in cities such as Chicago, where 
mob bosses like Capone freely murdered those who 
got in their way. 

The spirit of Prohibition had been building in 
the United States for years. McGuffey Readers, 
the most widely used schoolbook between 1830 
and 1960, advocated temperance. This included 
rhyming poems that decried liquor stores as sources 
of robbery, murder, and harming one's neighbors. 
In 1879, the Department of Scientific Temperance 
Instruction guided every state including the 
District of Columbia to require "anti-alcohol 
education." The leader of this movement, Mary 
Hunt, was later criticized for distorting scientific 
facts to support her platform. Nonetheless, many 
believe that Hunt established the support necessary 
to ratify the 18th Amendment. 

In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution 
repealed the Prohibition Act. Prohibition no 
longer provided a solution to personal indulgence, 
political corruption, or organized crime. Some 
Americans questioned whether Prohibition 
restricted individual liberty by enforcing specific 
moral values. The dire conditions of the Great 
Depression, however, argued in favor of legalizing 
alcohol to collect revenues from liquor sales. 
Not only did legal sales boost the economy and 
undermine the mobs, millions of government 
dollars spent on law enforcement could be 
otherwise invested. 

I 6 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


Gatsby's Guide to Manhood 

Near the end of The Great Gatsby Nick reveals that 
the young, idealistic, and disciplined Jay Gatsby 
wrote some "( reneral Resolves" inside his copy "t 
Clarence Mulfbrd's 1910 novel HopahmgCassidy. 
The second in what would he a series of novels, 
Bill "Hopalong" Cassidy provided an adventurous 
role model to voune boys. In the 1930s, these 
novels would he made into popular films. It is not 
surprising therefore, that the young Gatsby would 
have been fascinated with this heroic cowboy. 

Fitzgerald continues to reference western heroes 
by naming Gatsby s benefactor "Dan Cody," an 
allusion to Daniel Boone and Buffalo Bill Cody. 
In the late eighteenth century, Daniel Boone, an 
American pioneer, created routes for westward 
expansion to what is now Kentucky and Missouri. 
Narratives of these exploits were published in 
magazines, inspiring young people with accounts of 
courage. Buffalo Bill Cody began his career with a 
series of Wild-West experiences, working for Custer, 
shooting buffalo, and acting as a scout for the U.S. 
Army. In 1872, Cody received the Congressional 
Medal of Honor for his service. Later, a penchant 
for showmanship led to "Buffalo Bills Wild West," 
a theatrical version of western adventures. This show 
would run for thirty years. When Cody died in 
1917 his fortune was plundered by mismanagement, 
but his reputation remained intact. 

The young Gatsby created rules for his behavior 
as well as a regimented schedule. This routine 
included exercising, studying electricity, working, 
playing sports, practicing "elocution and poise," 

and concluding each day with a two-hour study of 
inventions. In the 1920s, the practice of creating 
a routine and following certain "resolves" was 
encouraged by the YMCA, the United States Public- 
Health Service, and other organizations intent on 
shaping young people into model citizens. The 
United States Public Health Service released a 
series of posters to assist young boys and girls in 
developing a healthy lifestyle. While these posters 
advocated a daily regimen of exercise, they also 
instructed young people on eating habits, sexual 
practices, and moral behavior. For example, one 
poster provides a sample reading list to properly 
guide the young male mind. Similar posters assisted 
young girls in how to keep a good home, stay fit, 
and build a family. 

The Great Gatsby s cast includes only adult 
characters that would have been raised in an 
environment filled with guidelines for proper 
behavior and cowboy legends. Perhaps Gatsby 
himself never matures, endlessly enchanted by 
his dreams, relentless in his attempts — guided by 
"general resolves" — to become the mythic American 
figure like Daniel Boone, Buffalo Bill, or, in the 
novel, Dan Cody. This may be only one way that 
the novel becomes a satire, critiquing the implausible 
dreams and childish whims embraced by the 
Roaring Twenties generation in America. 

National Endowment for the Arts 



Harlem in the Jazz Age 

While the characters in The Great Gatsby have 
migrated to New York from the Midwest, 
thousands of African Americans are simultaneously 
migrating north. According to the Schomberg 
Center for Research in Black Culture, in the 
decade between 1910 and 1920, New York's black 
population increased by 66 percent, Chicago's by 
148 percent, and Philadelphia's by 500 percent. 
Detroit experienced an amazing growth rate of 61 1 
percent. This influx heightened black intellectual 
output in cities like New York and Chicago. 
While new industry (like Henry Ford's automotive 
factories) supplied jobs to these new arrivals, artists 
within these communities gave voice to the new 
challenges of the African American experience. 
Ralph Ellison captures this journey in his 1952 
novel, Invisible Man. In this story, the main 
character migrates from his boyhood South to 
New York City. An educated young man's dreams 
transform as urban life brings betrayal and racial 

Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, became 
the center for African American artists from 1910 
to 1930. These artists produced an astounding 
array of internationally acclaimed works. Harlem 
Renaissance literary greats included poet Langston 
Hughes, author Zora Neale Hurston, writer 
Richard Wright, and political thinker W.E.B. 
DuBois. At the same time, a host of musicians 
would make an indelible mark on the evolution 
of American music. These artists included Louis 
Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke 

Ellington, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and 
Bessie Smith. Since racial prejudice dominated 
mainstream America, some artists, like actress and 
dancer Josephine Baker, met with more success 
in Europe. International audiences also provided 
artists with an opportunity to experiment more 
freely with their art forms. 

While American society was still segregated, 
artistic collaborations between blacks and whites 
would provide a foundation for improving 
interracial relations. Zora Neale Hurston, a trained 
anthropologist as well as novelist, called whites 
supporting this artistic movement Negrotarian. 
Jazz musicians from New Orleans to New York to 
California overcame racial differences to embrace 
potent musical collaborations. Literary works, plays, 
paintings, and political commentary provided all 
Americans with new, positive, and realistically 
complex images of the African American. As 
a result, there was great debate within African 
American communities as to what would properly 
represent the race. W.E.B. DuBois rejected Bessie 
Smith's music as inappropriate. Richard Wright and 
Alain Locke criticized Hurston's use of language as 
failing the African American by representing her or 
him as uneducated. The gusto and triumph of the 
Harlem Renaissance was fed precisely by tensions 
that forced artists to come to terms with new 
definitions of race made possible in and through a 
variety of art forms. 

I 8 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Web sites 

Go to Animated Atlas to learn what else was happening in 

the Roaring Twenties. 
Go to this Kennedy Center Web site to learn how to 
dance the Charleston, a popular dance in the 1920s. lesson_plan. 


This National Endowment for the Humanities Web site 

includes a lesson for teaching Gatsby. Within the site, 

however, you will find useful links to other resources. 
This Web site has scholarly links that may assist you and 
your students with further research. 

Use H-net as a research tool for further study in 
humanities and social science investigations related to 
the novel. 


Go to the PBS American Masters Web site to hear author 

E.L. Doctorow's lecture on Fitzgerald, a career timeline, 

interviews, and photographs. 

Listen to Fitzgerald read Keats and Shakespeare. 
Numerous teaching links for The Great Gatsby, including 
vocabulary lists. 

National Endowment for the Arts 


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards" 

1 . Students read a wide range of print and 
non-print texts to build an understanding of 
texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of 
the United States and the world; to acquire 
new information; to respond to the needs 
and demands of society and the workplace; 
and for personal fulfillment. Among these 
texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and 
contemporary works. 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from 
many periods in many genres to build an 
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., 
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human 

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies 
to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and 
appreciate texts. They draw on their prior 
experience, their interactions with other 
readers and writers, their knowledge of 
word meaning and of other texts, their 
word identification strategies, and their 
understanding of textual features (e.g., 
sound-letter correspondence, sentence 
structure, context, graphics). 

4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, 
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, 
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a 
variety of audiences and for different purposes. 

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as 
they write and use different writing process 
elements appropriately to communicate with 
different audiences for a variety of purposes. 





Students apply knowledge of language 
structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling 
and punctuation), media techniques, figurative 
language, and genre to create, critique, and 
discuss print and non-print texts. 

Students conduct research on issues and 
interests by generating ideas and questions, 
and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, 
and synthesize data from a variety of sources 
(e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, 
people) to communicate their discoveries in 
ways that suit their purpose and audience. 

Students use a variety of technological and 
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, 
computer networks, video) to gather and 
synthesize information and to create and 
communicate knowledge. 

Students develop an understanding of and 
respect for diversity in language use, patterns, 
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, 
geographic regions, and social roles. 

10. Students whose first language is not English 
make use of their first language to develop 
competency in the English language arts and 
to develop understanding of content across 
the curriculum. 

1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, 
reflective, creative, and critical members of 
a variety of literary communities. 

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual 
language to accomplish their own purposes 
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and 
the exchange of information). 

* This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and 
develop your application of the curriculum. 

20 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

"Show me a hero 
and I will write you 
a tragedy." 


The Big Read is an initiative of the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading 
to the center of American culture. The NEA presents 
The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of 
Museum and Library Services and in cooperation 
with Arts Midwest. 

■.V: ..INSTITUTED' . .. 

•.••I. Museum^Lbrary 


A great nation deserves great art