The Great Gatsby is my favorite book. If you don't like it, I'll duct tape you to a chair and convince you that teaching The Great Gatsby is a great idea. Then I'll go to prison where I'll lift weights and read the book all day long!
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Who am I to question the literary merit of a novel that T.S. Eliot calls "the first step" American fiction has taken since Henry James. F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of the American Dream gone badlyThe American Dream: According to Fitzgerald, is the American Dream Dead? Is the American Dream dead today?
Prohibition: What were the effects of prohibition? Would it work today?
Profligate living: How did profligate living lead to the destruction of so many lives? How does such a lifestyle lead to destruction and woe today?
Modern marriage: How are marriages portrayed in The Great Gatsby? Is marriage dead? What are some issues facing married couples and families today?
Greed: How does greed lead to Gatsby's downfall?
Obsession: Is obsession ever a good thing? How does obsession lead to Gatsby's death?
The importance of social status: What role does social status play in the novel? What role does social status play in high school?
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When teaching The Great Gatsby, you may want to focus on the following literary devices:
Foreshadowing: Gatsby's impending doom is hinted at from the beginning. The narrator writes it as a history and is looking back on events that have already occurred.
Setting: if you want to provide an example of how to use setting to enhance a novel's meaning, teach The Great Gatsby.
Mood: Fitzgerald establishes the proper mood for each scene: the party scenes feel gay and happy; tension dominates the Buchannan family scenes; and Fitzgerald deftly creates suspense as the novel's tragic ending unfolds.
Tone: Higher level students may detect an overriding sense of sarcasm and humor to the entire description. I read the book through for three consecutive days. By the third time, I was laughing hysterically and wondering how I had not caught the narrator's nuances before.
Plot: There is not one wasted word.
Characterization: The characters are brought forth through their actions, words, and deeds.
Conflict: individual v. society; individual v. individual; individual v. self
Byronic Hero: some consider Jay Gatsby a Byronic hero.
Tragic Hero: others consider him a tragic hero.
Symbolism: the novel abounds with symbols; some consider it allegorical.
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Not all students understand Fitzgerald's writing style and diction. For that reason, teaching The Great Gatsby may require a more hands-on approach for average and below average readers. However, the novel's brevity and clear scene breaks make it a natural read for the classroom. Once you get past chapter 1, students will look forward to coming to class.
Teaching The Great Gatsby fits in perfectly for college bound classes: 1) it's an outstanding literary work; 2) it forms part of the foundation of American Literature; 3) it's taught at just about every university in the country.