Daisy and Joradan Watching the Sunset
Original artwork by Crystal Campbell
Beach Channel High School Senior
Author Biography: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, and named after his ancestor Francis Scott Key, the author of The Star-Spangled Banner. Fitzgerald was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. Though an intelligent child, he did poorly in school and was sent to a New Jersey boarding school in 1911. Despite being a mediocre student there, he managed to enroll at Princeton in 1913. Academic troubles and apathy plagued him throughout his time at college, and he never graduated, instead enlisting in the army in 1917, as World War I neared its end.
Fitzgerald became a second lieutenant, and was stationed at Camp Sheridan, in Montgomery, Alabama. There he met and fell in love with a wild seventeen-year-old beauty named Zelda Sayre. Zelda finally agreed to marry him, but her overpowering desire for wealth, fun, and leisure led her to delay their wedding until he could prove a success. With the publication of This Side of Paradise in 1920, Fitzgerald became a literary sensation, earning enough money and fame to convince Zelda to marry him.
Many of these events from Fitzgerald’s early life appear in his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. Like Fitzgerald, Nick Carraway is a thoughtful young man from Minnesota, educated at an Ivy League school (in Nick’s case, Yale), who moves to New York after the war. Also similar to Fitzgerald is Jay Gatsby, a sensitive young man who idolizes wealth and luxury and who falls in love with a beautiful young woman while stationed at a military camp in the South.
Having become a celebrity, Fitzgerald fell into a wild, reckless life-style of parties and decadence, while desperately trying to please Zelda by writing to earn money. Similarly, Gatsby amasses a great deal of wealth at a relatively young age, and devotes himself to acquiring possessions and throwing parties that he believes will enable him to win Daisy’s love. As the giddiness of the Roaring Twenties dissolved into the bleakness of the Great Depression, however, Zelda suffered a nervous breakdown and Fitzgerald battled alcoholism, which hampered his writing. He published Tender Is the Night in 1934, and sold short stories to The Saturday Evening Post to support his lavish lifestyle. In 1937, he left for Hollywood to write screenplays, and in 1940, while working on his novel The Love of the Last Tycoon, died of a heart attack at the age of forty-four.
Fitzgerald was the most famous chronicler of 1920s America, an era that he dubbed “the Jazz Age.” Written in 1925, The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest literary documents of this period, in which the American economy soared, bringing unprecedented levels of prosperity to the nation. Prohibition, the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ( 1919), made millionaires out of bootleggers, and an underground culture of revelry sprang up. Sprawling private parties managed to elude police notice, and “speakeasies”—secret clubs that sold liquor—thrived. The chaos and violence of World War I left America in a state of shock, and the generation that fought the war turned to wild and extravagant living to compensate. The staid conservatism and timeworn values of the previous decade were turned on their ear, as money, opulence, and exuberance became the order of the day.
Like Nick in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald found this new lifestyle seductive and exciting, and, like Gatsby, he had always idolized the very rich. Now he found himself in an era in which unrestrained materialism set the tone of society, particularly in the large cities of the East. Even so, like Nick, Fitzgerald saw through the glitter of the Jazz Age to the moral emptiness and hypocrisy beneath, and part of him longed for this absent moral center. In many ways, The Great Gatsby represents Fitzgerald’s attempt to confront his conflicting feelings about the Jazz Age. Like Gatsby, Fitzgerald was driven by his love for a woman who symbolized everything he wanted, even as she led him toward everything he despised.
Chapter 1 Focus Questions
- Notice how many times Fitzgerald uses the words hope and dream. Why does he do this?
- Nick starts the novel by relaying his father's advice, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." List Nick's advantages. Does he reserve judgment in the novel?
- Pay attention to time. What is the day and year during the first scene at Daisy's house?
- Describe Nick. What facts do you know about him, and what do you infer about him? What kind of a narrator do you think he will be?
- What image does the author use to describe Jordan Baker? What does it mean?
- How does Nick react to Jordan?
- What does Tom's behavior reveal about his character?
Chapter 2 Focus Questions
- Describe the "valley of ashes." What does it look like and what does it represent?
- Describe Mr. Wilson and Myrtle. Do they seem to fit into the setting?
- What more have you learned about Nick in this chapter? Is he similar or different than the people he spends his time with?
- Describe the violent act Tom committed against Myrtle. What does this reveal about him?
Chapter 3 Focus Questions
- Pay attention to Nick's judgments. What do they reveal about his character that he does this (especially in relation to his opening comments)?
- Describe Gatsby the first time Nick sees him.
- What rumors have been told about Gatsby? Why does Fitzgerald reveal rumors rather than fact?
- What does Nick think of Gatsby after meeting him?
- How is Gatsby different from his guests?
- Why does Nick choose to share his thoughts and feelings with Jordan?
- Nick thinks he's one of the few honest people he knows, why? Do you think he is honest?
Chapter 4 Focus Questions
- List all of the rumors told about Gatsby.
- Why does Fitzgerald list all of Gatsby's party guests?
- Why does Gatsby tell Nick about his life? Do you believe Gatsby? Does Nick?
- What role does Meyer Wolfsheim play in the novel? Why is there so much focus on his nose and what does this tell you about Fitzgerald's politics?
- What does Jordan's story of Daisy's marriage reveal about Daisy?
- Why did Gatsby want Daisy to see his house?
- Nick says, "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired." What does Nick mean? How does each character in the novel fit into this schema?
Chapter 5 Focus Questions
- Why does Gatsby deliver so many goods and services to Nick's house?
- Describe the effect of rain on the plot.
- Why does Gatsby offer Nick work? How does Nick feel about this?
- Explain the significance of the green light.
- Why does Gatsby get so many phone calls? What does this say about him?
Chapter 6 Focus Questions
- How truthful was Gatsby when he relayed the story of his life to Nick? Why does Fitzgerald tell the story of Jay Gatz now?
- Describe the meeting of Tom and Gatsby. What does this meeting reveal about them?
- Why did Daisy and Tom find Gatsby's party loathsome?
- How did Gatsby measure the success of his party?
- When Nick told Gatsby that, "you can't repeat the past," Gatsby replied, "Why of course you can!" Do you agree with Nick or Gatsby?
Chapter 7 Focus Questions
- Describe Daisy and Gatsby's new relationship.
- Compare George Wilson and Tom. What did each man learn about his wife and how did they each react?
- If Daisy says she's never loved Tom, is there someone whom she thinks she loves?
- Describe the fight between Gatsby and Tom. What do these men think of each other? How are they similar and how are they different?
- What was significant about Nick's 30th birthday?
- What do you think Tom and Daisy were saying to each other in the kitchen? Do you think that Tom knew Daisy was driving the "death car?" Why, why not?
- At this point, how would you end the novel?
Chapter 8 Focus Questions
- How does Fitzgerald achieve a melancholic mood in the beginning of this chapter?
- How are seasons used in constructing this novel?
- Who is Dan Cody and what is his significance in Gatsby's life?
- How does Nick's statement "You're worth the whole bunch put together" show a change in Nick from the beginning of the novel?
- How does T. J. Eckleberg affect Mr. Wilson?
Chapter 9 Focus Questions
- Why did Nick take care of Gatsby's funeral?
- How was Jay Gatz's childhood schedule consistent with the adult Gatsby's behavior?
- Who attended Gatsby's funeral? How and why is this significant?
- What is the purpose of Nick's last meeting with Jordan?
- Why does Nick call Tom and Daisy "careless people?"
Post Reading Questions
- Does this novel have villains and heroes? Why, why not? If yes, who fits into these categories and why?
- Nick is both part of the action and acting as an objective commentator. Does this narration style work? Why, why not?
- How did Fitzgerald use weather to reflect the mood of the story?
- Again, why are we still reading a book written in the 1920's? What gives a book its longevity? And which of its themes are eternal in the American psyche.
For each of the nine chapters you will be expected to write a journal entry. The journal entries will be graded as nine separate quizzes. The following are the requirements for your Gatsby journal:
- Title each entry and include the chapter number.
- Write a five sentence chapter summary.
- For each chapter choose a different character to focus on.
- Name the character.
- Choose a quote that you think best represents the character and explain why you chose that quote.
- Describe his/her best and worst qualities.
- In one paragraph describe the character’s role in the novel.
- For each chapter choose one meaningful quote, and then describe its significance in the novel.
- For each chapter note at least two sightings of one or more of the following symbols: the color green, the color white, silver and gold, the ash heap, the eyes of T.J. Eckleberg, Gatsby's career/Nick's career, Gatsby's library of uncut books/Nick's unread books, Dan Cody, East verse West Egg, rain in chapter five, heat in chapter seven, Wolfsheim's cufflinks, faded timetable (showing names of Gatsby's guests), Gatsby's cars/clothes.
Great Gatsby Journals Grading Rubric
Chapter Titles.………………………………2 points
Chapter Summary…………………………...4 points
Character Quote……………………………..3 points
Character’s Best/Worst Qualities……………3 points
Character’s Role…………………………….3 points
Chapter Quote……………………………….3 points
Symbol Tracking……………………………4 points
Total Points………………………………...22 points
Essay Question—Select one. Write a fully developed essay using specific evidence and details from the text to support your analysis.
1. Throughout the story, Gatsby has difficulty accepting that the past is over and done with. Where do you find evidence of his trying to recapture the past? What does this say about him? Should people live their lives yearning for something in the past? Why or why not?
2. Although Gatsby professed to love Daisy, there is a sense that he was not in love with her as much as he was in love with the idea of her. Where can you find evidence of Gatsby’s devotion to an ideal rather than an actual person?
3. Although Nick Carraway has his reservations about Gatsby, it is clear he thinks of him fondly; after all, he titles the book The Great Gatsby. He leads a questionable existance and comes to a tragic end, yet Nick (and by extension, the readers) feel empathetic toward him. Does Gatsby deserve to be called “Great”? In what ways is he great? In what ways is he not? In the end, which wins out: greatness or mediocrity?