Teaching The Great Gatsby; The world’s most misunderstood novel?

Lesson plan

Source: The New York Times, The Learning Network  And BBC Culture


Do the tasks here, then read the article by Hephzibah Anderson10th on February 2021. Discuss in class how the article from 2021 brings new light to some of the topics covered below. 

Setting the scene

  1. Play some 1920s music and display photographs of aspects of daily life — from prohibition to fads, fashion and trends like flagpole-sitting. You might also include famous newspaper headlines or news stories from the 1920s, whether it’s the flight of the Spirit of St. Louis, the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti or the crash of the stock market.
  2. Read Gertrude Stein’s notion of “the lost generation,” 

Learn about the “Great Gatsby Curve” and consider the American Dream

  1. Income inequality, intergenerational wealth and, of course, the American dream are at the heart of Fitzgerald’s novel. In fact, he himself famously had a complicated relationship with wealth and the wealthy.
  2. Watch the video below explaining the unequal distribution of wealth in the USA.
  3. Consider Gatsby as an American StoryThis is the American dream: the idea that America is a land of endless possibility, that anyone, even James Gatz, can become someone. After reading “Gatsby,” it is worth further exploring this idea as it relates to students’ lives and thinking about what Fitzgerald is really saying about the dream. What is that green light? Is it an ideal? A myth? Truly available to anyone and everyone if only, as Nick suggests in the closing lines of the novel, we “run faster, [and] stretch out our arms farther”?

Discuss Integrity and the Moral Universe of ‘Gatsby’ Characters

  1. In chapter 3 of the novel, Nick observes of Jordan: “She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.”  Talk about this idea of “not being able to endure being at a disadvantage” today, perhaps as it relates to elite competitive sportsthe American pastime, and cheating in high school. Does being at the top necessarily mean sacrificing one’s integrity? Does material wealth lead to a loss of integrity?

The Great Gatsby is synonymous with parties, glitz and glamour – but this is just one of many misunderstandings about the book that began from its first publication.

Few characters in literature or indeed life embody an era quite so tenaciously as Jay Gatsby does the Jazz Age. Almost a century after he was written into being, F Scott Fitzgerald’s doomed romantic has become shorthand for decadent flappers, champagne fountains and never-ending parties. Cut loose by pop culture from the text into which he was born, his name adorns everything from condominiums to hair wax and a limited-edition cologne (it contains notes of vetiver, pink pepper and Sicilian lime). It’s now possible to lounge on a Gatsby sofa, check in at the Gatsby hotel, even chow down on a Gatsby sandwich – essentially a supersize, souped-up chip butty.

Incongruous though that last item sounds, naming anything after the man formerly known as James Gatz seems more than a touch problematic. After all, flamboyant host is just one part of his complicated identity. He’s also a bootlegger, up to his neck in criminal enterprise, not to mention a delusional stalker whose showmanship comes to seem downright tacky. If he embodies the potential of the American Dream, then he also illustrates its limitations: here is a man, let’s not forget, whose end is destined to be as pointless as it is violent.

Misunderstanding has been a part of The Great Gatsby’s story from the very start. Grumbling to his friend Edmund Wilson shortly after publication in 1925, Fitzgerald declared that “of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about.

Read the whole article here.

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