THE GREAT GATSBY
SUBJECTS — U.S. 1913 – 1929 & New York; Literature; Literary Devices: symbol, imagery, motif, flashback, characterization;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility.
1974 Version: Age: 14+; MPAA Rating: PG; Drama; 144 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
2001 Version: Age: 14+; Not Rated; Drama; 100 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
NOTE TO TEACHERS: This Guide will helpful in supplementing classes in which students read the novel.
All three movie versions of The Great Gatsby fall short of the novel’s splendor.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote some of the most beautiful prose in the English language, and it is on display in his book. While each film is a serviceable adaption of the novel, because of length limitations and in service of a tighter, more conventional rendition of the story, the dialogue and Nick’s narration have been moved between and among scenes. The screenwriters have invented dialogue, inserted scenes and images, and created flashbacks that are not found in the book. These modifications work in both movies but inevitably take them away from the original written work. In addition, the movies cannot include most of Fitzgerald’s beautifully written descriptive passages.
While each film has its strengths and weaknesses, teachers should note that the 1974 version imposes a dated 1970’s ambience which to some extent obscures Fitzgerald’s vision of America in the roaring and decadent 20’s. The 2000 version contains several instances, some discussed below, in which the screenwriter enhances the impact of Fitzgerald’s story by extending the symbols and imagery used in the novel. In addition, the 2000 version at 100 minutes is 44 minutes shorter than the 1974 version.
The 2013 version, directed by Baz Luhrman, eliminates many important parts of the novel, including the love affair between Nick and Jordan,Nick’s adoration of Daisy, and Nick’s talk with Gatsby’s father. The casting for the new version works, except that Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby is miscast. He simply doesn’t have the body type to be Gatsby. While DiCaprio’s excellent acting skills almost make up for this discrepancy, on the whole, the performance just doesn’t work.
James Gatz was a poor boy from the Midwest who fell in love with Daisy, a spoiled girl from a wealthy Louisville family. They met when he was a young officer waiting to be shipped to Europe for the First World War. The young man fell deeply in love with Daisy, and she, in her way, returned his love. “Jay Gatsby,” as he styled himself, soon departed for the fighting fields of France. Daisy didn’t hear from him for long periods of time. Unable to keep the flame alive, she succumbed to the blandishments of Tom Buchanan, a man of immense wealth and little fidelity. Tom and Daisy were married while Gatsby was still overseas.
Gatsby was determined to recapture the love that he and Daisy had shared. After the war he tried to remake himself into a man of sophistication and wealth, all to impress his girl. He attended a course offered to American officers at Oxford University in England and picked up some of the mannerisms of a young British aristocrat. Upon his return from Europe, in order to grow quickly rich, Gatsby turned to bootlegging and bond swindles.
All of the above is background. The action begins when Gatsby rents an opulent mansion on Long Island across the bay from the mansion shared by Daisy and her husband. Daisy is unhappy because Tom is having a not-so-secret affair with the wife of a man who owns a gas station on the road from Long Island to New York City. Gatsby throws famously lavish parties, to which anyone is welcome. He half expects that Daisy will wander in one night and be impressed by his wealth and status. She never does, but then Gatsby learns that Nick, Daisy’s cousin, has rented a small house next door to the Gatsby mansion. Gatsby befriends Nick, who obligingly arranges for Daisy to come for afternoon tea. By prearrangement, Gatsby just happens to drop by. There are a few awkward moments but Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their acquaintance. After a tour of Gatsby’s mansion, Daisy is in love with Gatsby again.
The question lingers: is Daisy really trying to recapture a true love that she and Gatsby had always treasured or is she filling a hole in her life left by her husband’s lack of attention? What we do learn is that Gatsby’s plans to recover his lost love fall apart when Daisy refuses his plea to acknowledge that she never loved her husband, and Tom promises better treatment in the future. Daisy then accidentally runs over the wife of the gas station owner. Tom thinks that Gatsby was driving the car and Daisy does nothing to correct this misimpression. That night, Daisy and Tom plot their escape from the messy situation, deciding to embark the next day on a trip to Europe. The gas station owner, crazed by grief and brandishing a gun, confronts Tom who tells him that Gatsby was the driver of the car that killed his wife. Following Tom’s directions to Gatsby’s mansion, the gas station owner shoots James Gatz dead.
The story is narrated by Nick who comes to understand that Gatsby, despite his crimes and affectations and despite the delusion that he could recapture a love that life had passed by, was worth more than Daisy or Tom or the whole crowd of rich people and partygoers put together.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1975 Academy Awards Best Costume Design and Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation. 1975 BAFTA Awards: Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; and Best Costume Design. 1974 Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture (Karen Black)
Featured Actors: Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby; Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan; Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan; Karen Black as Myrtle Wilson; Scott Wilson as George Wilson; Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway; Lois Chiles as Jordan Baker; Howard Da Silva as Meyer Wolfsheim.
Director: Jack Clayton.
Selected Awards, Cast and Director for the 2000 Version:
Selected Awards: None.
Featured Actors: Mira Sorvino as Daisy Buchanan; Toby Stephens as Jay Gatsby; Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway; Martin Donovan as Tom Buchanan; Francie Swift as Jordan Baker; Heather Goldenhersh as Myrtle Wilson; Matt Malloy as Klipspringer; William Camp as Wilson.
Director: Robert Markowitz.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
A film version of The Great Gatsby, shown after students have read the book, can serve as an integral part of a Gatsby unit or can be used to supplement the lessons based on the book. For readers who need help comprehending the novel, the film can be used in snippets to support comprehension, promote empathic response to the characters, emphasize the literary elements, and explore the theme.
MINIMAL. In the 2000 version, the film’s opening credits scroll over a flash-forward that shows George Wilson shooting Gatsby. If students have not finished the novel and are watching the 2000 version, set the movie in advance of the class to start as Nick’s monologue begins. The 1974 version imposes a dated 1970’s ambiance which to some extent obscures Fitzgerald’s vision.
Show this film only after your child has finished reading the book. Discuss the concept of a person inventing a new persona for him or herself and note that this is similar to the process that each person goes through as they mature from a teenager to an adult, except that it occurs during adulthood and involves a radical departure from what has gone before. If you know anyone who has successfully reinvented themselves to be someone totally different from who they were or from what could be expected given their background, point that out to your child and note some differences and similarities between how that person and Gatsby dealt with the challenges of their lives.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Making The Great Gatsby relevant to today’s students might be easier now than it was twenty years ago. The recent roaring 90’s and careless 2000’s skidded to a halt with the Great Recession that ambushed the U. S. and much of the rest of the world in 2008. Teenagers who might not have known that their families (or families like theirs) were overextended now know it in retrospect. Lifestyles of the rich, celebrated, blinged, and athletically gifted are bandied about in all the new and old media. There are blow-by-blow descriptions of the rise and fall of these public figures in every news cycle. As a result, students are very comfortable with the concept of reinventing the self, and The Great Gatsby affords the opportunity to discuss the limitations of this important phenomenon of American life.
The social and psychological conditions of the main characters are manifested in the parties and social gatherings that are threaded through the novel and the film adaptations. Many of today’s teens have responded to “party calls” that parallel Gatsby’s lavish but impersonal soirees where “People were not invited — they went there.”
The obsessive passion of young love, with its desire to possess the beloved’s present and past, provide access to Gatsby’s emotions, and promote an empathic reaction that can break through the challenges of the text. These touch points of the story resonate with every rising generation.
Cross-curricular benefits will result when reading the book is coordinated with American history classes that cover the early 20th century. That study will anchor the novel’s story into its historical context.
When showing a filmed version in its entirety after the book has been read, teachers can ask students to fill out a chart comparing scenes in the novel with scenes in the movie, rating their relative effectiveness.
For classes having trouble with the text, teachers can chunk the movie and interweave it with sections of the novel.
The Valley of the Ashes and Party at the New York Apartment: — approximately 6.25 minutes — Tom takes Nick to the Valley of the Ashes to “meet my girl”; audience is shown the Dr. Eckleburg sign; Nick meets George Wilson and Myrtle; Nick attends party in N.Y. at Tom and Myrtle’s apartment; Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose; all of scene 2: 8:53 – 15:05.
Nick’s First Gatsby Party: — approximately 3.5 minutes — Invitation to Nick from sleeping butler; Tom explaining to Daisy that he had been with Nick all day; flashback to Gatsby and Daisy first meeting; ends with Daisy staring wistfully across the bay on the dock with the green light; all of Scene 3: 15:06 – 18:35.
Nick’s First Gatsby Party: — approximately 6.25 minutes — Nick attends his first Gatsby party; Nick meets Jordan Baker there; Nick meets Gatsby for the first time; all of Scene 4: 18:34 – 24:48.
Jordan Baker Explains the Background of Daisy and Gatsby — just over 2 minutes — Jordan talking to Nick; flashback to Gatsby and Daisy: starts well into Scene 5: at 28:50 – 30:55.
Tea at which Gatsby and Daisy Meet Each Other Again: — approximately 8.5 minutes — Gatsby and Nick waiting; Gatsby nervous; flashback to Daisy and Gatsby at the club when Daisy relieves a wealthy man of his gold cuff-links and gives them to Gatsby; Gatsby plays with the clock and then drops it; Nick leaves to get tea, and Gatsby and Daisy become re-acquainted; it stops raining; Scene 5: Beginning with Gatsby dressing; 31:50 – to 39:10, end of Chapter 5.
SOME DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BOOK AND THE 2000 MADE FOR TV VERSION
There are a multitude of differences between a novel and even the most faithful rendering to film. To tell the story in a cinematic format, the Gatsby films rearrange dialogue and narration and add scenes not found in the book. In addition, in the 2000 version, the screenwriter invents scenes and adds imagery to enhance the impact of the story. Here are some examples of incidents or dialogue that appear in the 2000 version of the movie but not in the novel.
Invented for the movie is the flashback of Gatsby and Daisy at the club in Louisville where Daisy gives Gatsby the gold cufflinks, which she has convinced a rich club member to “contribute to the war effort.” In fact, the gold cufflinks, an important motif in the film, do not appear anywhere in the novel. When the Jay Gatsby of the novel is courting Daisy in Louisville, he pretends to be from the same wealthy class as Daisy. He intuits, no doubt, that she would have nothing to do with him if she knew he was poor. See the novel, page 149. In the movie, Daisy knows that he is poor and accepts him anyway, something totally out of character for her. This is the most jarring change in the story made by the movie.
Tom, after hitting Myrtle in the apartment says, “I’m sorry, Myrtle, I didn’t mean it.” Myrtle responds: “Yes, you did.” See the book, page 37, for the absence of this dialogue.
Nick to Owl Eyes in the library the night of Nick’s first Gatsby party: “You look like a billboard I saw . . . .” Owl Eyes: “You must mean Dr. Eckleburg . . . .” For the absence of this scene, see the description of Nick’s first Gatsby party, pages 39 – 53. This exchange sets up the appearance of Owl Eyes at Gatsby’s funeral. He is the only one of the partygoers who attends, extending the book’s symbol of the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg as the eyes of God or the eyes of the Universe.
Daisy, when she comes to tea at Nick’s house, refers to the flowers brought by Gatsby as being appropriate for a funeral and asks “Where’s the corpse?” Gatsby enters immediately thereafter. This foreshadows what will happen to Gatsby. The dialogue is not in the novel, see pages 85 & 86.
Nick turns a very contemporary phrase as he finally comes back inside his cottage to join Daisy and Gatsby: “The bad news is the tea is cold. The good news is it’s stopped raining.” This is not in the book, see pages, 89 & 90.
After the accident, Daisy cries out as she finally stops the car, “What have I done?” As Gatsby drops her off at her home, he tells her: “I’ll drop the car off; I’ll come back for you; I’ll never leave you Daisy.” Daisy caresses his face sadly, and says, “I need to think.” Viewers can clearly see that she is essentially saying her farewell to Gatsby. The dialogue is not in the novel, see pages 143 & 144.
Invented for the movie is the flashback in which Daisy and James Gatz meet. She stumbles over his name and mispronounces it as “Gatsby” causing Gatz to rechristen himself with that name right on the spot. In the novel Gatsby took the name years before he met Daisy. See the book, page 98. Interestingly enough, this scene is symbolic of the idea that Gatsby’s new name, synonymous with his new persona, is totally dependent upon Daisy. As such, it extends and improves upon one of the themes of the book.
There are many scenes and incidents that are similar in both the book and the movie, but have been modified by the screenwriter. These include:
Nick’s opening voiceover is taken verbatim from the first two sentences of the book. The rest of the film cuts and stitches pieces of the novel’s narrative and dialogue and frequently supplements them with inventions of the screenwriter. The ending commentary from Nick is taken almost verbatim from the last two paragraphs of the book.
There are many flashbacks in the movie. In the book, flashbacks are treated as reminiscences that reflect the form of a story told by a narrator. Not all of the flashbacks in the movie parallel the reminiscences in the book. The added flashbacks connect the dots, which the modernistic style of the book declines to do.
During the tour of his mansion, Gatsby comments on Dan Cody’s picture saying, “He was my mentor,” rather than the novel’s, “He used to be my best friend years ago.” See the novel, page 91.
In the movie, Nick, Jordan, Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby take a room at the Biltmore rather than New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel, the setting for this scene in the novel. See page 126. (Was this an economic decision by the filmmakers concerned about shooting costs?)
At the party in the New York apartment purchased by Tom to conduct his affair, Myrtle wears a red, rather than a cream colored dress. Teachers who are emphasizing the novel’s color symbolism might note this disparity.
The dialogue between Gatsby and Nick about the tapestry in Gatsby’s mansion is not in the novel.
See questions relating to cinematic adaptations of written works in Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays and Questions Suitable for Any Film That is a Work of Fiction.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Why did Nick say that Gatsby “turned out alright in the end” and was “worth the whole damned bunch put together” even though Nick “disapproved of him from beginning to end”? Do you agree or disagree? Explain your reasons for this conclusion.
Fitzgerald tells us what he thinks at the beginning of the book. Gatsby had “an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness . . . .” Page 2. There are also other ways to say it. Some will assert that Nick admired Gatsby for his willingness to change his entire life for Daisy, the woman he genuinely loved. He was faithful to Daisy and even willing to take responsibility for the hit-and-run automobile accident. Some might disagree with this overall positive evaluation because Gatsby was a bootlegger and a stock swindler focused on material possessions and willing to use people to get what he wanted. All well-supported responses are valid.
Themes and Ideas
The Quick Discussion Question relates to the theme of the story.
1. Is Jay Gatsby a tragic hero? If so, what is his tragic flaw?
There is, of course, no single answer to this question. Here are some interesting points. Certainly, Gatsby is not a classical tragic hero. Gatsby’s equivalent of the noble stature of the classical hero is the fact that he has purchased a large mansion and gives lavish parties. He is a celebrity rather than a nobleman. It could be said that in modern life we have celebrities instead of nobility, which limits the types of tragic heroes that we can have. Certainly, Gatsby has no real stature in society; he is a bootlegger and a stock swindler. He lies and pretends to be what he is not. However, Gatsby has done something heroic. He has reinvented himself, as Nick says, with “an extraordinary gift of hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” Page 2. Unfortunately, this heroic quality is accompanied by several character flaws that eventually lead to Gatsby’s undoing. He refuses to see Daisy as she really is, holding on to an ideal that does not match reality; he gets stuck in the past and doesn’t recognize that the time for his and Daisy’s love is over; his new persona involves living his whole life for another and accumulating wealth to impress others; he has no set of ethics by which he can measure his actions.
Choose one of the following two questions:
2. Should Gatsby have pursued Daisy or simply let it be and gone on with his life? What is Fitzgerald’s position on this question?
Nick tells us, or rather he tells Gatsby, that, “You can’t repeat the past.” Daisy was a married woman with a child. She was not the young girl that Gatsby fell in love with before he went to war. Gatsby also failed to see Daisy for who she really was; his ideal of her did not match reality.
3. If Wilson had missed his aim and Gatsby had survived the attempt on his life, what do you think would have happened among him, Daisy and Tom?
There is no one correct response. One example of a strong response would be that Daisy and Tom had found their match in each other. They were well-suited for each other. Gatsby would never be permitted to get close to Daisy again. If he were able to stay out of prison, he would have two choices. He could hold on to this dream of loving Daisy and become a sad and embittered man. Or, he could give up the dream, recognize that one cannot relive the past, and go on to a new life.
4. On the first page of the novel, Nick describes himself as a disinterested observer and a great listener. Is that a fair characterization of how he acted in the events described in the novel? State your reasons.
Nick, despite his disclaimers, was an active participant in the events of the story. He was a facilitator, by both action and inaction. He served as the host for the meeting in which Gatsby reintroduced himself to Daisy when Gatsby’s clear purpose was to begin an affair and wreck a marriage. While that marriage was stressed by Tom’s infidelities, the remedy was not to provide an affair for Daisy. After all, there was a child involved. Before the afternoon tea, Nick had gone with Tom and Myrtle to the party at the apartment in NYC. Tom insisted that Nick spend the day with him so that he could tell Daisy that he had been with Nick all day. See e.g., page 28. Nick’s inaction was therefore important facilitation of Tom’s affair with Myrtle. Nick didn’t tell Daisy about the woman from the Valley of Ashes nor did he report Daisy to the authorities for the hit-and-run. If he had promptly reported Daisy to the authorities, Gatsby might not have been killed.
5. What are Nick’s feelings toward Daisy at the beginning of the story and at the end?
An argument could be made that Nick was in love, or once had been in love, with Daisy. See page 9, when Daisy is first introduced as “charming” possessing a “low thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” Nick goes on to note that “[T]here was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.” Ibid. Daisy knows of Nick’s feelings, or past feelings, for her and teases him. See, e.g., page 85. Nick notes that she has “bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.” At the end, however, Nick’s relationship with Daisy, whatever it had been, is over. She has disappointed him too many times.
The following two questions should be asked together:
6. When George Wilson came to the Buchanan’s house with a gun and was acting in a threatening manner, what should Tom have done?
Tom had several options. Even if he thought that the best way to get rid of Wilson was to send him to Gatsby’s, he should have warned Gatsby. He didn’t do it because it was an easy way to remove both of them; they were the primary threats to his existence, his marriage, and his reputation. Tom bears much of the responsibility for the deaths of both Gatsby and Wilson.
7. At the end of the story when Tom and Nick meet by chance in front of a jewelry store in New York and Tom admits that he had sent Wilson toward Gatsby, why did Nick shake Tom’s hand? Was this the right thing to do?
Given the answer to the previous question, a strong argument could be made that it was not. But in the context of the story, with Tom and Daisy being careless people, it can be said to make some sense. Tom and Daisy were beyond redemption. Here’s how Fitzgerald describes it at page 179 of the novel:
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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 . . . .
I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. Then he went into the jewelry store . . . .
The following two questions should be asked together:
8. What is Fitzgerald’s view of women as set out in this story? Evaluate the two main female characters, Daisy and Jordan.
Daisy is shallow, careless with the lives of others, inconstant, unable to take responsibility for her own actions (such as carelessly killing Myrtle Wilson) and willing to put up with a deeply flawed marriage. She abandoned her relationship with Gatsby without so much as a call to Gatsby to say goodbye. She just left him hanging. Jordan Baker was also careless, and one could easily see her having a car accident similar to the one that Daisy had. Jordan was also dishonest.
9. What is Fitzgerald’s view of men as set out in this story?
Fitzgerald’s view of men is not much better than his position on women. Look at the three major male characters. Tom Buchanan was a philanderer who used Wilson as a way of killing Gatsby, without compunction. When confronted by Nick much later, all he could talk about with questionable authenticity was how he had suffered when Myrtle died; he didn’t consider how Myrtle had suffered nor was he concerned that his actions in pointing Wilson toward Gatsby’s mansion had led to the deaths of both men. Like Daisy, he was satisfied with a deeply flawed marriage. Nick was a spineless cipher who allowed himself to be used by the other characters, always commenting to himself or to the reader, but never acting to stop the devastation caused the carelessness of Tom and Daisy. He allowed Gatsby to use him to facilitate Gatsby’s reintroduction to Daisy and to their affair. He allowed Tom to use him to facilitate his relationship with Myrtle. Neither Tom nor Gatsby were capable of seeing that their actions were wrongful. Nick, however, knew better but chose to allow himself to be enlisted to assist each of them. Gatsby, the closest thing to a good man in the story, someone who was “worth the whole lot of them put together” was a bootlegger and stock swindler who was a hopeless romantic dreamer. In short, Fitzgerald had a pretty jaundiced view of the human race, or at least those people that he was writing about.
10. Tom’s affairs are with women from what he would consider the “lower classes.” From Tom’s point of view, what could be said of Gatsby, with whom Daisy had an affair?
Tom considers Gatsby to be “new money” and a criminal, which would be just as déclassé as his working-class dalliances.
11. Was Daisy’s motivation in resuming her relationship with Gatsby (1) simply to fill a hole in her life caused by disappointments in her marriage or (2) because Gatsby was the love of her life, as she was the love of his?
This is a debatable point. Support for the first conclusion can be found at pages 76 & 77 of the novel that describes how Daisy, as a young bride, had been madly in love with Tom. In addition, at page 132, Fitzgerald describes how Daisy had “never intended doing anything at all” in terms of leaving Tom. The most important support for this argument is that Daisy eventually went away with Tom and ceased all communication with Gatsby. In support of the second proposition are Daisy’s protestations of love for Gatsby. The first is the stronger position.
See also the questions in the Social-Emotional Learning Section under Romantic Relationships.
12. Symbol: What is the significance of the fact that Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s business associate, is the man who fixed the 1919 World Series?
Baseball is the quintessential American sport and was rocked and almost destroyed by scandal when gamblers bribed players to fix the 1919 World Series. The fact that Gatsby is a partner of such a man is Fitzgerald’s way of telling us that while the old money represented by Tom Buchanen is corrupting, Gatsby’s money is no better.
13. Characterization: What is the screenwriter trying to tell us with this bit of dialogue which is from the 2000 film version? Gatsby: “This carpet; it’s two hundred years old.” Nick: “It looks good as new.” Gatsby: “The older one’s more expensive, old sport.” Nick: “Oh.”
Nick is being ironic when he says, “It looks as good as new.” Gatsby misses this entirely and assumes a falsely superior position by telling the “old sport” that older things are more expensive than new ones. The filmmakers are demonstrating that Gatsby, no matter how wealthy he is or how big his house is or how many valuable things he may acquire, is still just an unsophisticated street tough.
14. Symbol: In the symbolic system of the story, hot is bad and cool is good. Give some examples.
The following are a few examples. The day of the blow-up and confrontation is very hot. See page 118: “‘But it’s so hot,’ insisted Daisy, on the verge of tears, ‘and everything’s so confused. . . .’” Daisy refers to Gatsby as being cool. See page 119. Another reference to heat as confusing, this time made by Nick, is at page 124. The bedrooms upstairs in Daisy’s childhood home in Louisville are referred to as being “more beautiful and cool” than the other rooms in the house. See page 149. Nick refers to Daisy’s life “gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.” See page 150. See also the description of the woman on the train at pages 114 & 115.
16. Symbol: What is the significance of rain in this story?
It is raining when Gatsby fears that the tea with Daisy won’t work, but then, when it does work, the sun comes out. It is raining at Gatsby’s funeral. In the book, the mourners were wet to the skin. See page 174.
17. Foreshadowing: In the 2000 version of the movie, Daisy says, when she comes to Nick’s house for tea and before she knows that Gatsby is present, “Flowers! Are we having a funeral? . . . [Gatsby knocks on the door, but Daisy still hasn’t seen him] . . . That must be the corpse. . . . ” What literary device is being employed by the filmmakers?
This is foreshadowing; Gatsby is the one whose funeral will come; he will be a corpse.
18. Symbol: The green light on the dock of the Buchanan residence has a meaning for Gatsby that is greater than simply a green house on a dock. What happens to it?
the light is a symbol of Gatsby’s hope to recapture his relationship with Daisy. Once Gatsby starts his relationship with Daisy, it becomes unimportant. The narrator of the novel states at page 93 that: “Possibly it had occurred to Gatsby that the colossal significance of [the green light on the Buchanan dock] had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it seemed very near to her. . . . As close as the star to the moon. Now it again was a green light on the dock.”
19. Symbol: As Gatsby takes Daisy for a tour of his mansion, this description occurs: “His bedroom was the simplest room of all — except where the dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold.” Page 91. What does the bedroom symbolize?
Gatsby’s pure and innocent heart. That which is gold and pure represents the inmost nature of his being.
20. Read the following passage from page 120 of the novel. This is an exchange between Nick and Gatsby. Nick starts out, talking about Daisy. “She’s got an indiscreet voice.” It’s full of — I hesitated. / “Her voice is full of money” he said suddenly. / That was it. I’d never understood it before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl . . . .’” See page 120 Does this mean that Gatsby would not have loved Daisy, or would not have loved her so completely had she not been from a rich family?
There is no one correct answer to this question. It is probably true that part of Daisy’s attraction for Gatsby was that she was from a wealthy family. When he kissed her the first time, “Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.” pp. 151 & 150.
21. Motif: The book was first published in 1925 when the mid-West and the West were not as developed as they are today and the differences between East and West were more pronounced. Nick says in the book, “I see now that this had been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unacceptable to Eastern life.” Page 176. Are there other instances of Fitzgerald distinguishing between East and West in the story? How did Fitzgerald see the East?
Other references to East and West in the book include the distinction drawn between East Egg and West Egg and the fact that George Wilson wanted to take Myrtle to the West to get away from their life in the Valley of Ashes. Many argue that Fitzgerald saw the East as a corrupting influence; however, an argument can be framed from the passage quoted above that the corruption was born in the West and came east with the main characters.
22. Motif and Imagery: In The Great Gatsby, the use of colors such as gold, silver, white, blue, green, and gray in the descriptions of images are important. The use of gold is repeated and is a motif. Provide at least three examples of the use of the color gold in the book. Also, give at least one example of how the screenwriter for the 2000 version extended the use of gold into a separate motif with an importance of its own.
For the color gold: Gatsby’s toilet set in the bedroom was pure dull gold, page 91; Daisy is a golden girl, page 120; Jordan’s skin is golden colored, page 79 (there are several references to Jordan’s skin as golden); Gatsby wears a gold-colored tie to his tea with Daisy page 84. In the 2000 version, the golden cufflinks become an important and separate motif. We see them at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the film. They are clearly very important to the characters, as a reminder of the early love between Daisy and Gatsby.
An example of a change of dialogue and description made by the screenwriter for the 2000 version of the film:
23. The novel at page 48 contains the following description: Gatsby’s smile ” . . . was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point, it vanished — and I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over 30, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.” Page 48.
This finds its way in the 2000 version in the following form:
“Gatsby’s smile was one of those rare smiles with the quality of eternal reassurance in it; it faced the whole world and then concentrated on you as you would like to believe in yourself, precisely at that point it vanished and you were looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over 30, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.”
This an example of how the screenwriter tried to update Fitzgerald’s language and make it suitable for film. Were they successful? Which form do you prefer?
There is no correct answer. Any well-supported response will be sufficient.
See Discussion questions 2 & 3 and 11
1. When Tom and Daisy went away at the end of the story, what relationship did they have? Is this a romantic relationship that would sustain a marriage?
There is no one correct response for what Tom and Daisy had together. Here is one possibility: There was obviously some affection, but more of their attraction to each other was that they would protect each other from the consequences of their own vast carelessness about others. Daisy was wounded by her secret crime. Tom knew that he had to take better care of her because she had raised her stature in his eyes by having the effrontery to start a relationship outside the marriage. He would no longer take her for granted as he had in the past. One wonders how long this stasis would last. Did Tom care enough to stop his infidelities? Probably not. If their relationship lasted a long time, they would grow old and at least Daisy would probably be embittered. This was certainly not a romantic relationship that one would hope for.
2. Nick contends that Gatsby was one of the people destroyed by Daisy’s carelessness. Describe how Daisy was careless with Gatsby.
It wasn’t until the confrontation that Daisy realized the full implications of throwing over Tom and living the rest of her life with Gatsby. She should have thought this through before she agreed to restart her relationship with Gatsby. She didn’t intend to hurt Gatsby; she was just careless.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
See Discussion questions 6 – 9.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Adapt the general assignments contained in TWM’s Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
Specific assignments adapted for use with The Great Gatsby follow.
1. “Careless People” essay prompt – The Great Gatsby
Near the close of the novel, narrator Nick Carraway famously sums up the lack of integrity of two of the central characters this way: “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 . . . .” Writers often point the way to meaning through incidents dealing with people other than the main characters. In a five-paragraph essay, discuss how these incidents flesh out Nick’s assessment of Tom and Daisy and their rich crowd.
(1) “The little dog was sitting on the table looking with blind eyes through the smoke, and from time to time groaning faintly.” (The drunken party at Tom and Myrtle’s “hideaway”)
(2) “Wha’s matter? “He inquired calmly. “Did we run outa gas?” . . . “At first I din’ notice we’d stopped.” (The drunken driver leaving Gatsby’s party, completely oblivious to the fact that he’s crashed the car into a ditch.)
(3) Jordan Baker: “I am careful.” Nick: “No you’re not.” Jordan: “Well, other people are.” . . . “They’ll keep out of my way” . . . . “It takes two to make an accident.”
An essay that earns an “A” will consist of five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs (one for each passage), and a summary or concluding paragraph. Transitions will be smooth. Each body paragraph will accurately name the characters involved and discuss the context of the incident, explaining how the actions and words of the characters fit into Nick’s opinion. The concluding paragraph will include a comment on Fitzgerald’s literary tactics in planting the seeds for Nick’s conclusion in the first chapters of the novel.
An essay that earns a “B” will consist of the same five paragraphs. The three body paragraphs will describe the context of the passages (and the characters) and relate them to the narrator’s summary opinion. The concluding paragraph will restate the introduction.
An essay earning a “C” will consist of three paragraphs that relate the narrator’s opinion to the three passages and their characters.
2. Research and Group Presentation
Divide the class into groups. Require each group to pick one of the following topics for research and to create a group presentation to give to the class.
1) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories and other novels;
2) Ernest Hemingway’s writing, focusing on stylistic differences between Hemingway and Fitzgerald;
3) La Vida Loca of F. Scott and Zelda;
4) The Harlem Renaissance;
5) The Jazz Age;
6) Color Symbolism in Gatsby; and
7) Symbols in The Great Gatsby.
Another group may prepare and teach a chapter of the book to the rest of the class.
Each group’s presentation will consist of a visual component, a set of note cards or outline, and the oral presentation. The visual or activity component will be worth 25 points, the group’s written work 35 points, and the oral presentation 40 points. The presentations should be about five to eight minutes long (except for the group that does a chapter of the book, whose presentation should be 30 – 45 minutes). Each group except for those discussing a chapter from the novel must use at least three sources, two of which are from books or scholarly articles. Cite the sources on the outline or index cards in MLA style. The group that does a chapter from the book should include reading aloud, discussion, and a short activity such as a vocabulary crossword puzzle, a comprehension quiz, or the like.
3. Compare Scenes from the Book and the Movie
Pick three scenes in the novel that also appear in the movie. Describe how they are different or similar and which was more effective and why.
4. Final Essay Topics
Pick one of the three essay topics below and write a __ page essay responding to it. Think of an intriguing title for the essay. The essay will be graded using the formal essay rubric.
1) What lesson have you learned from this novel that you can apply to your own life?
Such as ….
- the importance of not getting stuck in the past;
- the importance of being true to yourself; (the limits of reinventing yourself in pursuit of a goal; the difference between true growth and creating an artificial “persona”);
- the consequences of living your whole life for another;
- the downside of money for money’s sake, or wealth accumulated to impress others;
- the value of following a worthy, achievable dream.
Give two examples of characters or situations in the book that drive home this lesson. Describe how you would apply this lesson in your own life. Find and quote one passage in the novel that supports your response.
2) At the beginning of the novel, Nick tells the reader, “Gatsby turned out all right at the end.” Nick continues to state that it was the people who preyed on Gatsby, the foul dust that floated in the wake of Gatsby’s dreams, which Nick found so profoundly disappointing.
Near the conclusion of the book, Nick reports that he shouted out to Gatsby, “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” even though Nick “disapproved of him from beginning to end.” Explain what Nick means by both of these passages. Quote and comment on two other passages in the novel where Fitzgerald characterizes Gatsby as a positive figure, despite his bootlegging and stock manipulations.
3) Choose two literary devices (symbol, motif, characterization, imagery, figurative language [metaphor, simile, personification], or diction) and explain how they point to one of the novel’s two main themes: the corrupting influence of wealth and the futility of trying to recapture the past. You will need to derive a thesis statement from one of these two themes. Remember, a thesis must be universal, arguably, not a command, not a cliché, and contained in one sentence. An example of a thesis statement is: “The power of wealth promotes irresponsibility by insulating people from the consequences of their actions.” Write a conclusion which tells the reader why all of this matters. For the body paragraphs pick any combination of literary devices.
BRIDGES TO READING
Great quotes from the book:
- Jordan Baker said, about Gatsby “. . . [H]e gives large parties and I like large parties. They are so intimate. At small parties there’s never any privacy.” p. 49
- “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
- “He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths — so that he could ‘come over’ some afternoon to a stranger’s garden.” p. 78
- “The officer looked at Daisy . . . in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at some time.” p. 73
- “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” p. 79
- “For a while [Gatsby’s reveries when he thought that Daisy would return his love] provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing” p. 99
- ” . . . [T]he too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing.” p. 107
- Nick to Gatsby about Daisy: “I wouldn’t ask too much of her. . . . You can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby “You can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.” p. 110
- “‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.'” p. 154