Nick Carraway observes the wasteful lives of four wealthy acquaintances in the nouveau riche society of West Egg, Long Island. During his time there Carraway befriends his affluent and enigmatic neighbor, Jay Gatsby.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
Mike Kubic’s article “The Roaring Twenties” explores the ups and downs of this exciting era and the events that led to the Great Depression.
Pair “The Roaring Twenties” with The Great Gatsby and have students read this informational text before they begin the novel for background on the era and times that Nick Carraway is describing within the novel. Ask students, as they read, to take into consideration how the prosperous times shape the attitudes of the main characters in the novel. How are we defined by our prosperity? What are the types of things that we can learn from the past, and the Roaring Twenties, that can act as a caution for our present times?
The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” describes the habit of trying to compete with your peers’ social status, wealth, and possessions. This article explores our systems of status and class, and why there exists this pressure of social competition.
Pair The Great Gatsby: Chapter II with “Keeping Up with The Joneses” and ask students to consider the conversation that takes place in the New York apartment. How are the conversations rooted in ideas of social status, wealth, and possessions? Ask students to discuss how social status plays a role in their lives.
In this article, Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., examines people like Frank Abagnale, the con artist, to determine whether or not the act of cheating—and getting away with it—can be a positive motivator.
Pair this informational text with The Great Gatsby: Chapter III to provide theoretical background that students can use for character analysis. Introduce this text after Carraway ruminates on his relationship with Jordan Baker, and his feelings about her deceitful nature. Ask students to consider whether or not Vitelli’s argument helps us understand Baker’s motivations and Carraway’s attitude towards her? What do students make of Carraway’s comments, that dishonesty in women is a thing he never blames deeply?
Frank Abagnale conned people for years in order to gain money and power. Although Abagnale was caught and sentenced to prison, he was released after five years in order to help the FBI identify other cases of fraud.
Use this text to provide insight into the workings of a con artist and introduce it as the students complete The Great Gatsby: Chapter IV, when Gatsby and Carraway take a ride into New York for lunch. Pair these texts and ask students to consider how Carraway wavers in his trust and distrust of Gatsby. How do Gatsby’s stories shape Carraway’s views? How does Gatsby’s mysterious past, and his association with the equally mysterious Mr. Wolfshiem, help shape Carraway’s views?
In this poem, a desperate speaker begs the gods to deliver someone to love.
Introduce this text at the end of The Great Gatsby: Chapter V, to help students generate a discussion on Jay Gatsby’s character and his desires. Have students read Sandburg’s poem and contrast it with Gatsby’s love for Daisy. Now that students understand that Gatsby standing and looking out at the green light across the water is symbolic of his love and desire for Daisy, have students explore the contrast between Gatsby and the speaker in Sandburg’s poem. Both Gatsby and the speaker feel the absence of someone in their lives. Gatsby has wealth and material possessions, but doesn’t have the one person he truly wants. The narrator in Sandburg’s poem calls for everything to be taken from him but the love of another person. Have the students use the poem, and the contrast in circumstances, to help analyze Jay Gatsby’s character.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic, and editor. His best known poem is “Invictus,” published in 1875, which he wrote just following the amputation of his foot due to tuberculosis.
Have students read this poem after they have completed The Great Gatsby: Chapter VI as a way to use different literary genres for a comparative study of theme. Have students consider the narrator’s attitude towards life in Henley’s poem with Gatsby’s rise from being a clam-digger, Dan Cody’s steward, and now a man of substantial wealth. What similarities do the two characters possess? What does each of their attitudes reveal about some of the themes within the two texts?
According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, spending money on experiences rather than materials can indeed bring people joy.
Introduce this text after students have read The Great Gatsby: Chapter VII to help them analyze character. Now that Gatsby’s parties are over, his motivations for holding them are clear. Have students use Singh’s theories to discuss Gatsby’s behavior and his choice to hold lavish parties. How does Gatsby feel about the rich and elite? Ask the students to consider how dependent they are, as readers, on Carraway’s perspective as an outsider when the parties are described.
In Grace Chua’s poem, “(love song, with two goldfish),” the speaker describes a love story between two goldfish in a fish bowl.
Introduce this text after students have completed the book as a useful tool to help students draw themes from the novel through a cross-genre analysis. Have students analyze the poem. Ask them to discuss what meaning and symbolism they can derive from the poem and also apply to the story of Gatsby and his love for Daisy.
“The Lost Generation” describes the political and social climate of a period of American history in which numerous highly celebrated authors and artists from the United States grew disillusioned with and disavowed their home country.
Introduce this text after students have completed reading The Great Gatsby, in order to provide them with a larger social context on F. Scott Fitzgerald and the period he was living in when he wrote the novel. Ask students to use Kubic’s piece as a helpful resource towards analyzing how Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby to critique the excesses of the 1920s.
Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) was an Italian writer, poet, and a Renaissance humanist. In this story from The Decameron, a man loses everything for his love of a beautiful and wealthy woman in an ironic twist of fate.
Have students read this text after they have finished reading The Great Gatsby for a comparative study in love, and one of the themes central to the novel — the universal question as to whether money can buy happiness. Ask students to consider the ways in which both Federigo and Gatsby believe their wealth will help them win the love of a woman. Ask students to discuss how, in different ways, despite their plans, fate and fortune play a part in how both Federigo’s and Gatsby’s stories end.