Reading Guide When it comes to classic works of American Literature, few readers have farther to look than

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reading Guide

When it comes to classic works of American Literature, few readers have farther to look than The Great Gatsby by author F. Scott Fitzgerald. It has been named by the “Modern Library Association” as the second greatest novel of all time, and encompasses the important themes of the American Dream and the reinvention of oneself. The work celebrates the promises of life in an American context that uses Fitzgerald’s crisp style to introduce students to the charm and glitter and charm of the 1920s Jazz Age, as well as the hollowness of the period.

The Great Gatsby portrays significant symbolism of the American lifestyle in a world that can change people for both the better and the worse. Just as Jay Gatsby works hard throughout the novel to achieve his goal—his American dream—so too do students in high school struggle to find their own sense of self-identity and attain their own goals. However, it is the notion that the means through which those goals or accomplished is just as important as the justified end. While Gatsby does indeed find his “green light” temporarily in the work, his dream is marred by the superficiality of his desire—the love of the materialistic Daisy Buchanan—as he loses his integrity for wealth.

Overall Goals:

Students will be able to

  • describe the main elements in the biography of author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  • state the decade in which The Great Gatsby takes place, and explain how the “Roaring 1920s” received their name.

  • summarize the values of the 1920s, as well as provide examples of its social corruption, vibrant lifestyle, moral depravity, and materialism from The Great Gatsby text

  • define the notion of the American Dream.

  • apply the notion of the American Dream to Gatsby’s life and connect the Dream to their own lives over the course of the novel and personal study.

  • analyze how the settings, characters, and plot of The Great Gatsby affect the overall novel.

  • distinguish the main themes and messages in The Great Gatsby in a contemporary context.

  • examine, write, and ultimately self-assess the value of a work of literature by applying reader response theory and citing textual evidence in a summative essay.


Nick Carraway -  The novel’s narrator, Nick is a young man from Minnesota who, after being educated at Yale and fighting in World War I, goes to New York City to learn the bond business during the Roaring 1920s, a decade of jazz music, much wealth, and a wild lifestyle. Nick often serves as a confidant for those with troubling secrets. After moving to West Egg, a fictional area of Long Island that is home to the newly rich, Nick quickly befriends his next-door neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is told entirely through Nick’s eyes; his thoughts and perceptions shape and color the story.

Jay Gatsby - The protagonist of the novel, Gatsby is a wealthy young man living in a Gothic mansion in West Egg. He is famous for the lavish parties he throws every Saturday night, but no one knows where he comes from, what he does, or how he made his fortune. Nick views Gatsby as a flawed man, but one whose optimism and power to transform his dreams into reality make him “great” despite his dark past.

Daisy Buchanan -  Nick’s cousin and a beautiful socialite, Daisy lives with Tom across from Gatsby in the fashionable East Egg district of Long Island. She seems like an airhead now, but behaves superficially to mask her pain at her husband’s infidelity.

Tom Buchanan -  Daisy’s immensely wealthy husband. Powerfully built and coming from a socially solid old family, Tom is an arrogant, hypocritical bully. His social attitudes are laced with racism and sexism, and he never even considers trying to live up to the moral standard he demands from those around him.

Jordan Baker -  Daisy’s friend, a woman with whom Nick becomes romantically involved. A competitive golfer, Jordan represents one of the “new women” of the 1920s—cynical, boyish, and self-centered. Jordan is beautiful, but also dishonest: she cheated in order to win her first golf tournament and continually bends the truth.

Myrtle Wilson -  Tom’s lover, whose lifeless husband George owns a run-down garage in the valley of ashes. Myrtle herself has a willful spirit and desperately looks for a way to improve her situation, including having an affair with the cruel Tom.

George Wilson -  Myrtle’s husband, the lifeless but kind owner of a run-down auto shop at the edge of the valley of ashes. George loves Myrtle, and is devastated by her affair with Tom.


  • Corruption of the American Dream

  • Sight and Insight

  • The Meaning of the Past

  • Experience and Innocence

  • Loss of Spirituality/ Decay

  • Coming of Age/ The Initiation of a Young Man


  • The Green Light

  • The Valley of Ashes

  • The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg

  • Automobiles

  • Parties

  • Gatsby’s library

  • Gatsby’s house

  • Colors (white, gold, and green)

  • Wolshiem’s cufflinks


  • Buchanan’s House

  • East Egg

  • West Egg

  • Gatsby’s House

  • Hotel in New York

  • Jordan’s Aunt’s Apartment

  • Long Island Sound

  • Nick’s House

  • Railroad Tracks

  • Tom and Myrtle’s Aparament

  • Valley of Ashes

  • Wilson’s Garage

Reading Guide Questions

Chapter One

  1. How does Nick describe himself at the beginning of the novel?

  2. How does Nick describe Tom Buchanan?

  3. Who is Jordan baker?

  4. What is Gatsby doing when Nick first sees him?

  5. Describe the ambiguity in Nick’s initial description of Gatsby.

  6. How does the tone of Nick’s description of Tom reveal Nick’s feelings about Tom?

  7. How would you describe Daisy’s state of mind during dinner? What does she say and do that helps reveal her inner conflicts?

  8. Nick thinks that, given the state of their marriage, Daisy should leave Tom, but it is clear to him that she has no intention of doing so. What indication is there that Tom and Daisy are closely linked despite their marital difficulties?

  9. What indications are there that the green light will have a powerful emotional significance to Gatsby?

Chapter Two

  1. How does Nick meet Tom’s mistress?

  2. How does Myrtle react to Tom’s arrival?

  3. Describe George Wilson. How does he react to Tom’s arrival?

  4. How does Myrtle behave as the party progresses?

  5. Describe the setting of the Valley of Ashes where George and Myrtle live. What aspects of the setting imply that it is intended to have a symbolic meaning as well as a literal one?

  6. How does Fitzgerald describe Myrtle Wilson? Does her physical appearance reflect her character in any way?

  7. Compare the setting of the party in this chapter with the setting of the party in Chapter One.

  8. Why does Tom attack Myrtle at the end of the party? How does this exemplify Fitzgerald’s description of Tom in Chapter One?

Chapter Three

  1. Describe the two ways in which Nick differs from the other guests at Gatsby’s party.

  2. What does Nick think of Gatsby when he first meets him?

  3. Describe the events and atmosphere of the party.

  4. What does the owl-eyed man in the library find extraordinary about Gatsby’s library?

  5. What does Nick learn about Jordan Baker after he has spent some time with her?

  6. Why does Fitzgerald describe the party (in the passage beginning “By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived”) in the present tense?

  7. How does Nick characterize the guests at Gatsby’s party? What do his characterizations tell us about how Nick feels about most of these people? What sense of life in the Jazz Age do we get from the description of this party?

  8. Describe the ambiguity in Gatsby’s character that strikes Nick.

  9. Describe two incidents involving automobiles in this chapter. What role do automobiles seem to play in the novel so far?

Chapter Four

  1. What does Gatsby tell Nick about himself?

  2. What accomplishments of Meyer Wolfshiem’s does Gatsby describe to Nick? How does Nick react?

  3. According to Jordan, what did Daisy do on her wedding day? Why?

  4. Why does Gatsby want to have tea with Daisy in Nick’s house? Why doesn’t Gatsby ask Nick for this favor himself?

  5. What does Tom do when he and Daisy return from their honeymoon?

  6. Aside from the improbability of his story, what other evidence is there that Gatsby is lying when he tells Nick about his background?

  7. What does Gatsby’s friendship with Meyer Wolfshiem imply about his own background?

  8. How does Daisy behave after Gatsby goes overseas? What does her behavior show about her feelings for Gatsby?

  9. After Jordan tells Nick the story of Gatsby and Daisy, Nick says that Gatsby “came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.” How does the metaphor of birth help explain what Gatsby’s behavior had meant to Nick up to then?

  10. With Jordan in his arms, Nick thinks of a phrase: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” How do you think this phrase reflects on the events of the novel so far? Do you think that Gatsby would agree with the phrase?

Chapter Five

  1. What does Gatsby offer Nick in return for Nick’s cooperation in inviting Daisy to his house?

  2. What is the meeting between Gatsby and Daisy like initially?

  3. How are Daisy and Gatsby different when Nick returns to this house after a half hour?

  4. What are Gatsby’s feelings by the end of the chapter?

  5. What does Gatsby reply when Nick asks him how he makes his money? Why does Nick find that significant?

  6. What is Gatsby’s dialogue like in this chapter? What does it tell us about Gatsby?

  7. Why do you think Daisy sobs when Gatsby shows her his shirts?

  8. What is the weather like in this chapter? Hoes does it reflect on the emotional climate of Gatsby and Daisy?

  9. In this chapter, Gatsby’s dream seems to be fulfilled. What indications are there, though, the reality cannot satisfy his dream?

Chapter Six

  1. When does James Gatz change his name? Why?

  2. What is Daisy’s real response to the party, according to Nick?

  3. What does Gatsby tell Nick he wants Daisy to do?

  4. Plato held that reality was an imperfect reflection of an ideal, permanent realm. With this in mind, what would you say Nick means when he says that “Jay Gatsby sprang from his Platonic conception of himself”?

  5. How is the comparison of Gatsby with Christ (“he was a son of God…and he must be about His Father’s Business”) ironic? If the comparison with Christ were to continue through the book, what would happen to Gatsby?

  6. Tom, Mr. Sloane, and a young lady visit Gatsby and the lady invites Gatsby to come to dinner with them. What does Gatsby’s response tell us about his social sensitivity? What connection, if any, do you think this scene might have with Gatsby’s love of Daisy?

  7. What is Gatsby’s view of the past? When Nick says that Gatsby “wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy,” what do you think he means?

  8. At the end of the chapter, Nick describes Gatsby kissing Daisy in Louisville five years before. What is Gatsby giving up when he kisses her? Why?

Chapter Seven

  1. Why does Gatsby stop giving parties?

  2. When does Tom first realize that Daisy loves Gatsby?

  3. Why is Myrtle Wilson upset when she sees Tom and Jordan?

  4. Why does George Wilson lock Myrtle in the bedroom?

  5. How does Gatsby characterize Daisy’s voice? What do you think he means by this?

  6. Why does Gatsby lose Daisy during the confirmation at the Plaza? Could he have done anything to win her, do you think? If he could have, why doesn’t he?

  7. Why does Tom insist that Daisy go home with Gatsby? What do you think this tells us about Tom’s character and his relationship with Daisy?

  8. What indications are there at the end of the chapter that Tom and Daisy are going to stay together despite his philandering and her love for Gatsby?

  9. At the end of the chapter, Gatsby is standing alone, looking out at Daisy’s house. Where else in the novel does he do this? How is this different?

Chapter Eight

  1. What does Gatsby tell Nick the night of the accident? Why?

  2. Did Gatsby want to go to Oxford?

  3. How does George Wilson spend the night after the accident?

  4. What evidence had Wilson found that his wife was having as affair?

  5. What would you say is the principal reason for Daisy’s appeal to Gatsby?

  6. How is Nick’s attitude toward Gatsby ambivalent even at the moment when he says goodbye to him?

  7. What do the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg symbolize to George Wilson? What is significant about this symbol?

  8. How do you think Wilson got Gatsby’s name? Does any evidence in this chapter point to a particular person?

  9. How does Nick characterize Gatsby’s state of mind before he is killed?

Chapter Nine

  1. What is the motive publicly for Wilson’s murder of Gatsby?

  2. What does the telephone call from Chicago tell us about Gatsby’s business?

  3. What does Klipspringer want from Nick? How does Nick react to this?

  4. Why is Gatsby’s father so proud of him?

  5. What does Tom confess to Nick when they meet that fall? Does he regret what he has done?

  6. Nick says that “this has been a story of the West, after all.” What do you think he means by that?

  7. How does Nick characterize Tom and Daisy at the end of the book? What has each of them “smashed” during the course of the novel?

  8. At the end of the book, Nick imagines what the continent must have been like when it was first seen by Dutch sailors. How does this contrast with the environment described in the novel?

  9. What does the green light symbolize at the end of the novel?

Overall Question

  1. Is Nick a reliable narrator? Why or why not?

  2. Nick calls himself “one of the few honest men left in the world.” Do you agree? Defend your answer.

  3. Discuss the title of the book. In what way is Gatsby “great”?

  4. How does Fitzgerald use Gatsby’s parties to present a satirical portrait of the Roaring 20s?

  5. What are Tom and Daisy Buchanan like?

  6. Daisy says she hopes her daughter becomes “a beautiful, little fool.” What does this mean?

  7. Is Daisy really as airheaded as she appears? Or is she smart but knows how to “play the game?”

  8. What do you think Gatsby was doing out on the dock the first night Nick visits New York, with his hands extended toward the green light on the opposite end of the bay?

  9. What do you think is the significance of the valley of ashes? The billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg?

  10. What is the relationship between Tom Buchanan and Myrtle? Is it right? Why or why not? Should their different statuses affect their relationship?

  11. Gatsby’s tragedy is that he chooses the wrong dream. Has he been corrupted by society? Or is his choice an indication that he is part of the corruption?

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