Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On Teaching The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.” 

I know that a large number of people are reading and rereading Gatsby in anticipation of the new movie coming out in May. I actually reread the novel twice back in late January/early February as a prepped for and began teaching a unit on the novel to my sophomore English classes.

I'm going to be honest and say that teaching The Great Gatsby was one of the highlights of teaching this year. I loved this novel before, but each time I reread it, I find more and more to love. I feel like I can pull more depth from it with each reading, and I see more and more to love in the language.

And being able to teach it? To talk about all of the lush descriptions and the characters and the symbolism? I was in heaven. I loved every minute of it, and I loved seeing my kids grasp the deeper themes.

We talked so much about the hopelessness that pervades the novel-how Nick escapes to the East in hopes of changing his fortune, but ultimately returns home because of the events surrounding his time in the East. We talked about Gatsby and his belief in love, his hope that by becoming a different man he can erase time and win Daisy's heart...

“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!” 

However, one of our biggest conversations (at least in one of my classes) surrounded Daisy and the fact that you aren't supposed to like her. She is spoiled, selfish, and uncaring to those around her. she lives in the moment and grasps what seems easier. My students were very vocal about her and their distaste for her throughout the whole novel. And then we talked about the fact that she feels trapped in her life...what would it be like to be trapped in a life you didn't want? Their answers were so deep. I loved it.

I love this new cover by Alma Books.
We also talked about the very end as I read them the last chapter out loud-how sad it is that so many would use Gatsby for his wealth and parties, but when he passed, no one could take the time to pay their respects at his funeral. I posed to them this; how would Gatsby have felt seeing the turnout at his funeral? Again, their answers were deep and meaningful. Some of them expressed that Gatsby's funeral is proof of how popularity isn't always positive, that just because you have lots of "friends" doesn't mean that those people love you or honor you.

“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.” 

In all, reading The Great Gatsby again, and teaching it to my students, allowed me to see more depth and pull more from it. I wish I could teach every novel I read. :)

We ended our unit with a formal essay, but I also assigned a short writing assignment immediately after we finished the novel. We watched the two videos from John Green's Crash Course on Youtube (first video and second video) and I had the students answer the question Green poses, "Was Gatsby truly great?"

Even now, I'm not sure of my own answer, but I do know that the novel is great, and that I love it.

And if you haven't read it, you need to.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


  1. I'm sure you'll receive a lot of comments like this, but I truly envy you! Teaching classic novels must be a great experience, although I'd find it slightly worrying, considering how badly most of my teachers did it. I read Gatsby for school, and while I really enjoyed reading it, the classes didn't have the excitement that I hoped for. It certainly seems that you have made your classes interesting, however, and it's great that you've gained so much from it too.

    As you've mentioned, I'm one of the people who are scheduling a re-read of Gatsby before the film. Hopefully it will live up to the book :)

  2. So glad that you had this experience. My partner is about to read this for the very first time, in preparation for the movie. It's a book I didn't like much at all when I first read it, really enjoyed when I read it again years later, and absolutely fell in love with when I read it for a third time just a few months ago.

    Was Gatsby truly great? That IS the question, isn't it? "Great" has so many meanings - which makes even the title ambiguous. And I think that's the point.

  3. I'm planning to reread Great Gatsby next month, so thanks for posting this. Congrats too, for having taught your pupils on this, I'd really like to sit there with your pupils ^^ I hope I will love GG more this time (as I loved it in my first read).

  4. I am about to start re-reading this, I have been on a bit of a between the wars reading kick at the moment, having just finished Hemingway's Moveable Feast and currently reading The Sun also Rises. I loved Hemingway's observations on Fitzgerald although his opinion his clearly coloured. Looking forward to this one and the movie.
    It does seem a really relevant text to teach to this generation, with its emphasis on popularity etc., you must have had some fascinating class discussion.

  5. I'm re-reading this one with Fanda next month. The last time I read it I was in high school, so I love hearing about your experience teaching it! I also love that you used the Crash Course videos in your class. Those are such a great resource.

    I'm excited to see how my opinions of Gatsby might have changed in the last ten years. I think with any book, your perception changes as your experiences change you.

  6. I'm glad that you have helped a new generation appreciate the greatness of the Great Gatsby!

  7. I'm busy reading this novel, I'm about 70 pages in and I am liking it, but not yet loving it...

  8. My sister-in-law is also teaching The Great Gatsby to her students right now. I hope her experience will be as good as yours. She has a tough crowd! It's one of my very favorites, but I read it for the first time as an adult. I think I would have liked it in high school though, if I had an enthusiastic teacher.

  9. I think the great in the title was one of Gatsby's self-promotion tricks.
    He wanted to be great, he did everything he could to be great (in Daisy's eyes in particular) but it was also his downfall.
    To thine own self be true - trying to be someone you're not to get someone else's attention or approval is the fastest way to disappointment.
    I'm not sure Gatsby would have been disappointed by the funeral turnout. He didn't know who half the 'friends' were at his parties either. They were there for show - a sign of his greatness/popularity.

  10. I wish I had been in that class. I would have so loved to learn literature in school and college, but we just don't have that many critical thinking teachers who actually open up minds to great literature.