Pair these articles to build context with The Great Gatsby (updated Feb. 2022)
Often when working our way through a novel or info text, it helps to tie that text to current events or contemporary life so students can make connections between what we read and the real world. I always have my antennae tuned for interesting articles, podcasts, or even other texts that correlate with our extended reading units.
I’ve updated this post by adding four more articles, including one brand new (Jan. 3, 2022!) article that connects so exquisitely to Gatsby that I get chills just thinking about it.
So without further ado, here are seven articles to pair with Gatsby, in no particular order:
This article is almost too good to be true. I mean, how often do you find an article about a current news topic that ALSO contains multiple allusions to a novel you’re reading with your students???
This Jan. 3, 2022 New York Times story by writer David Streitfeld documents the recent conclusion of the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of Theranos, a Silicon Valley medical technology company. Holmes was found guilty of four counts of fraud that each carry a possible 20-year prison sentence for creating, producing, and marketing a portable blood testing service that ultimately, according to investigators and prosecutors, was inaccurate and unreliable. The device had even begun to appear in a few Walgreen’s stores Wellness Centers. A full nation-wide rollout was in the works.
The article draws parallels between Jay Gatsby and Holmes, citing the daily routines each practiced as they reached for self-improvement and prosperity through their ill-gotten wealth.
“Hiding fraud behind the imperatives of secrecy wasn’t the only way Ms. Holmes’s actions were rooted in tradition. Her self-improvement plan dated back to Ben Franklin but found its most indelible expression in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s creation of Jay Gatsby, the mysterious, alluring, handsome millionaire who also ran a few swindles.”The Epic Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes
The article draws more parallels between Gatsby and Holmes, also invoking connections between the Jazz Age’s Wall Street and our Internet Age’s Silicon Valley.
I used this assignment as a weekly Article of the Week assignment, where I asked students to simply reflect on the article in general. I also required students to discuss the various allusions to The Great Gatsby the writer Streitfeld incorporated in the piece.
This story has been in the news a lot lately and it will be in the news also next fall, when sentencing for Holmes takes place. In other words, this article has legs. Bookmark it for the next time you teach Gatsby.
There’s also a book out by the Wall Street Journal reporter, John Carreyrou. Check out Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup here.
In addition, there’s a movie by the same title in the works starring Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes. Here’s an article about that.
Without mentioning Fitzgerald’s novel, this short 2013 article indirectly discusses Jay Gatsby’s fascination with repeating the past, which I think can be renamed as nostalgia.
In my experience, nostalgia will be a new word to most students, even though they will likely think of their childhoods with nostalgia.
After talking about what the word means (author Beck breaks down the etymology), I think I’ll connect it to Gatsby himself. Here are Beck’s views on nostalgia:
“Obviously the prevailing view on nostalgia has changed over the years, to the point where we now actively cultivate it with GIF-laden lists and VH1 specials, and rarely, if ever, die from it. But advice on treatment from French doctor Hippolyte Petit is as relevant to someone clinging to the past today as it was to a soldier driven mad by a milking song hundreds of years ago: ‘Create new loves for the person suffering from love sickness; find new joys to erase the domination of the old.’ Or, just let it go.”from When Nostalgia Was a Disease by Julie Beck in The Atlantic
Some questions this article evokes:
- Is nostalgia, in essence, what Jay Gatsby suffered from?
- Should he have instead, as Beck suggests, just moved on?
- Is there a lesson about nostalgia for readers that Fitzgerald is trying to relate? When does longing for the past become counter-productive or even destructive?
Sidenote and warning: At one point in this article Beck writes, “Some of the symptoms (nostalgia) victims presented with are fairly logical–melancholy, sure; loss of appetite, okay; suicide, upsetting but understandable.” I have a problem with her description of suicide as “understandable.” This seems to be a flippant and dangerous adjective to describe ending one’s life, especially when so many students struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Please use this passage with caution.
This 2021 article from The Guardian has so much to discuss, but beware for spoilers.
Written by my favorite author from the ’80s, Jay McInerney — who wrote Bright Lights, Big City the year I graduated from high school — this article from The Guardian poses many interesting ideas. Here are a few:
- How does Fitzgerald use, as McInerney writes, Jay Gatsby’s “act of self-invention with the promise of the new world,” as a symbol for what could be called Americanism?
- Why do Americans consider The Great Gatsby, as McInerney writes, in an “irrational way” as part of our “collective self-image”?
- How is The Great Gatsby an autobiographical account for Fitzgerald? Take this quote, for example:
“Ultimately, Jay Gatsby’s story mirrors Fitzgerald’s, a poor boy who falls in love with the golden girl and performs heroic feats in order to win the hand of the princess. In Fitzgerald’s case, the princess was Zelda Sayre of Montgomery, Alabama, whom he meets when he is stationed as an officer there. He is engaged to Zelda but eventually rejected when it seems clear that the aspiring writer can’t support her; crawls home to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he writes a novel which makes him rich and famous virtually overnight. In this story the hero gets the girl. Gatsby’s love story seems almost plausible in light of Fitzgerald’s. Although the vagueness of the source of his wealth is almost glaring, the Horatio Alger story, in which poor boys work their way up to wealth and power, was ingrained in the American psyche.”from Jay McInerney: Why Gatsby Was So Great in The Guardian
McInerney also poses some interesting thoughts about the effectiveness of the myriad film adaptations of the novel, even skeptically pronouncing his intention NOT to see the latest 2013 Luhrman version. McInerney writes, “Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is a very fragile creation, made of words and dreams.”
That being the case, he argues film versions naturally are unable to convey the character accurately and fully. And that explains, as he adds, why none of the film versions prior to Luhrman’s were very successful (except for a stage version called Gatz that covers the entire novel). (Rest assured, I’ll be checking out Gatz ASAP to provide you with some details on it as well.)
In this Jan. 2021 article by Wesley Morris in The Paris Review, the author suggests there are two main reasons:
1) Fitzgerald’s Writing: Morris notes Fitzgerald’s finesse with this passage, “ ‘The cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses’? That line alone is almost enough to make me quit typing for the rest of my life.” Morris is right. There are so many breath-takingly beautiful images in Fitzgerald’s writing that it makes your head spin. My favorite is the paragraph that concludes chapter 6: “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable vision to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
2) The Book’s Heartlessness: Morris writes that the novel displays the recklessness of the Jazz Age, the drive to succeed at all costs, the disdain for practicality and economy, and the idea of Gatsby as a parody of prosperity after he returns to Daisy with the wealth he needed to win her all those years earlier.
In his article, Morris also touches on the massive technological innovations of the ’20s, namely motion pictures and the ensuing notion of celebrity.
“The motion picture actually makes scant appearances in this book but it doesn’t have to. Fitzgerald was evidently aware of fame. By the time The Great Gatsby arrived, he himself was famous. And in its way, this novel (his third) knows the trap of celebrity and invents one limb after the next to flirt with its jaws. If you’ve seen enough movies from the silent era or what the scholars call the classical Hollywood of the thirties (the very place where Fitzgerald himself would do a stint), it’s possible to overlook the glamorous phoniness of it all. It didn’t seem phony at all. It was mesmerizing. Daisy mesmerized Gatsby. Gatsby mesmerized strangers.”from Why Do We Keep Reading The Great Gatsby by Wesley Morris in The Paris Review
This fascination — with newness, novelty, and the longing for both the past and the future — forms more layers to interpret ceaselessly in The Great Gatsby. And that’s why I love this book so much. It just has so much to say and think about.
This 2011 BBC News article by Tom Geoghegen touches on several themes in the novel. For example, Geoghegen writes, “‘The novel is not really about the end of the American Dream but the opening up of it,’ says Keith Gandal, a professor at City University of New York.”
“Gatsby’s failure to enter the highest class in social terms and move into that class isn’t about money but the Wasp elite pushing back in the 1920s against ethnic Americans.
Not only do they close ranks against outsiders like Gatsby but they destroy him and escape punishment for it, says Mr. Gandal, which is a very modern theme.
Tom and Daisy just skip off and that resonates more than anything else.
There’s a sense [today] that it’s the super-rich on Wall Street who made this happen. I’m sure that resonates terrifically with middle-class Americans.”The Great Gatsby: What It Says to Modern America by Tom Geoghegan
Even though this article is ten years old and speaks to the 2008 recession, this discussion point is still timely.
Money can provide the means to escape accountability as Tom and Daisy prove after Myrtle’s death.
This 2013 article in Smithsonian Magazine will help you create historical context for the novel, which stems from Fitzgerald’s purpose for writing it.
Writer Amy Henderson, a historian at the National Portrait Gallery, cites Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener:
“Fitzgerald wrote his agent Maxwell Perkins in 1922: ‘I want to write something new. . . something extraordinary and beautiful and simple.’ Like today, newness was fueled by innovation, and technology was transforming everyday life. Similar to the way social media and the iPhone shape our culture now, the Twenties burst with the revolutionary impact of silent movies, radio and recordings.”Amy Henderson in What the Great Gatsby Got Right About the Jazz Age
Technology was changing the culture of the country, including introducing the idea of “celebrity.” Much like the Internet has transformed modern society, motion pictures, air travel, and radio transformed the America of the 1920s.
Use this article to talk about copyright law with your students. You could even ask students to invent ideas for sequels, prequels, and other adaptations of Gatsby since legally they are able to do so since Jan. 1, 2021. Writer Annabel Gutterman writes in TIME in this piece from January:
“…Gatsby enters U.S. public domain on Jan. 1. Literary works are protected from replication for a certain number of years, depending on when they came out. When the copyright for Fitzgerald’s classic novel of greed, desire and betrayal expires, anyone will be able to publish the book and adapt it without permission from his literary estate, which has controlled the text for the 80 years since his death.”The Great Gatsby’s Copyright is Expiring by Annabel Gutterman in TIME
That means that students can create all sorts of Gatsby spin-offs. Here’s an example by author Dick Heese that might spark some creativity:
According to product information found on Amazon: “Through the use of throw-away references to Nick Carraway’s scoliosis, he (Heese) reimagines the American classic to include the narrator being afflicted with a curved spinal structure. Nick’s mild deformity does nothing to change the original plot of the novel in any capacity. Undoubtedly, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s estate is ruing the release of their copyright into the public domain.”
The expiration of a copyright is a big deal. Get your kids thinking about what that could mean — for better and for worse — to readers, authors, and their family members.
To be sure, many popular early 20th-century literature selections will be seeing their copyrights expire over the next few years. This NPR article, Party Like It’s 1925 on Public Domain Day, discusses this issue and contains links to lists of more books that are now “free for anyone to use, reuse, build upon for anyone — without paying a fee.” Other notable books with expired copyrights: Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
Some context for this post:
The backstory: Due to popular demand, this spring, I’m giving my juniors a taste of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One Friday in April, I read the first chapter of the famous book (yes, I’m experimenting with First Chapter Fridays this year) and based on that, a few asked if we could read more. “But I don’t have any class sets of Gatsby,” I replied. And then I reconsidered. After all, when you’ve got students asking to read a book, you find a way.
After all, when you’ve got students asking to read a book, you find a way.Tweet
So I purchased the audiobook on Audible, assigned hybrid sketchnotes, and timed out the book over the remaining two-and-a-half weeks left of school. And it would have worked perfectly if a couple of unexpected assemblies hadn’t been thrown into the mix. Oh, well. That tends to happen at the end of the year.
But never fear.
We listened anyway and arrived halfway through chapter 7 last week. And while I wished we had had time to get further, I made sure to stop reading at a point where we could do two things: 1) not spoil the rising action and events of this all-important chapter, and 2) still have time to watch the 2013 Baz Luhrman movie version in its entirety without students knowing how the story ends.
So during this quick (and my first!) attempt at teaching Gatsby, I’m feverishly collecting notes and jotting down ideas for my teaching of it next year.
Here’s a list of what I’ve documented regarding Gatsby on my website so far. Check out these resources:
- Last week, I posted with the chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the movie.
- The week before that I posted with three poems to pair with the book.
- This week, I’m sharing with you three articles that students could read independently, or in groups, and then respond to with discussion, a low-stakes writing activity, or a brief small group presentation where students could teach the rest of the class the premise of the article. Another idea: use these articles for Article of the Week (AOW) assignments. Create your own prompt for the articles or have students choose their prompt from this list of six.
- Next week, I’ll share with you some video resources, including a podcast episode I think you’ll find interesting.
I hope these article ideas and the specific details and passages I’ve pulled from them will entice you to examine them further. Just click on the links and see what you find to discuss with your students.
Teaching Whitman? Here’s an innovative video project I came up with to support Whitman’s Song of Myself.
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