Pair these articles to build context and connection with The Great Gatsby
Scroll down into this post to find my three articles to pair with The Great Gatsby. If you need a little context for this post, read on.
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 (more on these in a future post), 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 what I’ve documented regarding Gatsby in this blog so far:
- 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.
Without further ado, here are three articles to pair with Gatsby, in no particular order:
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.
I hope these article ideas and the specific details and passages I’ve pulled from them will entice you to examine them further. There’s more where these came from, after all. Just click on the links and see what you find to discuss with your students.
A look ahead
My next post will include three more articles to pair with The Great Gatsby. Following that, I’ll be providing you with two video resources plus a podcast episode I think you’ll find relevant to your Gatsby lesson plans. And then sprinkled somewhere in the next two weeks will be that post on hybrid sketchnotes I’ve been promising.
Also on the horizon… a post about an innovative video project for Whitman’s Song of Myself
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