Gatsby Questions

Critical Essay Writing

Choose a novel in which envy or malice or cruelty plays a significant part.

Explain how the writer makes you aware of this aspect of the text and discuss how the writer’s exploration of it enhances your understanding of the text as a whole.

 

Choose a novel in which the death of a character clarifies an important theme in the text.

Show how this theme is explored in the novel as a whole and discuss how the death of the character clarifies the theme.

 

Choose a novel or short story which explores loss or futility or failure.

Discuss how the writer explores one of these ideas in a way you find effective.

 

Choose a novel in which a main character refuses to accept advice or to conform to expectations.

Explainthe circumstancesofthe refusal anddiscuss its importance toyourunderstanding of the character in the novel as a whole.

 

Choose a novel or short story in which there is a character who is not only realistic as a person but who has symbolic significance in the text as a whole.

Show how the writer makes you aware of both aspects of the character

 

Choose a novel in which friendship or love is put to the test.

Explain briefly how this situation arises and go on to discuss how the outcome of the test leads you to a greater understanding of the central concern(s) of the text.

 

Choose a novel in which a central character is flawed but remains an admirable figure.

Show how the writer makes you aware of these aspects of personality and discuss how this feature of characterisation enhances your appreciation of the text as a whole.

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Great Quotations

Critical Essay Writing, The Great Gatsby

Click on the relevant image of Leonardo DiCaprio to link to some great quotations from Romeo & Juliet & The Great Gatsby.

Gatsby

Romeo & Juliet

The Great Gatsby – Chapter 3

Critical Essay Writing, The Great Gatsby
Read the following summary & analysis from Spark Notes:

Summary

One of the reasons that Gatsby has become so famous around New York is that he throws elaborate parties every weekend at his mansion, lavish spectacles to which people long to be invited. One day, Gatsby’s chauffeur brings Nick an invitation to one of these parties. At the appointed time, Nick makes the short walk to Gatsby’s house and joins the festivities, feeling somewhat out of place amid the throng of jubilant strangers. Guests mill around exchanging rumors about their host—no one seems to know the truth about Gatsby’s wealth or personal history. Nick runs into Jordan Baker, whose friend, Lucille, speculates that Gatsby was a German spy during the war. Nick also hears that Gatsby is a graduate of Oxford and that he once killed a man in cold blood.

 

Gatsby’s party is almost unbelievably luxurious: guests marvel over his Rolls-Royce, his swimming pool, his beach, crates of fresh oranges and lemons, buffet tents in the gardens overflowing with a feast, and a live orchestra playing under the stars. Liquor flows freely, and the crowd grows rowdier and louder as more and more guests get drunk. In this atmosphere of opulence and revelry, Nick and Jordan, curious about their host, set out to find Gatsby. Instead, they run into a middle-aged man with huge, owl-eyed spectacles (whom Nick dubs Owl Eyes) who sits poring over the unread books in Gatsby’s library.

At midnight, Nick and Jordan go outside to watch the entertainment. They sit at a table with a handsome young man who says that Nick looks familiar to him; they realize that they served in the same division during the war. The man introduces himself as none other than Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s speech is elaborate and formal, and he has a habit of calling everyone “old sport.” As the party progresses, Nick becomes increasingly fascinated with Gatsby. He notices that Gatsby does not drink and that he keeps himself separate from the party, standing alone on the marble steps, watching his guests in silence.

At two o’clock in the morning, as husbands and wives argue over whether to leave, a butler tells Jordan that Gatsby would like to see her. Jordan emerges from her meeting with Gatsby saying that she has just heard something extraordinary. Nick says goodbye to Gatsby, who goes inside to take a phone call from Philadelphia. Nick starts to walk home. On his way, he sees Owl Eyes struggling to get his car out of a ditch. Owl Eyes and another man climb out of the wrecked automobile, and Owl Eyes drunkenly declares that he washes his hands of the whole business.

Nick then proceeds to describe his everyday life, to prove that he does more with his time than simply attend parties. He works in New York City, through which he also takes long walks, and he meets women. After a brief relationship with a girl from Jersey City, Nick follows the advice of Daisy and Tom and begins seeing Jordan Baker. Nick says that Jordan is fundamentally a dishonest person; he even knows that she cheated in her first golf tournament. Nick feels attracted to her despite her dishonesty, even though he himself claims to be one of the few honest people he has ever known.

“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.”

Analysis

At the beginning of this chapter, Gatsby’s party brings 1920s wealth and glamour into full focus, showing the upper class at its most lavishly opulent. The rich, both socialites from East Egg and their coarser counterparts from West Egg, cavort without restraint. As his depiction of the differences between East Egg and West Egg evidences, Fitzgerald is fascinated with the social hierarchy and mood of America in the 1920s, when a large group of industrialists, speculators, and businessmen with brand-new fortunes joined the old, aristocratic families at the top of the economic ladder. The “new rich” lack the refinement, manners, and taste of the “old rich” but long to break into the polite society of the East Eggers. In this scenario, Gatsby is again an enigma—though he lives in a garishly ostentatious West Egg mansion, East Eggers freely attend his parties. Despite the tensions between the two groups, the blend of East and West Egg creates a distinctly American mood. While the Americans at the party possess a rough vitality, the Englishmen there are set off dramatically, seeming desperate and predatory, hoping to make connections that will make them rich.

 

Fitzgerald has delayed the introduction of the novel’s most important figure—Gatsby himself—until the beginning of Chapter 3. The reader has seen Gatsby from a distance, heard other characters talk about him, and listened to Nick’s thoughts about him, but has not actually met him (nor has Nick). Chapter 3 is devoted to the introduction of Gatsby and the lavish, showy world he inhabits. Fitzgerald gives Gatsby a suitably grand entrance as the aloof host of a spectacularly decadent party. Despite this introduction, this chapter continues to heighten the sense of mystery and enigma that surrounds Gatsby, as the low profile he maintains seems curiously out of place with his lavish expenditures. Just as he stood alone on his lawn in Chapter 1, he now stands outside the throng of pleasure-seekers. In his first direct contact with Gatsby, Nick notices his extraordinary smile—“one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it.” Nick’s impression of Gatsby emphasizes his optimism and vitality—something about him seems remarkably hopeful, and this belief in the brilliance of the future impresses Nick, even before he knows what future Gatsby envisions.

Many aspects of Gatsby’s world are intriguing because they are slightly amiss—for instance, he seems to throw parties at which he knows none of his guests. His accent seems affected, and his habit of calling people “old sport” is hard to place. One of his guests, Owl Eyes, is surprised to find that his books are real and not just empty covers designed to create the appearance of a great library. The tone of Nick’s narration suggests that many of the inhabitants of East Egg and West Egg use an outward show of opulence to cover up their inner corruption and moral decay, but Gatsby seems to use his opulence to mask something entirely different and perhaps more profound. From this chapter forward, the mystery of Jay Gatsby becomes the motivating question of the book, and the unraveling of Gatsby’s character becomes one of its central mechanisms. One early clue to Gatsby’s character in this chapter is his mysterious conversation with Jordan Baker. Though Nick does not know what Gatsby says to her, the fact that Jordan now knows something “remarkable” about Gatsby means that a part of the solution to the enigma of Gatsby is now loose among Nick’s circle of acquaintances.

Chapter 3 also focuses on the gap between perception and reality. At the party, as he looks through Gatsby’s books, Owl Eyes states that Gatsby has captured the effect of theater, a kind of mingling of honesty and dishonesty that characterizes Gatsby’s approach to this dimension of his life. The party itself is a kind of elaborate theatrical presentation, and Owl Eyes suggests that Gatsby’s whole life is merely a show, believing that even his books might not be real. The novel’s title itself—The Great Gatsby—is suggestive of the sort of vaudeville billing for a performer or magician like “The Great Houdini,” subtly emphasizing the theatrical and perhaps illusory quality of Gatsby’s life.

Nick’s description of his life in New York likewise calls attention to the difference between substance and appearance, as it emphasizes both the colorful allure of the city and its dangerous lack of balance: he says that the city has an “adventurous feel,” but he also calls it “racy,” a word with negative moral connotations. Nick feels similarly conflicted about Jordan. He realizes that she is dishonest, selfish, and cynical, but he is attracted to her vitality nevertheless. Their budding relationship emphasizes the extent to which Nick becomes acclimated to life in the East, abandoning his Midwestern values and concerns in order to take advantage of the excitement of his new surroundings.

The Great Gatsby – Chapter 2

The Great Gatsby
Read the following summary & analysis from Spark Notes:

Summary

Halfway between West Egg and New York City sprawls a desolate plain, a gray valley where New York’s ashes are dumped. The men who live here work at shoveling up the ashes. Overhead, two huge, blue, spectacle-rimmed eyes—the last vestige of an advertising gimmick by a long-vanished eye doctor—stare down from an enormous sign. These unblinking eyes, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, watch over everything that happens in the valley of ashes.

 

The commuter train that runs between West Egg and New York passes through the valley, making several stops along the way. One day, as Nick and Tom are riding the train into the city, Tom forces Nick to follow him out of the train at one of these stops. Tom leads Nick to George Wilson’s garage, which sits on the edge of the valley of ashes. Tom’s lover Myrtle is Wilson’s wife. Wilson is a lifeless yet handsome man, colored gray by the ashes in the air. In contrast, Myrtle has a kind of desperate vitality; she strikes Nick as sensuous despite her stocky figure. Tom taunts Wilson and then orders Myrtle to follow him to the train. Tom takes Nick and Myrtle to New York City, to the Morningside Heights apartment he keeps for his affair. Here they have an impromptu party with Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, and a couple named McKee. Catherine has bright red hair, wears a great deal of makeup, and tells Nick that she has heard that Jay Gatsby is the nephew or cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm, the ruler of Germany during World War I. The McKees, who live downstairs, are a horrid couple: Mr. McKee is pale and feminine, and Mrs. McKee is shrill. The group proceeds to drink excessively. Nick claims that he got drunk for only the second time in his life at this party.

The ostentatious behavior and conversation of the others at the party repulse Nick, and he tries to leave. At the same time, he finds himself fascinated by the lurid spectacle of the group. Myrtle grows louder and more obnoxious the more she drinks, and shortly after Tom gives her a new puppy as a gift, she begins to talk about Daisy. Tom sternly warns her never to mention his wife. Myrtle angrily says that she will talk about whatever she chooses and begins chanting Daisy’s name. Tom responds by breaking her nose, bringing the party to an abrupt halt. Nick leaves, drunkenly, with Mr. McKee, and ends up taking the 4 a.m. train back to Long Island.

Analysis

Unlike the other settings in the book, the valley of ashes is a picture of absolute desolation and poverty. It lacks a glamorous surface and lies fallow and gray halfway between West Egg and New York. The valley of ashes symbolizes the moral decay hidden by the beautiful facades of the Eggs, and suggests that beneath the ornamentation of West Egg and the mannered charm of East Egg lies the same ugliness as in the valley. The valley is created by industrial dumping and is therefore a by-product of capitalism. It is the home to the only poor characters in the novel.

The undefined significance of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s monstrous, bespectacled eyes gazing down from their billboard makes them troubling to the reader: in this chapter, Fitzgerald preserves their mystery, giving them no fixed symbolic value. Enigmatically, the eyes simply “brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” Perhaps the most persuasive reading of the eyes at this point in the novel is that they represent the eyes of God, staring down at the moral decay of the 1920s. The faded paint of the eyes can be seen as symbolizing the extent to which humanity has lost its connection to God. This reading, however, is merely suggested by the arrangement of the novel’s symbols; Nick does not directly explain the symbol in this way, leaving the reader to interpret it.

The fourth and final setting of the novel, New York City, is in every way the opposite of the valley of ashes—it is loud, garish, abundant, and glittering. To Nick, New York is simultaneously fascinating and repulsive, thrillingly fast-paced and dazzling to look at but lacking a moral center. While Tom is forced to keep his affair with Myrtle relatively discreet in the valley of the ashes, in New York he can appear with her in public, even among his acquaintances, without causing a scandal. Even Nick, despite being Daisy’s cousin, seems not to mind that Tom parades his infidelity in public.

 

The sequence of events leading up to and occurring at the party define and contrast the various characters in The Great Gatsby. Nick’s reserved nature and indecisiveness show in the fact that though he feels morally repelled by the vulgarity and tastelessness of the party, he is too fascinated by it to leave. This contradiction suggests the ambivalence that he feels toward the Buchanans, Gatsby, and the East Coast in general. The party also underscores Tom’s hypocrisy and lack of restraint: he feels no guilt for betraying Daisy with Myrtle, but he feels compelled to keep Myrtle in her place. Tom emerges in this section as a boorish bully who uses his social status and physical strength to dominate those around him—he subtly taunts Wilson while having an affair with his wife, experiences no guilt for his immoral behavior, and does not hesitate to lash out violently in order to preserve his authority over Myrtle. Wilson stands in stark contrast, a handsome and morally upright man who lacks money, privilege, and vitality.

Fitzgerald also uses the party scene to continue building an aura of mystery and excitement around Gatsby, who has yet to make a full appearance in the novel. Here, Gatsby emerges as a mysterious subject of gossip. He is extremely well known, but no one seems to have any verifiable information about him. The ridiculous rumor Catherine spreads shows the extent of the public’s curiosity about him, rendering him more intriguing to both the other characters in the novel and the reader.

The Great Gatsby – Chapter 1

The Great Gatsby
Read the following summary & analysis from Spark Notes:
Summary

The narrator of The Great Gatsby is Nick Carraway. He narrates the story and casts himself as the author of the book. At the start of the novel, he primarily comments on himself, stating that he learned from his father not to be judgemental of others, because he will misunderstand them if he considers them by his own moral standards. He is characterised as both moral and tolerant. Gatsby, the eponymous character, is also mentioned, as Nick says that Gatsby represents everything he dislikes, but that he nevertheless exempts Gatsby completely from his usual standards, describing Gatsby’s personality as “gorgeous.”

In the summer of 1922, Nick writes, he had just arrived in New York, where he moved to work in the bond business, and rented a house on a part of Long Island called West Egg. Unlike the conservative, aristocratic East Egg, West Egg is home to the “new rich,” those who, having made their fortunes recently, have neither the social connections nor the refinement to move among the East Egg set. West Egg is characterized by lavish displays of wealth and garish poor taste. Nick’s comparatively modest West Egg house is next door to Gatsby’s mansion, a sprawling Gothic monstrosity.

Nick is unlike his West Egg neighbors; whereas they lack social connections and aristocratic pedigrees, Nick graduated from Yale and has many connections on East Egg. One night, he drives out to East Egg to have dinner with his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan, a former member of Nick’s social club at Yale. Tom, a powerful figure dressed in riding clothes, greets Nick on the porch. Inside, Daisy lounges on a couch with her friend Jordan Baker, a competitive golfer who yawns as though bored by her surroundings.

Tom tries to interest the others in a book called The Rise of the Colored Empires by a man named Goddard. The book espouses racist, white-supremacist attitudes that Tom seems to find convincing. Daisy teases Tom about the book but is interrupted when Tom leaves the room to take a phone call. Daisy follows him hurriedly, and Jordan tells Nick that the call is from Tom’s lover in New York.

After an awkward dinner, the party breaks up. Jordan wants to go to bed because she has a golf tournament the next day. As Nick leaves, Tom and Daisy hint that they would like for him to take a romantic interest in Jordan.

When Nick arrives home, he sees Gatsby for the first time, a handsome young man standing on the lawn with his arms reaching out toward the dark water. Nick looks out at the water, but all he can see is a distant green light that might mark the end of a dock.

“I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Analysis

Nick Carraway’s perceptions and attitudes regarding the events and characters of the novel are central to The Great Gatsby. Writing the novel is Nick’s way of grappling with the meaning of a story in which he played a part. The first pages of Chapter 1 establish certain contradictions in Nick’s point of view. Although he describes himself as tolerant and nonjudgmental, he also views himself as morally privileged, having a better sense of “decencies” than most other people. While Nick has a strong negative reaction to his experiences in New York and eventually returns to the Midwest in search of a less morally ambiguous environment, even during his initial phase of disgust, Gatsby stands out for him as an exception. Nick admires Gatsby highly, despite the fact that Gatsby represents everything Nick scorns about New York. Gatsby clearly poses a challenge to Nick’s customary ways of thinking about the world, and Nick’s struggle to come to terms with that challenge inflects everything in the novel.

In the world of East Egg, alluring appearances serve to cover unattractive realities. The marriage of Tom and Daisy Buchanan seems menaced by a quiet desperation beneath its pleasant surface. Unlike Nick, Tom is arrogant and dishonest, advancing racist arguments at dinner and carrying on relatively public love affairs. Daisy, on the other hand, tries hard to be shallow, even going so far as to say she hopes her baby daughter will turn out to be a fool, because women live best as beautiful fools. Jordan Baker furthers the sense of sophisticated fatigue hanging over East Egg: her cynicism, boredom, and dishonesty are at sharp odds with her wealth and beauty. As with the Buchanans’ marriage, Jordan’s surface glamour covers up an inner emptiness.

Gatsby stands in stark contrast to the denizens of East Egg. Though Nick does not yet know the green light’s origin, nor what it represents for Gatsby, the inner yearning visible in Gatsby’s posture and his emotional surrender to it make him seem almost the opposite of the sarcastic Ivy League set at the Buchanans’. Gatsby is a mysterious figure for Nick, since Nick knows neither his motives, nor the source of his wealth, nor his history, and the object of his yearning remains as remote and nebulous as the green light toward which he reaches.

The relationship between geography and social values is an important motif in The Great Gatsby. Each setting in the novel corresponds to a particular idea or character type. The first chapter introduces two of the most important locales, East Egg and West Egg. Though each is home to fabulous wealth, and though they are separated only by a small expanse of water, the two regions are nearly opposite in the values they endorse. East Egg represents breeding, taste, aristocracy, and leisure, while West Egg represents ostentation, garishness, and the flashy manners of the new rich. East Egg is associated with the Buchanans and the monotony of their inherited social position, while West Egg is associated with Gatsby’s gaudy mansion and the inner drive behind his self-made fortune. The collision of the two Eggs in the romance between Gatsby and Daisy will serve as the fault line of catastrophe.

Practice Critical Essay Questions

Critical Essay Writing

Drama

Choose from a play a scene which significantly changes your view of a character.

Explain how the scene prompts this reappraisal and discuss how important it is to your understanding of the character in the play as a whole.

Prose

Choose a novel which deals with betrayal.

Discuss the writer’s exploration of the theme and show to what extent it conveys a powerful message about the nature of love.

 Poetry

Choose a poem which explore the theme of war.

Discuss how this theme is explored and how effective the poet is in conveying the central concerns of the text.

 

Critical Essay Practice – Introductions

Critical Essay Writing, Hamlet, Poetry

Prior to class tomorrow, write an introduction to all 3 of these questions. Post your answers onto Glow.

Drama

Choose from a play a scene in which manipulation, temptation or humiliation is an
important feature.
Explain what happens in the scene and go on to show how the outcome of the
manipulation, temptation or humiliation adds to your appreciation of the play as a
whole.

Prose

Choose a novel in which the writer explores feelings of rejection or
isolation or alienation.
Explain how the writer makes you aware of these feelings and go on to show how this
exploration enhances your appreciation of the text as a whole.

Poetry

Choose a poem which seems to you to be critical of a person or a point of view.
Discuss how effectively this criticism is presented by the poet.


 

Critical Evaluation Practice

Critical Essay Writing

Undertake the following critical evaluation, posting your response on the discussion section of Glow by midnight on Wednesday.

Choose a novel in which the deterioration of a relationship is important.

Show how the author conveys this and explain why it is, in your opinion, important to the text as a whole.