The Great Gatsby – Themes

Critical Essay Writing

Click on the image to view a useful visual summary of some of the themes in ‘The Great Gatsby.’


Critical Essay Advice – Planning

Critical Essay Writing

You will probably now be considering how to plan your critical essay.

Above and beyond everything else, resist the temptation to write everything you know about this text or paraphrase the story. I have read the text, so I don’t need you to summarise it for me. You will score very poorly if you retell the story. You are analysing, not summarising. Please be cognizant of this – it is very important.

Before you start answering the question, you must select the relevant information from a range of possibilities. The features and techniques used to convey the themes are:

  • characterisation:

    Tom, Daisy, Nick, Myrtle, George, Jay & Jordan: what they do, what they say, and why they are important in conveying the themes.

  • setting:

    NYC, Valley of Ashes, West Egg, East Egg & the USA itself. What do these symbolise? It is not coincidence that certain aspects of the plot unravel in specific settings.

  • narrative technique:

    The use of Nick Carraway, who is balanced, fair and a human presence. Straddled divide between ‘old money,’ and ‘new money.’

  • symbolism:

    Imagery & motif. The whiteness of Daisy/ the gaudiness of Gatsby, the green light/ green land, the eyes of Eckleburg/ God.

    It would be useful to sketch out a visual plan, where techniques clearly convey themes.

Critical Essay – Writing an Introduction

Critical Essay Writing

Now that you have finished your novel, the emphasis will move from analysis and understanding, to determining the structure and requirements of critical essay writing.

The introdution to any critical essay is fundamentally important. If your introduction is poor, it will set the tone for the remainder of your essay.

Introductions should be sophisticated, short, and technically perfect. They should begin by introducing the text, the author and the genre, and should answer the question, stating the techniques the author used to convey their theme.

There should also be a very brief synopsis of the salient point of the text. Note that this should be very brief.

  • Example opening:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby,’ is a powerful example of a confrontation between two characters that is centrally important to the reader’s appreciation of the text. Fitzgerald effectively utilises setting, symbolism and characterisation to convey the hollowness of the upper classes and the corrosive effect of an impossible dream. The novel is a withering analysis of the death of both the American dream and the dream of the eponymous character.

Write an introduction to the follow question and bring it to class tomorrow:

Choose a novel which explores the cruelty of human nature. Show how the writer explores this theme and discuss how its exploration enhances your appreciation of the novel as a whole.

Critical Terminology – Practice

Critical Essay Writing

Consider F.Scott Fitzgerald’s use of epiphany and pathetic fallacy.

  • List five examples of the author’s use of pathetic fallacy and explain how they contribute to your understanding of the importance of setting in ‘The Great Gatsby.’  (300 words)
  • Then, consider Tom’s realisation, during lunch with Nick, Jordan, Gatsby and Daisy. How has Fitzgerald converyed this epiphany to you? Is it effective in developing your understanding of the characters in the novel. If so, pay particular attention to Daisy and Tom, and explain your reasoning. (300 words)

Critical Essay – Prose Carousel Activity

Critical Essay Writing

As part of a carousel activity, undertake one of the following tasks, as you have been assigned:

Task 1

Consider the settings of the novel. How significant are they in adding to your appreciation of the text?

Task 2

Pick 2 characters and describe the importance of their relationship to your enjoyment of the text.

Task 3

How important is symbolism in the novel? Describe the key examples of this and how they aid your understanding of the themes of the novel.


  • Regardless of which task you undertake, you must identify the key themes of the novel.
  • For each task, pick five key quotations that evidence your thoughts.
  • Ensure that you refer to specific techniques the author has used.
  • For each task, write a summary of the impact of the specified aspect on the reader.

Critical Evaluations – Openings

Critical Essay Writing

Below are sample openings to the critical evaluations that will form the basis of your critical essays:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald effectively uses symbolism throughout ‘The Great Gatsby,’ to suggest the …
  • The author’s characterisation of Tom at the start of of the novel prepares the reader for the inevitable relationship between …
  • Fitzgerald utilises setting to highlight the contrasting roles of West Egg, East Egg, The Valley of Ashes and New York City. This…
  • Whilst describing a multitude of characters, the author waits until chapter four before properly introducing Jay Gatsby in order that…