The Great Gatsby Revision


Context- WW1/Jazz age

  • The First World War, also known as The Great War, was a predominantly European conflict fought between July 1914 and November 1918. 
  • America was drawn into the conflict in 1917.
  • The demands of war accelerated America’s industrial production resulting in the economic boom of the 1920s.
  • Nick Carraway says that he participated in the Great War, and it left him feeling ‘restless’ (p. 9). Nick tells us that Jay Gatsby ‘did extraordinarily well in the war’ (p. 143).
  • The 1920s in America became known as The Jazz Age because this popular musical genre of the day reflected a spirit of rebelliousness and pleasure-seeking
  • The Jazz Age was in part a reaction to the First World War, which was seen as the end of an era. 
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald became known as the major chronicler of the Jazz Age. 
  • The Great Gatsby addresses deeply serious issues that lay behind the decade’s rebelliousness and pleasure-seeking.
1 of 15

Context-Prohibition/New York

  • Between 1920 and 1933 there was a ban on making and selling alcohol in America. 
  • A great deal of alcohol is consumed nonetheless in the pages of this novel. 
  • The unlawful supplying of alcohol was known as bootlegging. 
  • It is rumoured that bootlegging was the source of Jay Gatsby’s wealth.
  • By the 1920s New York had become a major commercial and industrial city, making use of the latest advances in engineering. 
  • Immigration, including internal migration of African Americans from the South, made it a racially and culturally mixed city. 
  • John Dos Passos, in his novel Manhattan Transfer (1925), depicted New York as an impersonal machine-like city, with rootless people passing through it.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald focuses his novel on an individual who stands out from the mass society of the city.
2 of 15

Context- Technology

• In America, the early decades of the twentieth century saw great leaps forward in technological innovation and mass production. 
• The telephone and the automobile, both fairly recent inventions, were starting to modify social behaviour through their impact on communication and travel. 
• Both play a significant role in The Great gatsby, although their effect is not necessarily positive. 

3 of 15

Theme- nature/Time

• Early settlers saw America in terms of a garden, or as Nick puts it, ‘a fresh, green breast of the new world’ (p. 171).
• In American mythology the New World garden often became associated with Eden, the lost paradise described in the Bible. 
• Daisy and Myrtle both have names of plants but clearly neither lives in a fresh green world. 
• Modern urban life creates an artificial rather than a natural environment, resulting in the palatial homes of West Egg, but also producing a ‘valley of ashes’ (p. 26).

 The final sentence of The Great Gatsby addresses the passage of time as a central theme of the novel.
• Time passing is represented in several ways in this novel, including references to history, personal recollection, physical aging and finding ways to pass the time. 
• Jay Gatsby’s inability to accept the consequences of time passing is at the heart of his tragic story. 
• Nick Carraway’s decision to write Gatsby’s story might be seen as an attempt to reverse the passage of time, but while Gatsby lives again only in words Nick is recreating himself as a writer.

4 of 15

Theme- Individualism/mobility

• American society is built upon belief in self-reliance and the resourcefulness and initiative of the individual. 
• America rejected the notion of fixed social classes, which were seen as barriers to individualism. 
• Jay Gatsby has prospered through individualistic resourcefulness and initiative, although he seems to have had to behave illegally in the process. 
• Wealthy Americans, as depicted in The Great Gatsby, cling to the class distinctions, exclusiveness and privilege of old European societies.

  • Throughout its history America has taken pride in the opportunities it offers for social mobility and personal advancement.
  • Freedom of physical movement has also been an important aspect of American culture. 
  • The Great Gatsby is a story involving movement of characters across the city, the country and the globe.
  • Cars assist such mobility but in the novel they can also cause death.
5 of 15


  • Modernism was an international movement that flourished at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. 
  • Writers of modernist fiction often paid as much or more attention to literary form, technique and language as to the content of a story.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald was deeply influenced by the sophisticated narrative techniques of earlier modernist writers, such as Henry James and Joseph Conrad.
  • The Great Gatsby ranks alongside John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer and William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury as a major achievement of American modernism.
6 of 15

Narrative Structure

• The Great Gatsby is narrated in the first person by Nick Carraway, who is also a character in the story he tells.
• All the events of the novel are filtered through Nick Carraway’s point of view, so it is vital that we remain aware of his voice. 
• Nick is not just telling the story, but is writing it, fulfilling his literary ambitions. 
• There are significant omissions and apparent contradictions that make us aware that Nick is not necessarily a reliable or entirely trustworthy narrator.

7 of 15


• In his narration Nick occasionally uses words, such as ‘meretricious’, ‘spectroscopic’ and ‘somnambulatory’, that may be obscure and challenging to some readers. 
• This tendency reflects his privileged education at Yale and his desire to write in a way he considers literary. 
• It also draws attention to the fact that Nick’s narrative is not just a plain telling of events but is filtered through his creative imagination. 
• F. Scott Fitzgerald thus makes it clear that Nick’s writing of the story is itself part of the story.

8 of 15


• Direct speech makes us feel we are present when a scene in the novel is taking place, witnessing an actual conversation. 
• Yet Nick is writing this dialogue, attributing it to characters involved in the action and sometimes adding his own comments. 
• We should be aware that even direct speech may have been crafted by Nick to invite us to interpret a character in a particular way. 
• This is most obvious when he mimics a distinctive accent, as in the words of Meyer Wolfshiem or Henry Gatz.

9 of 15

Patterned language and imagery

• F. Scott Fitzgerald carefully created patterns of language and imagery in order to suggest symbolic meanings beyond the obvious. 
• Words recur in differing contexts and we have to read them in a different light, recognising how meaning can change with circumstances. For example, ‘beat’ on pp. 18, 130 and 172; or ‘dust’ on pp. 8, 26 and 144. 
• Images of flowers and plants, to cite an obvious example, are woven through Nick’s narrative, like threads in a verbal tapestry. 
• This text draws attention to its own verbal artifice, rather than aspiring to present narrative action as though we were watching it directly.

10 of 15

Chapter II – A valley of ashes

Nick’s narrative introduces the place where George and Myrtle Wilson live. Read from ‘About half-way’ to ‘dumping ground’ (p. 26).
• WHY is it important? After introducing us to the wealthy residents of West and East Egg, Nick reveals the dismal waste land concealed by the glamour. Unpleasant truths may lie beneath a sophisticated surface. This applies to characters as well as locations.
• WHAT themes does it explore? Besides highlighting social inequality, this extract foregrounds the theme of vision, in a literal and figurative sense. These paragraphs encapsulate urban America’s betrayal of the promise of the fresh green New World. 
• HOW does it work within the narrative? The valley of ashes is a ‘fantastic farm’ (p. 26), a metaphor that may recall Gatsby’s childhood. Eckleburg’s unseeing eyes may also bring to mind the way Gatsby stares across the bay. This passage prepares us for revelation of unpalatable truths beneath Gatsby’s apparent success, and alerts us to the critical blindness of his obsessive gaze. 
• WHAT language techniques does it employ? The figurative language of farms and gardens connects with a thread of such references. The image of Eckleburg will recur later, a literal advertisement that develops and deepens the theme of vision.

11 of 15

Chapter II – Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose

An informal party takes place in an apartment Tom Buchanan keeps for his adulterous relationship with Myrtle Wilson. Read from ‘Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!’ to ‘I followed’ (p. 39). 
• WHY is it important? This episode confirms Tom’s brutal, cynical and misogynistic nature, which exists in stark contrast to Gatsby’s romantically idealised vision of Daisy. 
• WHAT themes does it explore? The extract develops the theme of disparity between surface sophistication and underlying corruption. References to a gossip magazine placed over a tapestry image of Versailles resonate with the theme of Old and New World relationships. 
• HOW does it work within the narrative? Myrtle’s broken nose recalls Daisy’s knuckle, bruised by Tom, in the preceding chapter, and anticipates Myrtle’s violent death in Chapter VII. 
• WHAT language techniques does it employ? The incident seems all the more shocking because Nick reports it in a flat, matter-of-fact, even understated way, avoiding melodramatic language. The names Daisy and Myrtle carry clearly contrasting associations of plant names, i.e. Daisy: pretty and ephemeral; Myrtle: drab and bitter.

12 of 15

Chapter IV – Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem

In a New York restaurant Gatsby introduces his neighbour Nick Carraway to his friend Meyer Wolfshiem. Read from ‘Suddenly he looked at his watch’ to ‘your mother and sister’ (p. 70). 
• WHY is it important? Gatsby often appears solitary but here Nick meets one of his friends. It is soon confirmed that Wolfshiem is a major criminal, but here we see his respect and admiration for Gatsby. 
• WHAT themes does it explore? Wolfshiem is Jewish and that contributes to our understanding that New York is a racially and culturally mixed city. He is impressed by Gatsby’s Oxford education and that is one amongst many instances of deferential attachment in the New World to Old World institutions. 
• HOW does it work within the narrative? Wolfshiem understands why Gatsby needs to attend to a phone call and we come to recognise via Nick that despite his handsome and clean-cut appearance Gatsby is, as has been widely rumoured earlier in the narrative, intimately associated with organised crime. It is a moment of truth breaking through the facade. 
• WHAT language techniques does it employ? Wolfshiem’s sentimental dialogue seems at odds with what we suspect of his character. Direct speech is used with great subtlety in this novel. His pronunciation ‘Oggsford’ is a small linguistic marker of cultural difference.

13 of 15

Chapter V – Gatsby displays his clothes to Daisy

  • Gatsby invites Daisy and Nick into his house, where he can show off his possessions. Read from ‘I’ve got a man in England’ to ‘such beautiful shirts before’ (p. 89)
  • WHY is it important? The gap between Gatsby and Daisy, the reason for his desire to be wealthy and successful, has suddenly closed and he needs to seize the opportunity offered by this moment to persuade her of his love. 
  • WHAT themes does it explore? The reference to English tailoring shows reverence for Old World values persisting in the New World. Yet Gatsby’s ritual of display also fits into the modern practice of persuasive advertising. 
  • HOW does it work within the narrative? This is a good example of the scenic method which F. Scott Fitzgerald uses so effectively in this novel. It brings Gatsby and Daisy together in a self-contained set-piece, yet its meaning reverberates far beyond the action we witness. 
  • WHAT language techniques does it employ? The brightly coloured shirts fit into the novel’s careful patterning of images relating to clothing and colour. The dialogue says little, but hints such as ‘she sobbed’ reveal a level of emotional upheaval just beneath the surface of the words.
14 of 15

Chapter IX – Nick ponders the significance of Jay

  • After Gatsby’s death and before returning to the Middle West, Nick draws out the profound implications of what has occurred. Read from ‘Most of the big shore places’ to ‘borne back ceaselessly into the past’ (pp. 171–2).
  • WHY is it important? Nick finally identifies the fate of Gatsby with the fate of America itself. What might have appeared a tragic yet simple love story finally expands into a vision of our shared fate as human beings. 
  • WHAT themes does it explore? The extract not only captures a sense of the failure of the American Dream, it also engages openly with the broader theme of the inexorable passage of time. 
  • HOW does it work within the narrative? This passage fuses myth and history, and invites us as readers to recognise the weighty implications of the story we have read, to ponder the power of imagination and the failure of dreams. 
  • WHAT language techniques does it employ? It contains the resonant image of ‘a fresh, green breast of the new world’. Note the obscure word orgastic (more usually ‘orgasmic’), and the use of ‘borne’, possibly a sophisticated pun on ‘born’.
15 of 15


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all The Great Gatsby resources »