The Great Gatsby
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- Thinking Contextually: a range of suggested teaching activities using a variety of themes so that different activities can be selected that best suit particular classes, learning styles or teaching approaches.
Prose– AS Paper 2, Section A The Language of Literary Texts
A Level Paper 3, Section A Reading as a writer, writing as a reader
At both AS and A Level, this examined component asks students to examine how narratives work, with reference to their chosen text.
Topic: F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
- Apply relevant methods for text analysis, drawing on linguistic and literary techniques
- Identify how meanings and effects are created and conveyed in texts
- Analyse the ways a narrative text draws on its generic and literary contexts.
At AS Level, students analyse narrative techniques in an extract from the text (printed in the paper) and place it in the context of the novel as a whole.
At A Level, students choose from two questions, each focussing on an aspect of narrative. Their study of narrative techniques in Section A is applied to their own creative writing in Section B.
Approaches to teaching the content
This examined component requires students to read a substantial prose fiction text: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In this combined Language and Literature course, the key focus is on how narratives work, drawing on integrated linguistic and literary approaches.
Students will study aspects of narratives such as the use of voice, point of view, time and chronology, dialogue, characterisation, genre, symbols and motifs, structure and settings.
They will need to apply relevant techniques in their response to either an extract (AS) or a question (A Level) in relation to The Great Gatsby.
They should use these in textual analysis to explain how meanings and effects are created.
It is important for both AS and A Level that students have an awareness of broader contextual factors. These would include understanding of how the text draws on genre conventions, as well as relevant aspects of the social/historical context of the text.
Common misconceptions or difficulties students may have
In the transition from GCSE study, students may worry that this approach differs from a familiar schema of plot, themes, characters, setting. In fact, the difference is just a shift in emphasis from WHAT to HOW, from ‘characters’ to ‘characterisation’. They will still be studying the familiar aspects, but the focus will be on critical analysis, exploring how, for example, a particular perspective shapes the creation of character. Or the role of different settings in the novel in the development of plot and the themes conveyed.
Conceptual links to other areas of the specification – useful ways to approach this topic to set students up for topics later in the course
For A Level students, there is an immediate link to Section B of the examination, where they move from ‘Reading as Writers’ to ‘Writing as Readers’ and show their understanding of narrative techniques in their own original writing. It may well be productive for AS students to engage in this sort of creative text production as part of their study of narratives.
Learning to apply relevant linguistic and literary techniques in close analysis is a fundamental part of all Language and Literature components, whether the focus for study is spoken or written language, the literary genres of poetry, prose or drama, or non-fiction genres such as journalism, travelogue or memoir.
For all components, students will also benefit from a perceptive understanding of the ways contextual factors (including genre, purpose and audience) influence the writer’s choices and the reader’s interpretation.
For a perceptive understanding of narratives, it is vital to study them in context, and not, for example, to analyse a line of dialogue in isolation. The term ‘context’ refers to a range of aspects in this component. First, any part of the text needs to be considered in the light of the novel as a whole; then with awareness of broader genre conventions; and also with some knowledge of the social, historical contexts – particularly where these differ significantly from those of the reader.
It may be useful to think of the derivation of the word: con+text = WITH the TEXT. The activities focus on a range of aspects of the text in context, such as:
- Narrative perspective/point of view
- Voice – representation of speech and thought
- Settings and style
- Motifs and symbols
- Genre conventions
- Social historical context
This guide will help teachers plan for and teach approaches to The Great Gatsby by giving guidance on key concepts and suggesting classroom activities.
For A Level, students examine how narratives work, apply methods for linguistic and literary analysis, identify how meanings and effects are created and explore context.
When studying any novel, it is important that students understand the concept of perspective. For this activity, they should be familiar with terminology such as author and narrator; 1st and 3rd person narration; omniscient and partial perspective. Students are given these questions to consider as they read The Great Gatsby:
- F. Scott Fitzgerald is the author of The Great Gatsby, but who is the narrator?
- Is the novel narrated in 1st or 3rd person?
- How reliable are Nick Carroway’s impressions of Gatsby?
- From whose other perspectives does Fitzgerald present the character Gatsby?
- What does the character Gatsby reveal about himself?
Make copies of each character card in Student resource 1. Working in small groups, students should discuss the impression given of Gatsby by the quotes provided. This activity can be used as an introduction, before the whole novel has been finished.
As they continue reading the novel, the students should add further examples of the different points of view given of Gatsby.
This activity asks students to consider the main characters in the novel, their roles in the plot, and the ways that each is characterised by Fitzgerald.
Students are divided into six groups (or three depending on class size), each focussing on one of these characters:
- Tom Buchanan
- Tom Wilson
You may include Nick in this activity. His role is that of Narrator, the outsider observing the events of the story, though becoming involved. Students should find definitions for these concepts and discuss the roles they think their character plays in the novel:
NB: it is possible to have more than one protagonist, antagonist and foil.
Using the four headings suggested, each group will then present their findings to the rest of the class.
The story of The Great Gatsby unfolds against a backdrop of contrasting settings, conveying a sense of the different strands of society at that time and place. From the extravagant mansions of East and West Egg, to Nick’s more modest cottage, the rented flat in Manhattan, and the extreme poverty of the Valley of the Ashes, and back in time to the Midwest.
Working in four or five small groups, students should focus on one passage of description of their chosen setting. Identify the significant details and present to the whole class with comments on the meanings conveyed.
Semantic concepts will be useful for this activity. Look for semantic fields (words related in meaning) and consider the connotations or symbolic meanings of such words. There is an example provided for you.
The events of one summer in 1921 are narrated in chronological order, from the perspective of Nick but several years later. There are 9 chapters and most of them feature a party. Nick also gradually reveals some of the backstory for Gatsby, the Buchanans and Jordan, as well as his own.
Chart where these revelations/flashbacks occur in the novel structure. Working in small groups, discuss how this disruption of chronological time creates suspense.
The students should be familiar with these terms and will explore the concepts in this activity.
Perhaps the clearest example of a symbol in The Great Gatsby is the green light that Gatsby gazes at across the bay that separates his mansion from Daisy’s. Students can discuss what they feel the light represents. As this green light recurs – in at least five chapters in the novel (Chapters 1, 4, 5, 7, 9) – it is a motif, as well as a symbol.
Motifs can be abstract ideas, rather like themes, for example the ideas of wealth and glamour that permeate the novel. Gatsby’s vast collection of shirts and of books in his library, are symbols of the sort of ‘wealth’ he craves.
Individually, students should choose one symbol, or motif, that strikes them in The Great Gatsby, and trace Fitzgerald’s use of it throughout the novel.
Some suggestions follow, but students may think of others:
- Water – boats, bay
- Marble swimming pool
- Eyes of Dr T. J. Eckleburg
- Daisy’s voice
- Telephone calls
This activity focuses on genres of prose fiction. Students should be familiar with the concept of genre conventions. Working in four groups, they should work on one of these questions.
In what sense is The Great Gatsby:
- A mystery
- A romance
- A tragedy
- A fable?
Each group should produce a poster display for a short presentation. This will include an outline of the conventional features of the genre. An example is given, but they should add further points.
Each group will find evidence from the novel to support their chosen genre (an example is given) and make a short presentation of their findings to the class.
The Great Gatsby is often called a novel of ‘The Jazz Age’, a phrase which was coined by Fitzgerald himself in his collection of short stories ‘Tales of The Jazz Age’. A review of Baz Luhrmann’s film called The Great Gatsby the ‘decadent downside of the American Dream’ (Sarah Churchill, The Guardian 3rd May 2013).
Working in groups, find out more about the period of American history in which this novel is set and report back to the class:
- 1st World War
- The Great Depression
- Equal rights for women
- Civil rights
- The American Dream
- The Jazz Age
Which aspects of the social historical context can you find in Fitzgerald’s novel?
A character’s speech can be represented in a range of ways. Students should be familiar with these concepts:
- Free direct speech (or thoughts)
- Direct speech
- Indirect speech
- Free indirect speech
- Summary of speech
Direct speech is the most common form of representation in this novel, using inverted commas to indicate the actual words spoken, with a quotative phrase, indicating who spoke. This may be a simple ‘he/she said’, but it is important to notice if the writer adds some interpretation in their choice of verb (insisted) or use of adverbials (incredulously). These words and phrases may suggest the character’s thoughts and feelings. The narrator may make this explicit (I guessed at his unutterable depression).
Working in groups of three or four, two people should read aloud the Free direct version (similar to a playscript) of Nick and Gatsby’s conversation. Others in the group take the role of director and give stage directions. Note these on the script. How should they speak the lines? When should they pause? Discuss each character’s motivations and feelings – what are they thinking? Each group, read out your interpretation to the class.
Finally read Fitzgerald’s representation of their conversation in the novel. How has the writer conveyed tone of voice and interior thoughts? Was it similar to your interpretation?
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