The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader’s Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.
For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.
1. Is Fitzgerald writing a love story that embraces American ideals, or a satire that comments on American ideals? Have students refer to passages and quotes to build a thesis.
2. In Chapter 6, Nick says, “You can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby replies, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” (p. 110). Gatsby then describes a moment when he had kissed Daisy. Nick describes Gatsby’s memory as “appalling sentimentality,” after which Nick himself remembers a “fragment” and an “elusive rhythm” (p. 111). Are these passages about Nick or Gatsby? What has Nick forgotten that he is trying to retrieve? Finally, does Gatsby misuse the past and his memories in order to enliven the present? Does this make him part of the Lost Generation?
3. Originally titled On the Road to West Egg, then Trimalchio, then Under the Red White and Blue or Gold-Hatted Gatsby, Fitzgerald had difficulty settling on his title. Help F. Scott Fitzgerald rename the novel. Provide an argument to explain why your new title ideally suits the story.
4. Nick says: “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known” (p. 59). When you consider his role as narrator, do you believe that he is honest? Are his depictions of others honest? If he is not honest, why does he believe he is so honest?
5. Examine the last page of the novel. Fitzgerald writes, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter— to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.…And one fine morning—” (p.180). Why does Fitzgerald leave this sentence unfinished? What does Nick think will happen one fine morning? Are hopes and dreams always centered on a future belief? Is this more important than the actual satisfaction of one’s desires? Why or why not?