American Literature – 2300                                                                    The Great Gatsby: Study Guide


1.       The Great Gatsby contains 450 time words, with 87 actual appearances of the word time! Locate several instances of time words, if not literal references to time. Having looked at these references in their respective contexts, what conclusions can you draw about this time theme? How does this motif connect to the novel’s broader themes and messages?


2.       In “‘Boats Against the Current: Mortality and the Myth of Renewal in The Great Gatsby,” Jeffery Steinbrink suggests that Fitzgerald’s novel is about “the myth of regeneration.” What do you think he means by “regeneration,” and why is it a “myth”? How are the motifs of renewal and regeneration played out in the text? For instance, consider actual examples: i.e., people who get caught up in the notion of recovering something from their past and people who sense the need to “start over” again. What sorts of statements is the novel making about 1) people universally (as in basic human desire) and 2) this particular historical moment, the 1920s? (Think about it: post-WWI…)


3.       In American literature, westward expansion is synonymous with the idea of creating one’s own code and living by it. Consider, for example, figures like John Wayne and the Marlboro Man – they appeal to us precisely because they epitomize unfettered autonomy, radical independence. In The Great Gatsby, however, we have a kind of counter-migration, people moving from West to East. Cite at least three examples. What thematic import does this counter-journey have, you think? Consider the significance of Nick’s statement, “I see now that this has been a story of the West after all…” (176). How is this a story “about” the West?


4.       Fitzgerald’s novel is preoccupied with the relationship between the real and the artificial, the authentic and the counterfeit. Locate specific examples of people and things (i.e., Gatsby himself, his mansion and the books, Myrtle’s apartment, the man selling puppies in Chapter 2, Daisy’s upbringing and home life), but also actual words and language, that invoke ideas of artificiality and authenticity. Does the novel blur these distinctions—and to what effect?


5.       On page 99, Nick refers to “the unreality of reality.” References to the “unreal” can be found in other places in the novel as well. What is the significance of this notion of unreality? How is reality “unreal”? In conjunction, the novel traces a pattern of people mistaking illusion for reality and the counterfeit as the real. Cite as many examples as you can. What embedded messages or arguments are inherent in these representations?


6.       Perform a word study: seek out as many references to the word “restless” (and similar forms like “restlessness,” for example) as you can find.  Share any and all insights with the class.

a.       on pages 6, 7, 10

b.      page 18

c.       page 56

d.      page 64