The Great Gatsby Themes
Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University
Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.
You’ve all heard the story of the American dream. The idea that if we work hard, we can get what we want and that our efforts aren't in vain. A lot of us probably know somebody that represents the American dream. For me it’s my dad.
He started off almost 30 years ago running architecture planes across town from one from two another on his bicycle. Now he is actually the president of one of those firms that he worked for. However, we all also know somebody who has been a victim of the unrelenting pursuit of that dream. Much like Jay Gatsby was in the Great Gatsby.
Let’s take a look at the American dream along with some other issues what the characters deal with in the novel, The Great Gatsby. After we do that we are going to use the quick six step in development process, to figure out what exactly is this Fitzgerald is telling us about the American dream.
Now that we’ve looked at the background of the 1920s, the characters, the setting and the symbol of The Great Gatsby, we know that it’s so successful because it’s a cautionary tale, that tells us about the fall of a fabulous era in America. Fitzgerald also makes the accurate prediction, that we can no longer count on the American dream. We can’t count on this idea that when we work hard, we will get everything that we deserve. I mean think about it. We’ve all seen that student that cheated on a test and got the A and never got caught.
I know I stayed up to many a-nights to odd hours in the morning just to get a D back on the paper that I was working on. Clearly F. Scott Fitzgerald picked up on this scene and justices and he dealt with them on his book The Great Gatsby, as the attack the American dream.
Remember the American dream is something that we base this country on. This idea that, if people come here they can work hard for whatever they want. And instead of being treated unfair they're having to distribute their wealth to other people, they would get to keep it and see the fruits of their labor. The American dream really focuses on equality, and fairness and it also started to take a turn towards material wealth. However in the 1920s, Fitzgerald started to recognize that the American dream didn’t always hold true. And this is one of the many issues that he deals with in the book The Great Gatsby.
Remember that, in any piece for literature, an author presents issues and themes. And an issue is a problem or a universal point of debate that a character deals with that we also deal with in our real life. Once we’ve identified issues in literature then, we can take a look at the themes, which are what the author is trying to say about a specific issue in the book.
In The Great Gatsby, we see the characters dealing with issues of love, happiness social class wealth and dreams. Remember, we’ve got Jay Gatsby pursuing Daisy, his endless love, this person that he want to capture, and he doesn’t quite reach her. Then we see our characters all struggling with this idea of happiness. What does it take to make somebody truly happy? Myrtle believes, that if she just can continue with her relationship with Tom even though it’s an affair, and she is kind of the woman on the side, that having the material wealth that he can offer for her, will make her happy, but that doesn’t quite work out.
And we also see that characters struggle with social class. Gatsby really struggles with the idea that even though he probably has the same amount of wealth, that the Buchanan's have over on East Egg island, he'll never be respected the same way because his money is new money and he is gotten it by some illegal means.
We also see the characters deal with this idea of wealth and what it means to be wealthy, what kind of happiness material goods bring them and how they earn their money. Is it more positive to work hard for it like George Wilson, or to come by it easily like Tom Buchanan did when he was given it by his family.
And finally, like we talked about earlier, we see the characters deal with their dreams. And often in this book, the death of their dreams. Let’s take a look at the quick six step theme development process, to see how we can discover what F. Scott Fitzgerald is saying about one of these things.
So remember, the first step in the theme development process, is to identify the issue. And if you follow the theme development sheet found in the bonus materials, when we finish this process, you will have a really solid outline in order to write a literary analysis essay.
So first we need to identify the issue that we are going to focus on. And in this particular case, we are going to focus on the American dream. Since the characters really seem to focus around it, and we know that F. Scott Fitzgerald is trying really hard to make a comment on it. We can see this in the book, when at the end Nick Carraway reflects on how the people coming to the new world, must have felt a lot like Gatsby. He says “for a transitory enchanted moment, they held their breath in the presence of this continent compelled to an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity to wonder.”
He is talking about Gatsby here. How Gatsby felt so close to his dream when he was just across the bay from Daisy, that he must have felt just like the settlers coming to the new world full of hope. Unfortunately, we see Gatsby is disappointed by his dream and never able to realize this.
So after we identify that issue, we need to go ahead and develop a simple theme. It’s really easy. We ask ourselves, what is F. Scott Fitzgerald trying to tell us about the American dream based on the actions in the scenes of the characters? So when we think about that, it’s pretty reasonable to say that F. Scott Fitzgerald believes that the American dream is only a farce.
Remember with this theme statement, even though its just simple theme statement, we are always going to start with the author’s name. Because the theme is not about what you believe, it’s about trying to discover what exactly does the author try to communicate about a particular issue.
So after we’ve got our simple theme, we are going to try to make it a little more detailed, a little bit more specific, because that will make it a stronger thesis for our paper. So in order to do that, we are going to probe that simple theme by asking some questions of it.
So I might ask the questions about simple theme. Why doesn’t he believe in the dream? What makes it a farce and what causes the failure of that dream? So I might think about those answers. Well F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn’t seem to believe in the American dream, because it doesn’t come true for every person. In addition, it seems that what causes the failure of the dream, is people’s pursuit of wealth instead of happiness. So now that I thought about those answers and bring some ideas, I’m going to try to incorporate them in to step forward, just to develop a more sophisticated theme.
So I’m going to take those answers, and I’ll take my first theme statement, move them together and I come up with something like this. F. Scott Fitzgerald believes the idea of the America dream can mistakenly lead people to pursue material wealth ,which will never grant true happiness. So here I’ve got a lot more specific language than that simple theme. This is going to be really easy to prove, once I do get some examples from the book
So now that we’ve got this sophisticated theme, this is really in good shape and could be transferred directly to a thesis statement for a paper. What we’ve got to do now, is just identify what our subtopics would be. What ideas do we need to prove in order for that sophisticated theme statement to be true?
So you are really looking just to break it down. So one facet of that theme statement, is this idea that Fitzgerald shows that money cannot create happiness. So if God approved this statement, before I can prove it higher theme statement is true. One way to do this, really the only and the best way to do this, is to find a specific example from the book that shows that Fitzgerald believes that money cannot create happiness. So what I did is located a specific example from the novel to support that claim.
And if you take a look at this quote, this is really supportive of it. It says “Nothing happened I waited and about four o’clock she came to the window and stood there for a minute and then turned out the light.” And of course, this is Gatsby talking about his observances of Daisy, the morning after she murders Myrtle in Gatsby’s car.
So here we see Gatsby has given everything to Daisy. He's offered her this idea of wealth, he’s got a mansion on West Egg island, but in the end he has nothing to show off. He says nothing happens. He waited and he waited and he waited for and all she did was walk to the window and didn’t even acknowledge him. So here we see this idea that, even though he is given everything to her, he has nothing In return and clearly he is not happy. So we could use this quotation from the book, as support of the theme that we came up with.
So just to review, we can pick up any of those issues that we mention in the beginning of this episode, and take them to the next level, creating a literary analysis essay outline for them. We do that by following the six step theme about the process.
We start by identifying an issue, then we come up with the simple theme, by asking ourselves what they offer themes about that issue. We probe that simple theme with some detailed questions, in order to come up with our sophisticated theme. We break that sophisticated theme down into subtopics and find some specific examples from the novel, that really supports our subtopics and prove that they are true.
So The Great Gatsby is considered the quite essential American novel. Mainly because F. Scott Fitzgerald was able to capture the fall the wonderful error. For the first time in the 1920’s the American dream was being doubted.
In this episode, we took a look at the American dream and several other issues that the novel deals with. Then we walked through the quick six step theme development process. So you should have an outline ready to go to write a literary analysis essay.
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