Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
TERM PAPER IDEAS / ESSAY TOPICS / BOOK REPORT IDEAS
1. Who is the central character of The Great Gatsby, Nick or Gatsby? Why?
2. Examine Fitzgerald's use of Nick as narrator of the story. What are the advantages and/or problems of telling the story in this way?
3. Examine Nick's values. How are these similar to or different from the values of the other characters?
4. Analyze Jay Gatsby. What makes him "great"?
5. Analyze Gatsby's dream. What does he believe in? Is his dream worthwhile?
6. Analyze Nick's attitude toward Gatsby's dream. Do you think Nick is being too sentimental?
7. What is meant by the phrase "the American dream"? How is Gatsby a novel about the American dream?
8. Study Gatsby's past: his family background, his education under Dan Cody, his meeting with Daisy in Louisville in 1917. How does our knowledge of his past help us to understand who he really is?
9. Analyze the symbolism of the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.
10. Analyze the symbolism of the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. --
11. Write an essay on the use of color symbolism in the novel, especially the colors white and yellow.
12. Examine the symbolic use of names in the novel. Are the names simply realistic or do they stand for something beyond themselves?
13. Examine the valley of ashes as a symbolic setting in the novel. How is it related to T. S. Eliot's "Waste Land"?
14. Examine East Egg, especially the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, as a "moral" setting. What values of the Buchanans are mirrored in their life-style?
15. Examine the world of West Egg, especially Gatsby's mansion. How is it different from East Egg. Why? What does it represent?
16. Examine New York City as a setting, especially through the two parties which occur in New York in Chapters II and VII.
17. Examine Tom Buchanan as a character. Is he sympathetic? If not, why? How does he symbolize the world of the very rich?
18. Examine Jordan Baker as a character, looking at her name, her honesty or dishonesty, her athletic career, her relationship with Nick.
19. Examine Myrtle Wilson as a character. What makes us sympathetic to her? How is she in some ways like Gatsby?
20. Look closely at the world of Gatsby's parties and the people who come to them. Who are they and how do they feel about Gatsby? --
21. Analyze the role of Meyer Wolfsheim in the novel. He is based on Arnold Rothstein ("the man who fixed the 1919 World Series"). You may wish to do some research on Rothstein.
22. Do some reading on prohibition in the 1920s. How did the bootlegging business develop and who controlled it? How does our knowledge of this affect our understanding of Gatsby?
23. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in Great Neck, Long Island, during the early 1920s and gave and went to parties similar to Gatsby's. Do some reading on Scott and Zelda in Mizener or Turnbull and analyze the similarities and/or differences between the two worlds-Fitzgerald's and Gatsby's.
24. Fitzgerald admitted that Gatsby started out as a particular person and ended up as part of himself. How is Fitzgerald like Gatsby? What aspects of himself does Fitzgerald seem to be dramatizing in Gatsby?
25. Fitzgerald put another part of himself in Nick Carraway. How would you describe this aspect of Fitzgerald? --
26. Compare and contrast Gatsby and Carraway as parts of yourself.
27. What is meant by the term "The Jazz Age"? How is The Great Gatsby a portrait of the times?
28. What do you think of the morality of the characters? Is Fitzgerald passing judgment on them? Are we being asked to?
29. Compare and contrast the parties in the first three chapters (the one at Tom and Daisy's, the one in New York, and the one at Gatsby's). What do we learn from an analysis of these three worlds?
30. Do a close analysis of the scenes in Chapter V where Gatsby meets Daisy for the first time and takes her to see his house and his possessions. Does this scene increase your sympathy for Gatsby? --
31. Do a close analysis of the two parties at Gatsby's house (Chapters II and VI). How are they similar? How different? Is the difference important in the development of the novel's themes?
32. Do a close analysis of the last page of the novel. What is Fitzgerald saying about the past? About American history?
33. Fitzgerald first thought of calling The Great Gatsby "Trimalchio in West Egg" or "Trimalchio." Who is Trimalchio? (See Glossary.) Compare and contrast Trimalchio and Gatsby.
34. The narrative technique of Gatsby is modeled on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Compare and contrast the two works, thematically and stylistically.
35. Compare and contrast Nick Carraway with Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
36. Compare and contrast Gatsby with Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
37. Read the sections in Wayne C. Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction on the difference between reliable and unreliable narrators. Would you consider Nick Carraway to be reliable?
38. Analyze Fitzgerald's style in Gatsby. What do you think he is best at? Dialogue? Description? Narration of events? Reflection? --
39. Examine The Great Gatsby as a tragedy. Who is the tragic hero?
40. Examine Daisy Buchanan as a character. What parallels do you see between her and Zelda Fitzgerald?
41. Look at the people who attend Gatsby's funeral. Who are they? Who does not come? What comment is Fitzgerald making through this contrast?
42. There is a lot of talk about carelessness in the novel. What does Fitzgerald mean by "carelessness"? Who is called careless and why?
43. Is Gatsby just a book for rich people? If you are poor or black or Hispanic, how do you react to this book? What does it say to you about America?
44. Is Gatsby relevant to the late 20th century? If so, how?
45. Compare Rudolph Miller in the story "Absolution" with Jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald originally intended to use "Absolution" as a preface to Gatsby. What parallels do you see?
46. Compare Dexter Green in the story "Winter Dreams" with Jay Gatsby. What relationships do you see between the characters? --
47. As a college or high school student, you go to parties and seek out members of the opposite sex in hopes of winning them. Does Gatsby's seeking out of Daisy correspond to this aspect of your life?
48. Analyze the East and the Midwest as symbols of different morals and life-styles in the novel. Does the contrast still hold?
49. The novel centers on three sexual relationships-Gatsby-Daisy, Tom-Myrtle, Nick-Jordan. Write an essay comparing arid contrasting these three affairs. Do you feel the same about all of them?
50. Fitzgerald himself said the greatest flaw of the novel was his failure to develop the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy after their reunion in West Egg. Do you agree? What other flaws are there?