The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Great Gatsby | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, how does F. Scott Fitzgerald describe East Egg and West Egg as symbols of old money versus new money?

From the moment he introduces readers to East Egg and West Egg, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the descriptions of the area, the homes, and even the people to set up the class theme that comes into play in the novel. Nick Carraway rents a house in West Egg, which is described as the "less fashionable" of the two communities; it's where people with new money reside. Consider his description of Jay Gatsby's mansion in West Egg, in which he calls it "a colossal affair ... with a tower ... and more than forty acres of lawn." By contrast, "the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water" where the Buchanans' house was, is described as "a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay." There is warmth and charm and even poise suggested by the verbs and adjectives he uses in his painting of East Egg.

What is an example of the boredom that Fitzgerald's elite characters—the haves—display in Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby ?

In Chapter 1 Nick Carraway describes his first dinner with the Buchanans (and Jordan Baker) once he has settled into his new home. The description that follows captures how Daisy and Jordan greet Nick when he joins them that evening: "The younger of the two ... was extended full length at her end of the divan." He continues, "Daisy, made an attempt to rise—she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression." The scene—and the women's disregard (and possibly disdain) screams boredom—as well as an abundance of freedom, time, and money—all of which contribute to the carelessness and recklessness with which they handle their lives and the lives of others around them.

In Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, how do the characters Nick Carraway meets exhibit their self-absorption, and how do their attitudes portray the degradation of society in the 1920s?

In Chapter 1 readers learn quite a bit about Tom and Daisy Buchanan, and their houseguest Jordan Baker. From the moment Nick Carraway comes through the door, we see that they are self-absorbed by the way they interact with each other, their guest (Nick), and their employees. We see them talk about how impressed they are with their own possessions. On an even deeper level, we see that their thinking is more influenced by their society rather than their own thoughts. A moment between Nick and Daisy, when she speaks to him about her take on life, captures this. "You see I think everything's terrible anyhow. ... Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people." Even in talking about her own life and her own thoughts, Daisy is unable to be much more than a mouthpiece for her contemporaries.

In Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby, how does Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan's mistress, serve as an embodiment of people's desire to join the elite?

Chapter 2 makes it apparent that Myrtle Wilson yearns for the wealth and power that comes with being part of the elite—a position that her association with Tom Buchanan affords her, at least on a temporary basis. From the way in which she drops everything and dashes off to New York to be with Tom (under the guise of visiting her sister), we see that Myrtle has no qualms about abandoning her husband George in both the short-term and, most likely, in the long-term. Although George is unaware of her betrayal at this point in the novel, her eagerness to leave him when she can and to discount him quickly to others ("I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe") suggests what people will do to get what they want. What Myrtle wants is Tom and the life his money can buy. Nick Carraway describes the persona she takes on when she is with Tom and the people in New York, changing her dress and the way she talks, and even taking on a haughtiness that readers have seen as more characteristic of the elite in this novel. Although everything we learn of Myrtle is, on the surface, about her and her situation, looking at her as representative of the overall desire of the have-nots to be among the elite gives readers even more to think about.

What is the significance of the billboard that Nick Carraway describes in Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby?

In Chapter 2 Nick describes for readers the billboard for Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, an eye doctor whose advertisement looms over the valley of ashes within view of Wilson's garage. Described as a billboard featuring two enormous eyes peeking through a pair of equally huge yellow spectacles, the sign is worn and somewhat neglected. Perched as it is above the valley, the billboard has a certain watchman-like presence that later becomes layered with religious overtones and represents Fitzgerald's theme of the degradation of society.

In Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby, how does Tom Buchanan's behavior toward Myrtle Wilson at their party echo the theme of class that Fitzgerald examines with this novel?

In the party scene in Chapter 2—at the secret apartment that Tom keeps for himself and Myrtle—Tom breaks Myrtle's nose during an argument between them. That in itself says a lot. But even before that, Tom makes Myrtle the butt of his jokes, as when he suggests that she write a letter of introduction for Mr. McKee (the downstairs neighbor) so that he might have an opportunity to do more photography work on Long Island. Tom laughingly says she should write to her husband recommending McKee—as though George could be a profitable customer for the photographer. By his sarcastic response to McKee's request, Tom is clearly mocking both of them. Whether taking his behavior at face value—simply how he treats Myrtle—or as an example of how the elite treat those with less money, Tom is careless, disrespectful, egotistical, and crude. Most of what he does and says reveals his sense of entitlement and the disregard he has for everyone who he considers beneath him—which is pretty much everyone.

Regarding The Great Gatsby's themes of class and superficiality versus truth, what is the significance in Chapter 2 of Myrtle Wilson stopping the taxi so she can buy a puppy?

As Tom, Myrtle, and Nick leave the train station in a taxi, she insists they pull over to buy a puppy from a man selling them from a basket. The scene, seemingly insignificant upon first reading it, says a good deal about superficiality and class struggle. Myrtle decides on a whim to get a dog, and shows the rash and self-serving behavior already exhibited by Tom and Daisy Buchanan. "I want to get one for the apartment," she says."They're nice to have—a dog." On the surface, it's an impulsive and superficial decision. She wants to adopt a dog for the apartment, as if it's another lamp or a chair. To do so on a whim, as Myrtle does here, with no regard for how it will be taken care of seems void of thought for anything but self—a behavior seen again and again in the course of the story. Looking at this scene a little more deeply, that same decision suggests a cavalier attitude toward life that is reminiscent of Daisy's speech about her child in Chapter 1. Further, the way Tom and Myrtle treat the man selling the dogs—most especially Tom who insults the man even as he pays him—is just one more example of the elite's entitled attitude: I want what I want when I want it.

In Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby, what examples of elite characters behaving badly support the idea that wealth and free time have led to the degradation of society?

By the novel's end, people of privilege behaving badly seem to be the norm in terms of characterization. In Chapter 2 alone, readers can point to countless examples: Jordan Baker—unprovoked—critiquing an acquaintance's hair color change; partygoers in a drunk and disorderly state getting into brawls as they leave Gatsby's party; two women relating how after a previous party Gatsby had replaced the one woman's gown after she ripped it on a chair—and bleakly finding fault in Gatsby's character for having done so. As the novel unfolds, Fitzgerald gives much support to the thought that the haste and excess that characterizes the lifestyle of the elite (as embodied here by people in the East) was eroding the character of the people and society in general.

In Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby, what is an example of old-money guests from East Egg mingling with new-money guests from West Egg at Jay Gatsby's party?

Old money, as represented by East Egg, and new money, as represented by West Egg, come together at Jay Gatsby's parties. Jay Gatsby is popular, despite class consciousness and the fact that the old-money East Egg people find him ostentatious and are suspicious of his new-earned wealth. One particular example of this clash of class is the man who Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker discover in Gatsby's library. Expecting the many books lining Gatsby's shelves to be fake, he is utterly astounded. "Absolutely real—have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard," the guest says. In one statement, this guest, whom Nick calls "Owl Eyes," displays both his distrust for people like Gatsby and his own boorish behavior toward his host, both of which become characteristic of the elite by the novel's end.

In Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby, what is the significance of Nick Carraway's internal conflict about the New York lifestyle versus the values with which he grew up?

In the last part of Chapter 3, we see Nick simultaneously fitting into life in the East and being pulled by thoughts of his life back in the Midwest. This passage sets up the internal struggle that Nick is going through, torn as he is between what his association with his wealthy friends and acquaintances in the East can offer him—and his own values, instilled by his upbringing in the Midwest. Already Nick has seen cracks in the veneer of the exciting life that he has fallen into: he recognizes the superficiality of many people around him, including Jordan; he sees the shallowness of their relationships; and he sees a certain dark side to the wealth and power that people like Tom Buchanan and even Jay Gatsby possess. This passage seems to suggest that Nick will eventually have to choose between the lifestyles before him.

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