The Great Gatsby

In this study guide we will help you analyse the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) and analyze the characters in the text. You can also find detailed summaries of both the entire novel and its individual chapters, as well as inspiration for interpreting the text and putting it into perspective.

This study guide is based on the Penguin Popular Classics edition of the novel.

Presentation of The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American author born in 1896. His writing brought him to fame and fortune at a young age, encouraged by his pleasure-seeking and somewhat wild wife Zelda, with whom he had a stormy relationship.

Their immersion in the decadent “Jazz age” of New York and Paris in the 1920s gave Fitzgerald the perfect material for some of his best-known works, and also made the couple an object of fascination for both the literary world and for the press. However, their reckless lifestyle eventually took its toll, with Zelda suffering a nervous breakdown and Fitzgerald drinking increasingly heavily.

These themes of mental instability and the delights and dangers of drink are also key themes in many of Fitzgerald’s novels, including „The Great Gatsby” . The novel is famous for being one of the best documents of the decadence of the glamorous 1920s, but it is also filled with some of the sadnesses which characterized both the era and Fitzgerald’s own life.

In this literary guide, we will use as a source of information the following edition of the book: Fitzgerald, F.S. (2000). The Great Gatsby. Penguin Classics.

Excerpt from the study guide:

Gatsby is a tragic character, who pursues wealth in order to achieve an impossible dream.

In a broader perspective, Gatsby might be viewed as a dark twist on the celebrated American ideal of the self-made man, which is closely connected to the idea of the American dream. The ideal self-made man has worked his way up from nothing to become wealthy, thanks to the unique freedom he enjoys as an American citizen. His reward is a joyful life of freedom, wealth and luxury.

Gatsby represents a criticism of this ideal in two ways.

First of all, he is only able to become a self-made man through questionable and illegal methods, which is in contrast to the ideal of making one’s way through honest, hard work. It is also interesting to note that Gatsby was in line to inherit money legally, but that this was blocked through someone else employing questionable methods (p. 97). Combined, this seems to suggest that the American society of the 1920s is so unfair that the only realistic way to find economic success is through corrupt or illegal methods (or alternatively inheriting your wealth, as the Buchanans have done).

Secondly, Gatsby derives no real enjoyment from his wealth. He is awkward at his own parties and unable to relate to most of his rich peers, who look at him with scorn or suspicion even as they enjoy his hospitality. Even his pursuit of Daisy gives him no lasting joy, as it turns out he is chasing an impossible ideal of her that cannot possibly be matched by reality. His pursuit of an impossible dream instead leads to tragedy and an early grave.     

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The Great Gatsby

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