Sample Questions

1. How does "The Great Gatsby" portray the possession of great wealth? Is it, despite appearances, a 'snobbish' novel?

Think about the differences between the characters in the novel. How have they made their money? In what way is this evidenced? Think about Nick Carraway as a character who is impressed but not overcome by the lavishness of the 'Eggers' ' lifestyle. Tom, Daisy and Gatsby are so caught up in their own financial situation, that they cannot appreciate many of the benefits that it has brought them. The novel's main message, banal though it may seem, is that money cannot buy happiness, and that the characters are all searching for something that they cannot achieve.

The novel is split between a glorification of Gatsby's nouveau riche excesses, and a castigization of them. Fitzgerald himself was a composite of his provincial mother and his aristocratic father, and this dichotomy is notable in his ambiguous presentation of Gatsby. Ultimately, though, the novel is a condemnation of all that is wrong with the American upper classes.

2. How does Fitzgerald use symbolism to underline his moral message?

Firstly, discuss the major symbols of the novel: the green light, Dr. Eckleberg's eyes, cars, and Gatsby's library.

The light represents all of Gatsby's aspirations; not just winning Daisy, but also attaining the position of the Buchanans in society. The light, however, is shrouded in darkness, and barred to Gatsby by the water which he needs to cross if he is to reach East Egg, where the true upper classes live.

Dr. Eckleberg's eyes represent the material world's version of God. The eyes are unblinking, and are actually part of an advertisement. Fitzgerald believes that money has caused people to lose their need for religion - instead of searching for enlightenment or spiritual solace, they are trying to spot the next sound investment. Gatsby's downfall is an indication of what happens in a world without faith.

The gold car which Daisy is driving when she runs over Myrtle, her rival for Tom's love, is symbolic of the heartless malice of the materialistic age. Gatsby is destroyed by the car along with Myrtle. It is an obvious image, but an enduring one: the United States in the 'Twenties was a gold Rolls Royce charging down the road with no heed to those who got in its way.

The library represents the intellectual background of Gatsby. At one of Gatsby's great parties, Nick enters Gatsby's library and converses with some other guests. One man in particular is infinitely impressed with the fact that all of the books in Gatsby's library are real. The pages in the books are not even cut; they are in the same condition as when he bought them. Gatsby is therefore unable to take advantage of all the knowledge which he has at his disposal. It shows that wealth must take on culture before it becomes aristocracy.

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