The Great Gatsby

Students read The Great Gatsby, evaluating Fitzgerald's critique of the American 1920s, as well as considering issues of social class and the impact of history and memory on individuals.

Unit Summary

As students read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, they will conduct in-depth character analysis of Gatsby and evaluate how Fitzgerald uses the character of Gatsby, as well as other literary devices, to comment on the society and values of the American 1920s. Students will consider issues of social class and the impact of history and memory on the lives of the characters as well as on our own.

While we do not typically take a stand on whether reading is done in class or at home, this particular unit is most suited to students reading the majority of the novel at home, allowing class time for analyzing key excerpts as well as writing about and discussing the text.  If the teacher would like to read in class, she or he should allow for the number of lessons to be roughly double the estimate below.

This unit has three Supplementary AP Projects related to the theme of consumerism. In the first two projects, students will read multiple short documents and write a synthesis essay (similar to FRQ 1). Then, students will compose responses to the FRQ 3 essay prompt from the 2005 AP English Language and Composition Exam. The emphasis of this third project will be developing and communicating an informed opinion on the topic of wealth inequality. To learn more about including these Supplemental AP Projects in this English 12 unit, please see our Guide to Supplemental AP Language and Composition Projects.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


This assessment accompanies Unit 5 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


Intellectual Prep for English Lessons

  1. Read and annotate the novel.
  2. Read and annotate this unit plan and all paired passages.
  3. Gather outside sources on World War I, the Jazz Age, and the Roaring Twenties if students have not previously studied these eras.

Intellectual Prep for AP Projects

Essential Questions


  • Wealth and Social Class: How far can one go to break boundaries that separate the classes? How far should one go to break boundaries that separate the classes?  
  • Memory and the Past: Is “the past” a boundary we cannot overcome (as Nick rationally argues, “you can’t repeat the past”) or is the future a boundary we cannot overcome (as Nick notes, we are “ceaselessly born back into the past” as the “future recedes before us”)?

Writing Focus Areas


Students will produce short written responses to each target task question in this unit. The focus is for students to produce short pieces that show a commitment to the task, purpose, and audience. This requires that they succinctly articulate their claim and provide brief but compelling evidence from the text(s) to support their analysis.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Focus on Task: Comprehensive and consistently appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience
  • Analysis: Demonstrates effective and comprehensive reasoning
  • Evidence: Sophisticated and varied evidence that deepens insight on the topic



Literary Terms

first-person narration, characterization, metaphor, irony, symbol, allusion, foreshadowing, motif, theme

Roots and Affixes

ol- (olfactory), som- (somnambulatory)


Chapters 1–3: feign (1), levity (1), privy (1), elation (2), supercilious (7), fractiousness (7), unobtrusively (12), irreverently (9), cynical (16), peremptorily (19), involuntarily (21), transcendent (23), impenetrable (23), sumptuous (25), countenance (29), inexhaustible (35), innuendo (40), contemptuous (42), staid (44), florid (48), jaunty (52), subterfuge (58)

Chapters 4–6: incredulous (66), olfactory (68), somnambulatory (69), inconceivable (92), vitality (95), contemptuous (98), conceit (99), antecedents (101), ingratiate (101), lethargic (106), euphemism (106), incalculable (108), incarnation (111)

Chapters 7–9: obscurely (113), cynically (116), inexhaustible (120), boisterously (121), contingency (121), incredulous (122 & 129), inviolate (125), precipitately (125), disquieting (125), invariably (136), incessantly (138), truculent (140), indiscernible (148), interminable (154), conceivably (158), amorphous (161), elocution (173), complacent (176), transitory (180)

Idioms and Cultural References

Chapters 1–4: Great War (3), John D. Rockefeller (27), Fifth Avenue (28), Town Tattle (29), Gilda Gray (41), Follies (41), Von Hindenburg (61), Oxford (65), 1919 World Series (73), debut (75), Armistice (75), Coney Island (83), Trimalchio (113), medium (122), Hopalong Cassidy (173)

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • World War I
  • The Jazz Age
  • The Roaring Twenties

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

  • The theme of memory and the past features heavily in both The Great Gatsby and The God of Small Things. Students should be able to compare how the two authors develop this theme and what each author’s message is.

Lesson Map



Select a topic and begin work on a unit paper.


  • The Great Gatsby

  • The Great Gatsby

Analyze how the filmmaker establishes tone in the film version.

AP Projects


3 days


Does the pursuit of self-interest benefit society? Explain your position by synthesizing information from both the cartoon "The Great GAPsby Society" and the novel The Great Gatsby. Your argument should be the focus of your paragraph. Use the cartoon and novel to develop your claim, but do not merely summarize them.


5 days


Consumerism is the preoccupation of a society with the acquisition of goods. A capitalist economy such as that of the United States of America relies on the purchasing of goods and services by consumers for the economy to grow, but some believe consumerism has gone too far. Throughout the history of this country, consumer demand has had an impact, both positive and negative, on the economic and social order of the country.

Carefully read the following six sources. Then synthesize the material from at least three of the sources and incorporate them into a coherent, well-developed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies the notion that American consumerism is a crisis. 

Your argument should be the focus of your essay. Use the sources to develop your argument and explain your reasoning. Avoid merely summarizing the sources. Indicate clearly which sources you are using, whether through direct quotation or summary.

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.11-12.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.11-12.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.11-12.3 — Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • L.11-12.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11—12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.11-12.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RI.11-12.2 — Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • RL.11-12.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

  • RL.11-12.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

  • RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.11-12.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

  • SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.