top of page


The teacher understands how to connect concepts and use differing perspectives to engage learners in critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative problem solving related to authentic local and global issues.

The Great Gatsby Pre-Reading Activity: Intro to the 1920's & Deconstructing "The American Dream"

Students were excited to read The Great Gatsby because of their preconceived understanding of it as a work predominantly concerned with wealth and young love. Some instructors in my school criticized the work because of its traditional associations with the hangup on wealth, partying, and living life in excess. However, when planning to teach the text, I saw a great opportunity to deconstruct social hierarchies, socioeconomic mobility, and the idealization of the wealthy in the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald's life, and contemporary society. In the Gatsby unit, I introduced different literary criticisms as lenses through which we could read the novel. In especially focusing on the Marxist lens, the book became a platform for opening a dialogue about contemporary social issues and our construction of the American Dream: Who is this dream designed for? What does it look like? Is it attainable?

The lesson begins with a journal prompt: "What is the American Dream?" I planned to revisit this question at the end of the novel to gauge if the novel shifted students' ideas surrounding the ideal American life (due to COVID-19, these plans changed). Students shared out their responses, and I wrote them on the board. See image right. 

The following presentation outline the historical context of the 1920's. I split up the content by delivering information, showing a trailer of a film on the Prohibition, and dividing students into groups to analyze political cartoons with differing attitudes toward the changing cultural norms of the 20's. We continue to discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald's life and writing influences, and the "Gatsby Curve" — a graph demonstrating social mobility and immobility around the world. Among developed countries, the United States proves to be among the most immobile.​

While I used different methods of discussion with every class, I centered all of our final discussions on the following questions: 

  • “Mobility is the promise that lies at the heart of the American dream.” Do you agree? 

  • Fitzgerald writes famously, “The rich are different from you and me.” Given the time period, the commentary on these political cartoons, and wealth distribution in America, what can we predict the book will be about?

Finally, I left students with the following question to think about as we left class: Look at our ideas surrounding the American Dream. Look at “The Gatsby Curve,” as shown on the last slide of the presentation. How do we reconcile our idea of the American Dream, in light of the reality of social immobility in the United States? This is the central question of The Great Gatsby, and the question F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled with his entire life. Think about it as we begin to read. 

While The Great Gatsby was a pre-selected book for me to teach during my time as a student teacher, in applying my previous knowledge of literary criticisms and previous critical analysis of the conceptual framework of the American dream, the novel becomes a platform for a larger conversation surrounding our country's identity. 


Access full Word document here.

bottom of page