Want your book club to be as cool as this dino book club? Clearly the way to do that is to read So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan, a look at why The Great Gatsby endures. To help you out, we’ve put together some discussion questions to ignite your conversation.
We got our dino inspiration from two of our other authors, Susan and Refe Tuma. They’re responsible for some of the coolest dinoramas known to man (and beast) and the book What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night.
1. When did you first read The Great Gatsby? How has your interpretation of the novel changed since then?
2. Popular culture has rendered Fitzgerald in archetypal terms: the great artist, the doomed lover, the tragic drunk, the abusive husband. So We Read On gives us a window into the life of the man before he became an icon, showing us the nerdy Minneapolis kid who never quite fit in, the teenager who got into Princeton but couldn’t manage to graduate, the young man who enlisted in the army but never saw combat, the writer struggling to get himself noticed in the cruelest of cities (New York). How has Corrigan’s book shaped your view of this much-mythologized writer? What connections might you draw between Fitzgerald and his (anti)hero, Jay Gatsby? What about his narrator, Nick Carraway? In what sense do you see the themes and concerns of his personal life mapped onto his greatest novel?
3. Corrigan mentions that an early version of Gatsby was told by an omniscient narrator. Why do you think Fitzgerald chose ultimately to tell the story in retrospect, through the eyes of Nick Carraway?
4. Fitzgerald himself thought that the sales of Gatsby were hurt by the fact that there are no sympathetic women characters in the novel. What do you think? What is the place of women in Gatsby? How does the novel regard the emancipated “flapper” figure of the 1920s?
5. Corrigan notes that, unlike most of its peers in the American canon, Gatsby is a novel that foregrounds class instead of race, and she calls Gatsby “America’s greatest novel about class.” Do you agree? What determines class and status in Gatsby, and are these qualities fluid or fixed, or some combination of the two? What does the novel ultimately think about “The American Dream” of rising up through hard work? How does Gatsby’s story comment on that dream?
6. Gatsby was written during a time when many native-born white Americans were concerned about the rising number of immigrants in the country as well as the rising population of African-Americans in big cities like New York. Where does the novel stand on issues of immigration and race? In the 1930s, with the rise of anti-Semetism in Europe, Fitzgerald was criticized for the character of Meyer Wolfshiem. What do you think of that character?
7. The two most famous film adaptations of Gatsby (from 1974 and 2013) focus on the romance between Gatsby and Daisy. Are these two the leads in a great love story, in your reading, or does the novel take a darker view of the forces that draw them together?
8. When we first meet Gatsby at the end of Chapter 1, he’s stretching his arms out to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock across Long Island Sound. Corrigan says that everyone in the novel is stretching out their arms for someone or something out of their grasp. Why? What are the principle characters reaching for?
9. Fitzgerald called Gatsby “a novel of New York life.” How does America’s premiere city of the 1920s figure in the novel?
10. What do the famous last words of The Great Gatsby mean? So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past?
11. Is there such a thing as “The Great American Novel”? Do you think The Great Gatsby qualifies? Why or why not?