The Great Gatsby is widely-regarded as one of the great American novels and many of us teach it every year to secondary students who seem to instantly get the feeling of lost dreams, the feeling of being "within and without" and the feeling that the American Dream is too good to be true.
Today, I want to share a strategy that can help students track the color symbolism as it develops in The Great Gatsby. Students will "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." (CCS 11-12.2)
I do this activity once students are finished with the novel, but it can be adapted to do half way through and then again at the end so that there is a more manageable amount of data to work with. To go through this thoroughly, this usually takes me a couple of days in class.
Step 1: Assign students to 9 jigsaw groups. Give each group a chapter and ask them to make a list of ALL of the times anything is described by color. For example in chapter 2:
- Valley of Ashes (men, cars, landscape)- grey
- TJ Eckleburg’s eyes – blue
- TJ Eckleburg’s glasses- yellow
Step 2: Create large posters for each major color. I use poster sized sticky notes so that I can easily put them around the room during the analysis phase, but any large paper would work. I make the following 9 posters (since there are 9 chapters and 9 groups):
- Pink and Red (Separately, but the lists are short so I put both on the same poster)
- Grey/Black (I combine them)
- Silver and Multi-colored (separate)
- Other (This will include brown, lavender, and everything else they find)
Step 3: Have students add their evidence, passing the papers from group to group until all evidence is added. I give a couple of minutes per color and let students know that they may not have found every color in every chapter.
Step 4: Go through the colors, one by one analyzing the significance of the colors. I usually lead this as a whole group discussion, but it could also be done at a small group level for more advanced students. Although there are many interpretations, I usually go with some version of the following:
- Gold: Old Money, Class, The Unattainable
- Yellow: New Money, Social Climbing, Fakeness
- Blue: Illusion, Unreality
- Green: Hope, Future, American Dream (Not purely positive connotations)
- White: Rigidity, Lack of Substance
- Pink: Fresh, New, Beginnings and Red: Passion, Anger, Lust, Tension
- Grey/Black: Hopelessness, Poverty, Corruption of the American Dream, Consequences
- Silver: Money and Multi-colored: Opportunity
- Other: This one depends on which colors students discuss. I only discuss these if time permits.
Step 5: Look at the big picture. After all of the pain-staking close analysis of color symbolism, I do a think-pair-share about author's purpose and the overall effect on the novel.
Extension/Assessment: Have students write about the meaning behind one or more of the colors discussed in class.
What do you think of this strategy? We'd love to hear your comments, questions, or insights below!
Don't forget to go over to Simply Novel for their The Great Gatsby Literature Guide and much more!