English Innovation: "The Great Gatsby" Project

Whitfield’s English curriculum prioritizes communication, connectivity, and innovative thinking. Courses challenge students to examine ideas, read critically, make presentations, design media products, and communicate in a variety of ways.  This diversity in research and presentation prepares students to meet the expectations of college, careers, and citizenship.

Students in Pursuit of the American Dream, a year-long English elective, spent the majority of the first trimester reading and analyzing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  To conclude their exploration of Fitzgerald’s classic text, students recently completed a final assignment in two parts: writing a five-paragraph analytical response essay and designing a project using the medium of sound-tracking, thematic cartography, or prop design.

For their written response essay, students were asked to come up with an original idea or theme in The Great Gatsby, develop a thesis, and analyze how Fitzgerald’s use of literary elements, techniques, or rhetorical devices support their central idea. Then to supplement their essay, students created original projects to further prove their theses.

“These students brought new and creative ideas to the table in their analysis of the characters in The Great Gatsby,” said faculty member David Records. “The more I look at their projects, the more I am impressed with the quality of the work that they produced.”

Malik Smith ’21 chose sound-tracking for his Gatsby project. First, he identified three scenes he believed were important to the story. Next, he selected one song per scene that was appropriate musically or lyrically. Finally, Malik wrote an analysis of how each song reflected the tone and mood of the scenes, all from the perspective of three literary characters.

“The goal of this project was to have a more creative outlook on The Great Gatsby rather than just analyzing it by writing a few paragraphs,” said Smith. “I selected the sound-tracking option for my project because I love music. I think music is an extension of people’s inner most thoughts, so I created a journal that matched three songs with three important scenes. When I annotated the lyrics, the words came from Daisy, Gatsby, and Mr. Wilson and showed how they were experiencing the scene in that moment. This project was a really good experience for me because it helped me gain a deeper understanding of the book.”

Students who chose the medium of prop design created a three-dimensional object, or prop, ‘owned’ by one of the characters and illustrated that character’s traits. In addition, they wrote an artist statement to justify the approach of their piece.

Several students chose an artist or movement from the 1920s time-period as inspiration for their projects. Zoe Brandenstein ’21 created an intricate collage (pictured with this article) that referenced themes of the Dada art movement.

“I did a lot of research about the Dada movement that informed my project,” said Brandenstein.  Her artist statement explores color, symbolism and the celebration of absurdity that is integral to this artistic movement. “At the heart of my essay is the idea that certain characters in The Great Gatsby create false identities, or masks, in order to fit into high society—that idea is represented by the mask in my collage. I learned a lot from this project, and I am sure that other students did, too. Listening to other people present their projects gave us insight into different perspectives and connections.”