The Great Gatsby and “Fences”

In this class, The Great Gatsby and “Fences” have concentrated on class position. Both of these texts implicitly argue that class mobility is impossible and unattainable. In making this claim, The Great Gatsby and “Fences” counter the ideals of the American Dream (namely that anyone who is willing to work hard enough can attain wealth and prestige). Ultimately, I want you to answer: how does The Great Gatsby and “Fences” (author or director) present the American Dream as unattainable? To answer this question, you might want to think about: what prevents characters from achieving upward mobility? The way in which you answer this question will highlight the differences between The Great Gatsby and “Fences.”

For this essay, you will discuss both The Great Gatsby and “Fences.” Choose only one of “The Great Gatsby” films (either 1974 or 2013) to analyze alongside Fitzgerald’s novel.

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For the moment, let’s assume that the fictional texts and films present the same idea: the bankruptcy of the American Dream. Now, you need to differentiate between the two texts. That is, what prevents Jay Gatsby from becoming part of the upper class? On the other hand, what factors limit the upward mobility of Troy Maxon (or his family members)? Are there differences in degree and kind? By that, I want you to think about the distinction between what Gatsby is unable to attain and what Maxon cannot attain. Gatsby is unable to be accepted into high society, while Troy wasn’t allowed to play professional baseball and thereby move into the middle class. Think about how far Gatsby is allowed to move up the social and economic ladder, and how far Maxon can go.

As you think about this essay, begin by:

Find evidence that points to ways in which the main character (Jay Gatsby and Troy Maxon) begins in a particular class position.

Then find proof that the character wants to move upward in social and economic position. In what ways does each character look to improve his class position?

Then locate evidence which demonstrates that each character is prevented from accessing upward mobility. This will involve explaining why each character is prevented from accessing upward mobility.

Every paragraph requires evidence. What counts as evidence?

A quote from the novel or play

A quote from the dialogue of a movie

A description of:

A setting,



Camera angles,


An actor’s facial expression,


A general outline of this essay:

In the introduction, provide an overview of each plot (The Great Gatsby and “Fences”)

At the end of the introduction, include a thesis statement that highlights each author’s position on the American Dream and the reason for this critique (i.e. why does each author think that upward mobility is impossible?). Your thesis might be two sentences.

A body paragraph that details the main character’s original class position.

A body paragraph about where, on the social and economic scale, the character would like to be.

A body paragraph or two on why the main character cannot achieve that position.

Use evidence from both the fictional text and the film to support your interpretation and analysis.

Fully discuss one text (The Great Gatsby or “Fences”) before moving on the next text. Don’t alternate between texts with each paragraph.

The conclusion should reflect on whether or not you agree with these texts. Do you think each author’s assessment of the American Dream is accurate? Why or why not? Provide evidence from your own experience to support your interpretation.

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