The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Background Information

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Key Literary Elements
• Setting/Characters 
• Conflict 
• Plot
• Themes 
• Background Information
• Literary/Historical Information 

Chapter Summaries with Notes
• Chapter I 
• Chapter II 
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI 
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX 

Overall Analyses
• Characters 
• Plot 
• Themes
• Symbolic Meaning Of The Novel 

• Study Questions



Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896. He was the only son of his middle class Catholic family. His father worked for Proctor and Gamble, but he failed in his career. Although his mother’s family was wealthy and well-known in the Midwest, she was rather eccentric. As a youth, F. Scott was taught the traditions of the upper class, but his family did not have the financial means to live that way. Fitzgerald strove, however, to be a good student and a successful athlete; as a result, he was a promising and popular young man. He also had an interest in literature and published fiction in his high school magazine. In 1911, Fitzgerald went to Newman Academy, a Catholic preparatory school in New Jersey. Here he continued to write fiction and also developed an interest in drama and had two of his plays produced by a local company.

In 1913, Fitzgerald was accepted to Princeton, where he continued to write. He also fell in love with Ginerva King, a girl from the upper crust of Chicago Society. Distracted by her and his extracurricular activities, his grades dropped so low in 1915 that he had to leave school for a while. He returned to Princeton in 1916, but was distraught when his love affair with Ginerva was terminated by her. As a result, he decided to quit college and join the army in 1917, wanting to experience the war in Europe. Instead, he was sent to Alabama, where he met the lovely, wild, and undisciplined socialite, Zelda Sayre. She refused to marry him, for he could not support her. As a result, he went to New York in 1919, after being discharged from the army, in hopes of earning a fortune in the literary world so he could win Zelda as his bride. When his first novel was accepted for publication, Fitzgerald had the success and acclaim he had sought.

In 1920, Fitzgerald married the eighteen year-old Zelda, and they moved to New York City. Soon afterwards, they had a daughter, “Scottie.” In spite of their parenthood, Fitzgerald and Zelda played hard and drank excessively, living beyond their means and becoming famous for their partying and outrageous scenes. They also traveled extensively and knew all the expatriate American writers in England and France. Despite their glamorized marriage, it was very tumultuous.

With no real career, F. Scott had time to devote to writing. This Side of Paradise, his first novel, was published in 1920. Encouraged by the attention it drew, Fitzgerald began to devote more time to his literary career. The Beautiful and the Damned, his second novel, and Tales of the Jazz Age, a collection of stories, were both published in 1922 and won Fitzgerald additional praise. In 1923, he produced a play, The Vegetable, which did not do well at all. His next novel, however, became his greatest success; he published The Great Gatsby in 1925, and it quickly brought him praise from the literary community, but it failed to give him the needed financial security he sought. A year later he published, All the Sad Young Men, a collection of short stories.

Increasingly, Fitzgerald’s lifestyle and problems with Zelda negatively affected his writing. During the 1920s, he often tried reordering his life by moving from place to place; but he could not escape from his problems or his reputation. By 1930, Zelda had her first breakdown and went for treatment to a Swiss clinic. Fitzgerald tried to write during this period and finally completed his next novel, Tender is the Night, which was published in 1934. His last novel, The Last Tycoon, was published in 1940 and made into a film.

In 1934, Zelda was hospitalized in the United States for treatment and never came out of an institution again. In response to the loss of Zelda, Fitzgerald totally drowned himself in alcohol, and his later works do not have the polish or control of his earlier ones. In order to support himself and pay Zelda’s hospital bills, he went to Hollywood to try his hand at screen writing. While in California, he met Sheila Graham, a twenty-eight year old British newspaper correspondent. She became his dear friend and helped Fitzgerald fight his alcoholism.

Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940, a time when he was almost forgotten as an author; in fact, by 1939, none of his previous books were even in print. Zelda died eight years after her husband, when her mental hospital residence caught fire. Since their deaths, there has been a great deal of interest in their lifestyle, and a movie was even made about her. There has also been a new interest in Fitzgerald as a writer. He is now remembered as an uneven writer, a troubled man, and a representative of the golden age of American modernism. The Great Gatsby, however, is now accepted as a remarkable piece of literature.