How (Not) to Write the Perfect Intro to a "Great Gatsby" Essay
Begin with a quotation (italicized) from the Great Gatsby, preferably from the final chapter. Follow it immediately with a relevant quote (also italicized) from a random song. This proves that you read the whole book, and you understand the power of comparison. It also implies that the book affected you on a personal level.
We can begin the draft proper with a sweeping statement about the character of Jay Gatsby. You want to be specific enough to convey meaning but vague enough that no one will disagree with you outright. Use a descriptive metaphor. Now let’s make the essay more "meta" by equating Gatsby with the author. For good measure, include another reference to the final chapter. Now we have to forget about Gatsby for a second, since the protagonist is this other guy, Nick Carraway.
Now here's an idea: the author, like Gatsby, wants total control of the story. Fitzgerald is famous, and that makes him a probable tyrant. As an author yourself, however, you aren't afraid to take on one of the greats. You must openly blame Fitzgerald for the poor state of affairs and charge him with limiting our access to Gatsby's fictitious financial secrets.
At this point we should probably throw in another quote, just to be safe. And since we've already proved that we read the whole book, we can refer to invaluable resources such as wikiquote.org for the rest of the paper. Finish the paragraph with a slightly mystifying statement that again connects the reader with Carraway.
Okay, let's stop. This is the result:
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
"And then the past recedes, and I won't be involved." - John Frusciante
Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby is a man seemingly preoccupied with the advancing tides of the future, when really he concerns himself only with those receding into the past. By misinterpreting the motions of his life, Gatsby authors the strange currents surrounding the narrative which ultimately lead to his death. As a narrator approaching Gatsby from the outside, Nick Carraway can only serve as the passive reader of events as they unfold, powerless to affect them in any meaningful way. But by confining the reader within Carraway's narrow perspective, Fitzgerald creates a situation in which the reader can never be fully comfortable with the characters or the plot. Carraway's primary failing in the book is his inability to unwrap the enigmatic Gatsby. The reader is similarly denied the opportunity to understand Gatsby. As Carraway himself admits, "I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life." There is something inaccessible about the text. It isn't for the reader, much as the secrets of Gatsby's life aren't for Carraway to know.
When I started, I was positive that this wouldn't lead to anything even remotely similar to an actual paper on The Great Gatsby. But when I see the result, I'm half convinced. (Except for the song lyric. That's always a bad idea.) It looks like an introduction and it sounds like an introduction, but it isn't one. And I don't have a clue what this paper would really be about, because I made it up with notes from wikipedia.
Academic writing seems formulaic, and it's often presented in that way: follow these steps and you'll end up with an essay. Anyone can do it. We also know that the internet is a resource, and it’s incredibly easy to find information on almost any text we have to write about (including other essays). The “introduction” above is an example of what happens if you follow the process, use easy resources, and refrain from inserting yourself into the text in any way. The result is soulless, uninspiring, and ambiguous, and I should be mauled by a bear for even creating it.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself into your academic writing. If voice and personality didn’t matter in writing, we would read wikipedia summaries instead of books. Essays shouldn’t be any different. One more thing - I think many teachers would be grateful if they never again have to read an introduction like the one above.