"I’m Inclined To Reserve All Judgments": Understanding Characterization Through Casting

3 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT analyze how complex characters behave, interact, and represent theme by casting famous actors in their roles.

Big Idea

The Perfect Daisy? A Natural Nick? A Tyrannical, Tumultuous Tom? Who would perfectly portray characterization given in "The Great Gatsby"?

Introduction and Welcome: It's Mary Shelley's Birthday

3 minutes

I open class with a "Happy Birthday, Mary Shelley," noting the life of the author of "Frankenstein," and asking for a quick review of the elements of Gothic literature learned in our study of Edgar Allan Poe:

1. The possibility of evil

2. The influence of the supernatural

3. Isolation leads to insanity

I remind students of Poe's use of vivid language and detailed descriptions, and note F. Scott Fitzgerald is similar in style, albeit not in diction. (See Unit: "Brooding, Dark, and Gothic" for more on our look at Poe.)

As always, the Daily Holiday serves to draw students in, building student ownership and a sense of community in the class, and draw connections between the "real world" and our classroom. 



Character Clarification and Casting

45 minutes

As they entered the classroom today, students were giving a copy of "The Great Gatsby--Characterization and Casting" assignment. 

In order to analyze how F. Scott Fitzgerald's complex characters develop, we begin investigating how they establish their motivation and interact with other characters (RL.9-10.3). Students will be "casting" the characters in order to draw connections between the actors and roles with whom they have familiarity. This personal connections provides a foundation for drawing connections between Fitzgerald's characters and others who exhibit similar traits. Students are able to draw on prior knowledge, and share their own favorite roles, in order to develop an understanding of the character.  

After reviewing the directions with the students, we read the quotations from the novel in the first box on the guide, and I ask students to identify the character being described (Nick). We then discuss the quotations describing Nick, and infer three adjectives that describe him. Students are drawing from these quotations, but also draw on previous preparation by referring to evidence from our discussion of Nick from the Chapter 1 Review Guide, and from their own reading, in order to hold an in-depth conversation about Nick's character (SL.9-10.1a).

In order to visualize the character, and further understand characterization, we then address actors that could play the role in a hypothetical new film adaptation. In order to model this part of the activity, I draw on Tobey Maguire's role in the "Spider-Man" films. Maguire played Nick in the 2013 adaptation of "The Great Gatsby," and many of the students are familiar with this performance and his portrayal of Spider-Man/Peter Parker. I ask students to describe how Tobey Maguire's performance demonstrates the adjectives we chose to describe Nick, drawing on specifics from his "Spider-Man" (or any other films with which they may be familiar). I also stress that we are seeking to prove why he may be appropriate for the role, not consider evidence why he is not. 

Students are then asked to turn to someone seated near them, and pair up to identify the remaining characters: Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, and for all four characters, chose actors who have not previously played them, using previous roles to support their decisions. I stress that the casting choices must be age, gender, and ethnically appropriate. ("No, class, you may not cast Nicholas Cage as Daisy and Morgan Freeman as Tom." --It has come up.) As student pairs discuss character options (Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage are suggested, and rejected, based on age), character descriptions, roles, and appropriate casting choices, they are encouraged to utilize technology, either classroom computers or their own personal smartphones, to access the Internet Movie Database. to practice gathering relevant information from a digital source about actors and roles appropriate to compare to Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan (W.9-10.8). 

After twenty minutes, we share descriptive decisions as a class, and students share their inferences and character choices; we discuss these as a class, as students respond to each other's perspectives: explaining, qualifying or justifying their choices (SL.9-10.1d). The final list of adjectives can be seen in today's lesson image.

By utilizing a variety of whole-class and partner activities, requiring analysis and creative thinking skills, and adjusting the pacing of class, I am able to keep the students engaged and looking deeply at the character's portrayals in the novel. 

Two-Minute Warning: Wrap Up and Reminders

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I remind students that the reading and review guides for Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, are due for two days from now (Thursday), when we will review the questions. By reading interdependently, students are challenged to come to their own conclusions about the novel, which we will address in class. These review guides ask students to cite thorough textual evidence in order to support their analysis of the novel (RL.9-10.1).