On the eve of publication of The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald removed more than thirty pages from the novel. This was at the ‘galley’ stage, when the author is sent proofs to check for errors before printing proceeds.
The pages Fitzgerald struck out consisted mainly of Gatsby talking to Nick about himself. By taking them out, the novelist created a gap in his narrative, posed the question implied in the title, and preserved the mystery surrounding his central character. It is this gap which has driven the fame of his masterpiece in the 88 years since its publication.
As in narrative, so in inquiry – it is the gaps which drive engagement. The gaps are where the imagination plays. Reading is a creative activity; narrating a collaboration between storyteller and listener.
But you can’t have a gap by itself, of course. It has to be a gap in something. Through the outsider Nick Carraway, we observe Gatsby staring at the green light across the bay. We hear his party guests swapping wild rumours about him, we learn of their fascination with this gentleman thug, we wonder why he doesn’t attend his own parties…. a little later we hear his fantastical life-story from his own lips and don’t believe a word of it.
At the last moment, Fitzgerald decided to leave it like that. And so Jay Gatsby remained a living, breathing contradiction, and became immortal.
To create the space for inquiry, you need to plot your curriculum. The word ‘plot’, by the way, is not synonymous with ‘story’. It means the way the story is told – its narrative structure – what we learn in what order, and how – and when (if ever). A storyteller never tells the whole story. As a storyteller it’s good to leave out the boring bits – but leaving out the most interesting bits is sometimes a stroke of genius.