History of Literature










F. Scott Fitzgerald


 

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald



 

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940) was an American writer of novels and short stories, whose works are evocative of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest writers. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost Generation" of the twenties. He finished four novels, including The Great Gatsby, with another published posthumously, and wrote dozens of short stories that treat themes of youth and promise along with despair and age.

Biography

Early years
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to an upper-middle class Irish Catholic household—aggressive mother, retiring father—Fitzgerald was named after his famous relative Francis Scott Key, but was referred to as "Scott." He spent 1898–1901 and 1903–1908 in Buffalo, New York, where he attended Nardin Academy.[2] When his father was fired from Procter & Gamble, the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul from 1908–1911. His first literary effort, a detective story, was published in a school newspaper when he was 13. He attended Newman School, a prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey, in 1911–1912, and entered Princeton University in 1913 as a member of the Class of 1917. There he became friends with future critics and writers Edmund Wilson (Class of 1916) and John Peale Bishop (Class of 1917), and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club. His absorption in the Triangle—a kind of musical-comedy society—led to a submitted novel to Charles Scribner's Sons, the editor praised the writing but ultimately rejected the book. He was a member of the University Cottage Club, which still displays Fitzgerald's desk and writing materials in its library. A poor student, Fitzgerald left Princeton to enlist in the US Army during World War I; however, the war ended shortly after Fitzgerald's enlistment.

Zelda Sayre


Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, 1921


While at Camp Sheridan, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre (1900–1948), the "golden girl", in Fitzgerald's words, of Montgomery, Alabama youth society. She was the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Judge. The two were engaged in 1919, and Fitzgerald moved into an apartment at 1395 Lexington Avenue in New York City to try to lay a foundation for his life with Zelda. Working at an advertising firm and writing short stories, he was unable to convince Zelda that he would be able to support her, leading her to break off the engagement.

Fitzgerald returned to his parents' house at 599 Summit Avenue, on Cathedral Hill, in St. Paul to revise The Romantic Egoist. Recast as This Side of Paradise, about the post-WWI flapper generation, it was accepted by Scribner's in the fall of 1919, and Zelda and Scott resumed their engagement. The novel was published on March 26, 1920, and became one of the most popular books of the year. Scott and Zelda were married in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Their daughter and only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, was born on October 26, 1921.



Zelda


"The Jazz Age"

The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development.The Great Gatsby, considered Scott's masterpiece, was published in 1925. Fitzgerald made several excursions to Europe, notably Paris and the French Riviera, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, notably Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway looked up to Fitzgerald as an experienced professional writer. Hemingway greatly admired The Great Gatsby and wrote in his A Moveable Feast "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one" (153). Hemingway expressed his deep admiration for Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald's flawed, self-defeating character, when he prefaced his chapters concerning Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast with:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

Much of what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast helped to establish the myth of Fitzgerald's dissipation and loss (of ability, social control, and life) and Zelda's hand in that demise. Though the bulk of Hemingway's text is factually correct, it is also colored by his disappointment in Fitzgerald, as well as Hemingway's own rivalrous response towards any competitor, living or dead. That disappointment was most evident in The Green Hills of Africa, where he specifically mentions Fitzgerald as an archetypal ruined American writer; Hemingway had been both shocked and unnerved by Fitzgerald's account of his own difficulties in his nonfiction essays and notebooks from the 1930s, published as The Crack-Up (with Edmund Wilson as editor) in 1945.

Fitzgerald’s friendship with Hemingway was tumultuous, as many of Fitzgerald’s relationships would prove to be. (As, indeed, were many of the thrice-divorced Hemingway's.) Hemingway did not get on well with Zelda, either. He claimed that she “encouraged her husband to drink so as to distract Scott from his ‘real’ work on his novel," the other work being the short stories he sold to magazines. This “whoring”, as Fitzgerald, and subsequently Hemingway, called these sales, was a sore point in the authors’ friendship. Fitzgerald claimed that he would first write his stories in an authentic manner but then put in “twists that made them into saleable magazine stories.”


Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda

 

But the marriage was mixed—both destructive and constructive. Fitzgerald drew largely upon his wife's intense and flamboyant personality in his writings, at times quoting direct passages from her letters and personal diaries in his work. Zelda made mention of this in a 1922 mock review in the New York Tribune, saying that " seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home" (Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, 388). But the impact of Zelda's personality on his work and life is often overstated, as much of his earliest writings reflect the personality of a first love, Ginevra King. In fact, the character of Daisy as much represents his inability to cultivate his relationship with King as it does the ever-present fact of Zelda. (Although Gatsby's economic failure to immediately wed Daisy in 1917, with an eventual return in financial triumph, does closely mirror Fitzgerald's own experiences with his future wife.)


Although Fitzgerald's passion lay in writing novels, only his first novel sold well enough to support the opulent lifestyle that he and Zelda adopted as New York celebrities. As did most professional authors at the time, Fitzgerald supplemented his income by writing short stories for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, and Esquire, and sold movie rights of his stories and novels to Hollywood studios. Many of these stories act as testing grounds for his novels. For example, "Absolution" was intended as an earlier chapter in The Great Gatsby. Because of this lifestyle, as well as the bills from Zelda's medical care when they came, Fitzgerald was constantly in financial trouble and often required loans from his literary agent, Harold Ober, and his editor at Scribner's, Maxwell Perkins. When Ober decided not to continue advancing Fitzgerald, the author severed ties with his longtime friend and agent. (Fitzgerald offered a good-hearted and apologetic tribute to this support in the late short story "Financing Finnegan.")

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland. Scott rented the "La Paix" estate in the suburb of Towson, Maryland to work on his latest book, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries Nicole Warren, one of his patients. The book went through many versions, the first of which was to be a story of matricide. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda wrote and sent to Scribner's her own fictional version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and was able to make some changes prior to the novel's publication, and convince her doctors to keep her from writing any more about what he called his "material," which included their relationship. His book was finally published in 1934 as Tender Is the Night. Critics who had waited nine years for the followup to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about the novel. Most were thrown off by its five-part structure and many felt that Fitzgerald had not lived up to their expectations. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but like the earlier Gatsby, the book's reputation has since risen significantly.

Hollywood years
Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits, and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon. Published posthumously as The Last Tycoon, it was based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg. Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist, in Hollywood. From 1939 until his death, Fitzgerald mocked himself as a Hollywood hack through the character of Pat Hobby in a sequence of 17 short stories, later collected as "The Pat Hobby Stories"



Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda


Illness and death

Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis, but Milford dismisses it as a pretext to cover his drinking problems. However, Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli contends that Fitzgerald did in fact have recurring tuberculosis, and Nancy Milford reports that Fitzgerald biographer Arthur Mizener said that Scott suffered a mild attack of tuberculosis in 1919, and in 1929 he had "what proved to be a tubercular hemorrhage". It has been said that the hemorrhage was caused by bleeding from esophageal varices.

Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940. After the first, in Schwab's Drug Store, he was ordered by his doctor to avoid strenuous exertion and to obtain a first floor apartment. He moved in with Sheilah Graham, who lived on the first floor. On the night of December 20, 1940, he had his second heart attack, and the next day, December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed in Graham's apartment and died.


Among the attendants at a visitation held at a funeral home in Hollywood was Dorothy Parker, who reportedly cried and murmured "that dirty bastard", a line from Jay Gatsby's funeral in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. In a strange coincidence, the author Nathanael West, who was a friend and admirer of Fitzgerald, was killed along with his wife Eileen McKenney in El Centro, California, while driving back to Los Angeles to attend Fitzgerald's funeral service.

Fitzgerald's remains were then shipped to Maryland, where his funeral was attended by very few people. The church would not allow him to be buried in his family's plot in Rockville and he was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery. Zelda died tragically in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1948. With the permission and assistance of their only child, Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith, the Women's Club of Rockville had their bodies moved to the family plot in Saint Mary's Cemetery, in Rockville, Maryland.

Fitzgerald never completed The Love of the Last Tycoon. His notes for the novel were edited by his friend Edmund Wilson and published in 1941 as The Last Tycoon. In 1994, the book was rereleased under the original title The Love of the Last Tycoon, which is now agreed upon as Fitzgerald's intended title.

 


Zelda

 

 

 

Tender is the Night

F.Scott Fitzgerald
1896-1940

F. Scott Fitzgerald is recognized as the ultimate chronicler of the American post-war boom and Jazz era, drawing on his own life to describe the extravagant nonstop, alcohol-fueled party of the pre-Depression years. Tender is the Night sold well and was generally well-received, attracting praise from Fitzgerald's peers, Ernest Hemingway among them. Set in the 1920s, the book tells the story of beautiful eighteen-year-old movie star Rosemary Hoyt, who is on holiday with her mother on the French Riviera when she meets Dick Diver, an American psychologist, and his wealthy wife Nicole. Nicole had been abused by her father, commited to a sanitarium, and subequently rescued by her doctor, who is now her husband. Entering their sophisticated, high society world, Rosemary falls in love with Dick, and he with her. They are blissfully happy for a while, but tragedy soon strikes when a friend of the Divers kills a man in a drunk-driving accident, and Nicole has a nervous breakdown. At this point in the novel, the Divers' idyll disintegrates as a series of unfortunate events begins to unfold.
This is Fitzgerald's most autobiographical work, drawing on his own experiences living with the expatriate fast set in the south of France.The Divers were based on Gerald and Sara Murphy,a glamorous American couple that he and his wife Zelda knew. The novel also features the same sort of psychological treatments that the schizophrenic Zelda sought in Switzerland; the high costs of the treatment drove Fitzgerald away from novel-writing and into the life of heavy drinking and Hollywood screenwriting that led to his early death. And unlike the novel, real life doesn't have a happy ending—in contrast to Nicole, Zelda never recovered, remaining institutionalized until her death in 1948.

 

 

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald
1896-1940

The Great Gatsby is an American literary classic. Nick Carraway's enraptured account of the rise and fall of his charismatic neighbor during a single summer came to evoke the pleasurable excesses and false promises of a whole decade. The novel's extraordinary visual motifs—the brooding eyes of the billboard, the ashen wasteland between metropolitan New York and hedonistic Long Island, the blues and golds of Gatsby's nocturnal hospitality —combined the iconography of the "jazz age" and its accompanying anxieties about the changing social order characteristic of American modernism. Gatsby, infamously created out of a "platonic conception of himself," came to be synonymous with nothing less than the American Dream.
Gatsby's lavish and hedonistic lifestyle is a construct, we quickly learn, erected in order to seduce Daisy, the lost love of his youth who is now married to the millionaire Tom Buchanan. Fitzgerald's easy conjuring of Gatsby's shimmering fantasy world is matched by his presentation of its darker and more pugnacious realities. The novel frequently hints at the corruption that lies behind Gatsby's wealth, and Tom is shown to be a crude and adulterous husband. The novel's violent climax is a damning indictment of the careless excess of the very privileged, yet it concludes ambivalently.

 


THE GREAT GATSBY
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
Type of plot: Social criticism
Time of plot: 1922
Locale: New York City and Long Island
First published: 1925

 

Jay Gatz changes his name to Gatsby and amasses great wealth by dubious means solely to please Daisy, a socialite. Wooed earlier by the penniless Gatsby, Daisy had rejected him for her social equal, Tom Buchanan. Yet no matter how high Gatsby rises, he is doomed, for the wealthy Buchanans are not worthy ofGatsby's sincerity and innocence. Though Gatsby plans to take the blame for a hit-and-run murder committed by Daisy, Tom Buchanan tells the victim's husband that Gatsby was driving, and the husband murders Gatsby. The Buchanans retreat into the irresponsibility their wealth allows them.
 



 

Principal Characters

Nick Carraway, the narrator. A young midwesterner who was dissatisfied with his life at home, he was attracted to New York and now sells bonds there. He is the most honest character of the novel and because of this trait fails to become deeply fascinated by his rich friends on Long Island. He helps Daisy and Jay Gatsby to renew a love they had known before Daisy's marriage, and he is probably the only person in the novel to have any genuine affection for Gatsby.
Jay Gatsby, a fabulously rich racketeer whose connections outside of the law are only guessed at. He is the son of poor parents from the Middle West. He has changed his name from James Gatz and becomes obsessed with a need for making more and more money. Much of his time is spent in trying to impress and become accepted by other rich people. He gives lavish parties for people he knows nothing about and most of whom he never meets. He is genuinely in love with Daisy Buchanan and becomes a sympathetic character when he assumes the blame for her hit-and-run accident. At his death he has been deserted by everyone except his father and Nick.
Daisy Buchanan, Nick's second cousin. Unhappy in her marriage because of Tom Buchanan's deliberate unfaithfulness, she has the character of a "poor little rich girl." She renews an old love for Jay Gatsby and considers leaving her husband, but she is finally reconciled to him. She kills Tom's mistress in a hit-and-run accident after a quarrel in which she defends both men as Tom accuses Gatsby of trying to steal her from him; but she allows Gatsby to take the blame for the accident and suffers no remorse when he is murdered by the woman's husband.
Tom Buchanan, Daisy's husband. The son of rich midwestern parents, he reached the heights of his career as a college football player. Completely without taste, culture, or sensitivity, he carries on a rather sordid affair with Myrtle Wilson. He pretends to help George Wilson, her husband, but allows him to think that Gatsby was not only her murderer but also her lover.
Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan's mistress. She is a fat, unpleasant woman who is to highly appreciative of the fact that her lover is a rich man that she will suffer almost any degradation for him. While she is with Rom, her pretense that she is rich and highly sophisticated becomes ludicrous.
George Wilson, Myrtle's husband, and a rather pathetic figure. He runs an auto repair shop and believes Tom Buchanan is really interested in helping him. Aware that his wife has a lover, he never suspects who he really is. His faith in Tom makes him believe what Buchanan says, which, in turns, causes him to murder Gatsby and then commit suicide.
Jordan Baker, a friend of the Buchanans, a golfer. Daisy introduces Jordan to Nick and tries to throw them together, but when Nick realizes that she is a cheat who refuses to assume the elementary responsibility of the individual, he loses all interest in her.
Meyer Wolfshiem, a gambler and underworld associate of Gatsby.
Catherine, Myrtle Wilson's sister, who is obviously proud of Myrtle's rich connection and unconcerned with the immorality involved.
Mr. and Mrs. McKee, a photographer and his wife who try to use Nick and Tom to get a start among the rich people of Long Island.
Mr. Gatz, Jay Gatsby's father who, being unaware of the facts of Jay's life, thought his son had been a great  man.
 



 

The Story

Young Nick Carraway decided to forsake the hardware business of his family in the Middle West in order to sell bonds in New York City. He took a small house in West Egg on Long Island and there became involved in the lives of his neighbors. At a dinner party at the home of Tom Buchanan, he renewed his acquaintance with Tom and Tom's wife, Daisy, a distant cousin, and he met an attractive young woman, Jordan Baker. Almost at once he learned that Tom and Daisy were not happily married. It appeared that Daisy knew her husband was unfaithful.
Nick soon learned to despise the drive to the city through unkempt slums; particularly, he hated the ash heaps and the huge commercial signs. He was far more interested in the activities of his wealthy neighbors. Near his house lived Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth. Gatsby entertained lavishly, but his past was unknown to his neighbors.
One day, Tom Buchanan took Nick to call on his mistress, a dowdy, plump, married woman named Myrtle Wilson, whose husband, George Wilson, operated a second-rate automobile repair shop. Myrtle, Tom, and Nick went to the apartment that Tom kept, and there the three were joined by Myrtle's sister Catherine and Mr. and Mrs. McKee. The party settled down to an afternoon of drinking, Nick unsuccessfully doing his best to get away.
A few days later, Nick attended another party, one given by Gatsby for a large number of people famous in speakeasy society. Food and liquor were dispensed lavishly. Most of the guests had never seen their host before.
At the party, Nick met Gatsby for the first time. Gatsby, in his early thirties, looked like a healthy young roughneck. He was offhand, casual, and eager to entertain his guests as extravagantly as possible. Frequently he was called away by long-distance telephone calls. Some of the guests laughed and said that he was trying to impress them with his importance.
That summer, Gatsby gave many parties. Nick went to all of them, enjoying each time the society of people from all walks of life who appeared to take advantage of Gatsby's bounty. From time to time, Nick met Jordan Baker there, and when he heard that she had cheated in an amateur golf match, his interest in her grew.
Gatsby took Nick to lunch one day and introduced him to a man named Wolfshiem, who seemed to be Gatsby's business partner. Wolfshiem hinted at some dubious business deals that betrayed Gatsby's racketeering activities, and Nick began to identify the sources of some of Gatsby's wealth.
Jordan Baker told Nick the strange story of Daisy's wedding. Before the bridal dinner, Daisy, who seldom drank, became wildly intoxicated and kept reading a letter that she had just received and crying that she had changed her mind. After she had become sober, however, she went through with her wedding to Tom without a murmur. Obviously, the letter was from Jay Gatsby. At the time, Gatsby was poor and unknown; Tom was rich and influential.
Gatsby was still in love with Daisy, however, and he wanted Jordan and Nick to bring Daisy and him together again. It was arranged that Nick should invite Daisy to tea the same day he invited Gatsby. Gatsby awaited the invitation nervously.
On the eventful day, it rained. Determined that Nick's house should be presentable, Gatsby sent a man to mow the wet grass; he also sent over flowers for decoration. The tea was a strained affair at first, and Gatsby and Daisy were shy and awkward in their reunion. Afterward, they went over to Gatsby's mansion, where he showed them his furniture, clothes, swimming pool, and gardens. Daisy promised to attend his next party.
When Daisy disapproved of his guests, Gatsby stopped entertaining. The house was shut up and the bar crowd turned away.
Gatsby informed Nick of his origin. His true name was Gatz, and he had been born in the Middle West. His parents were poor. When he was a boy, he had become the protege of a wealthy old gold miner and had accompanied him on his travels until the old man died. He had changed his name to Gatsby and was daydreaming of acquiring wealth and position. In the war, he had distinguished himself. After the war, he had returned penniless to the States, too poor to marry Daisy, whom he had met during the war. Later, he became a partner in a drug business. He had been lucky and had accumulated money rapidly. He told Nick that he had acquired the money for his Long Island residence after three years of hard work.
The Buchanans gave a quiet party for Jordan. Gatsby, and Nick. The group drove into the city and took a room in a hotel. The day was hot and the guests uncomfortable. On the way, Tom, driving Gatsby's new yellow car, stopped at Wilson's garage. Wilson complained because Tom had not helped him in a projected car deal. He said he needed money because he was selling out and taking his wife. whom he knew to be unfaithful, away from the city.
At the hotel, Tom accused Gatsby of trying to steal his wife and also of being dishonest. He seemed to regard Gatsby's low origin with more disfavor than his interest in Daisy. During the argument, Daisy, sided with both men. On the ride back to the suburbs, Gatsby drove his own car, accompanied by Daisy, who temporarily would not speak to her husband.
Following them, Nick, Jordan, and Tom stopped to investigate an accident in front of Wilson's garage. They discovered an ambulance picking up the dead body of Myrtle Wilson, struck by a hit-and-run driver in a yellow car. They tried in vain to help Wilson and then went on to Tom's house, convinced that Gatsby had struck Myrtle Wilson.
Nick learned that night from Gatsby that Daisy had been driving when the woman was hit. Gatsby, however, was willing to take the blame if the death should be traced to his car. He explained that a woman had rushed out as though she wanted to speak to someone in the yellow car and Daisy, an inexpert driver, had run her down and then collapsed. Gatsby had driven on.
In the meantime, George Wilson, having traced the yellow car to Gatsby, appeared on the Gatsby estate. A few hours later, both he and Gatsby were discovered dead. He had shot Gatsby and then killed himself.
Nick tried to make Gatsby's funeral respectable, but only one among all of Gatsby's former guests attended along with Gatsby's father, who thought his son had been a great man. None of Gatsby's racketeering associates appeared.
Shortly afterward, Nick learned of Tom's part in Gatsby's death. Wilson had visited Tom and had threatened Tom with a revolver, forcing him to reveal the name of the owner of the hit-and-run car. Nick vowed that his friendship with Tom and Daisy was ended. He decided to return his people in the Middle West.
 



 

Critical Evaluation

F. Scott Fitzgerald, the prophet of the Jazz Age, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to the daughter of a self-made Irish immigrant millionaire. His father was a ne'er-do-well salesman who had married above his social position. From his mother, Fitzgerald inherited the dream that was America—the promise that any young man could become anything he chose through hard work. From his father, he inherited a propensity for failure. This antithesis pervaded his own life and most of his fiction. Educated in the East, Fitzgerald was overcome with the glamour of New York and Long Island. To him, it was the "stuff of old romance," "the source of infinite possibilities." His fiction focused primarily on the lives of the rich. With the family fortune depleted by his father, Fitzgerald found himself in his early twenties an army officer in love with a Southern belle, Zelda Sayre, who was socially above him. She refused his first proposal of marriage because he was too poor. Fitzgerald was determined to have her. He wrote and published This Side of Paradise (1920), on the basis of which Zelda married him.
Their public life for the next ten years epitomized the dizzy spiral of the 1920s—wild parties, wild spending— and, following the national pattern, they crashed spectacularly in the 1930s. Zelda went mad and was committed finally to a sanitarium. Fitzgerald became a functional alcoholic. From his pinnacle in the publishing field during the 1920s, when his short stories commanded as much as fifteen hundred dollars, he fell in the 1930s to writing lukewarm Hollywood scripts. He died in Hollywood in 1940. almost forgotten and with most of his work out of print. Later revived in academic circles, Fitzgerald's reputation in American letters rests primarily on a single novel—The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald once said, "America's great promise is that something's going to happen, but it never does. America is the moon that never rose." This indictment of the America Dream could well serve as an epigraph for The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby pursues his dream of romantic success without ever understanding that it has escaped him. He fails to understand that he cannot recapture the past (his fresh, new love for Daisy Buchanan) no matter how much money he makes, no matter how much wealth he displays.
The character of Gatsby was never intended by Fitzgerald to be a realistic portrayal; he is a romantic hero, always somewhat unreal, bogus, and absurd. No matter the corrupt sources of his wealth such as bootlegging and gambling (and these are only hinted at), he stands for hope, for romantic belief—for innocence. He expects more from life than the other characters who are all more or less cynical. He is an eternal juvenile in a brutal and corrupt world.
To underscore the corruption of the American Dream, Fitzgerald's characters all are finally seen as liars. Buchanan's mistress lies to her husband. Jordan Baker is a pathological liar who cheats in golf tournaments. Tom Buchanan's lie to his mistress Myrtle's husband results in the murder of Gatsby. Daisy, herself, is basically insincere; she lets Gatsby take the blame for her hit-and-run accident. Gatsby's whole life is a lie: he lies about his past and his present. He lies to himself. Nick Carraway, the midwestern narrator, tells readers that he is the only completely honest person he knows. He panders for Gatsby, however, and in the end, he turns away from Tom Buchanan, unable to force the truth into the open. He knows the truth about Gatsby but is unable to tell the police. His affirmation of Gatsby at the end is complex; he envies Gatsby's romantic selflessness and innocence at the same time that he abhors his lack of self-knowledge.
The Great Gatsby incorporates a number of themes and motifs that unify the novel and contribute to its impact. The initiation theme governs the narrator Nick Carraway, who is a young man come East to make his fortune in stocks and bonds and who returns to the Midwest sadly disillusioned. The frontier theme is also present. Gatsby believes in the "green light," the ever-accessible future in which one can achieve what one has missed in the past. The final paragraphs of the novel state this important theme as well as it has ever been stated. Class issues are very well presented. Tom and Daisy seem accessible, but when their position is threatened, they close the doors, retreating into their wealth and carelessness, letting others like Gatsby pay the price in hurt and suffering. The carelessness of the rich and their followers is seen in the recurring motif of the bad driver.
Automobile accidents are ubiquitous. At Gatsby's first party, there is a smashup with drunk drivers. Jordan Baker has a near accident after which Nick calls her "a rotten driver." Gatsby is stopped for speeding but is able to fix the ticket by showing the cop a card from the mayor of New York. Finally, Myrtle Wilson is killed by Daisy, driving Gatsby's car. Bad driving becomes symbolic of pervasive irresponsibility and self-indulgence.
Settings in the novel are used very well by Fitzgerald, from the splendid mansions of Long Island through the wasteland of the valley of ashes presided over by the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg (where the Wilsons live) to the New York of the Plaza Hotel or Tom and Myrtle Wilson's apartment. Most important, however, is Fitzgerald's use of Nick as a narrator. Like Conrad before him—and from whom he learned his craft—Fitzgerald had a romantic sensibility that controlled fictional material best through the lens of a narrator. Like Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Nick relates the story of an exceptional man who fails in his dream. He is both attracted and repelled by a forceful man who dares to lead a life he could not sustain. Like Marlow, he pays tribute to his hero, who is also his alter ego. Gatsby's tragedy is Nick's education. His return to the Midwest is a moral return to the safer, more solid values of the heartland. Fitzgerald himself was unable to follow such a path, but he clearly felt that the American Dream should be pursued with less frantic, orgiastic, prideful convulsions of energy and spirit.

 

 
     
         
 

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