Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, the spokesman for the Jazz Age, ruled America s decade of prosperity and excess, which began soon after World War 1 and ended around the time of the stock market crash of 1929. The novels and stories for which he is best known examine an entire generation s search for the elusive American Dream of wealth and happiness. Many of his works are derived from his own life and that of his wife and friends. The early gaiety shows only one side of a writer whose second and final decade of work portrayed a life marred by alcoholism and financial difficulties, troubled by lost love, and frustrated by is lack of inspiration.
Fitzgerald was the son of well-to-do Midwestern parents. He was a talented child with an early interest in writing plays and poetry. As a young man, he emulated the rich, youthful and beautiful, a social group with whom he maintained a lifelong love-hate relationship(_______). His first stories appeared in Princeton University s literary magazine, which was edited by his friend and fellow student Edmund Wilson whom Fitzgerald considered his intellectual conscience(_______). Leaving Princeton for the army during World War 1, Fitzgerald spent his weekends in camp writing the earliest draft of his first novel.
Demobilized in 1919, Fitzgerald worked briefly in New York for an adversing agency. His first story, ‘Babes in the Wood,’ was published in The Smart Set. The turning point in his life was when he met Zelda Sayre, herself as aspiring writed, and married her in 1920. In the same year appeared Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, originally entitled The Romantic Egoist, which he had started while in the army. Its hero, Armory Blaine, studies in Princeton, serves in WW I in France. At the end of the story he finds that his own self-centeredness has been the cause of his unhappiness. The book gained success and gave Fitzgerald entr e to literary magazines, such as Scribner’s and The Saturday Evening Post, which published his stories, among them ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.’
The rebellious flaming youth of the new era brought to life in the popular This Side of Paradise, were soon imitated nationwide, with Fitzgerald and his wife serving as models. Zelda signifigantly affected her husband s life and career. During the 1920s she was Fitzgerald s private literary consultant and editor, while publicly she matched Fitzgerald s extravagant tastes and passion in living for the moment(_______). Her gradual deterioration from schizophrenia and eventual breakdown scarred Fitzgerald, contributing to the deep, self-reproaching despair that brought his career to a near standstill in the mid 1930s.
The crowning achievement of his career was his novel The Great Gatsby in 1925, Fitzgerald s popularity was due to the fact that he has still able to illuminate the manners of the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald s second and third novels, as well as the story collections published between novels, evidenced a growing awareness of the shallowness and brutal insensitivity that are sometimes accoutrements of American society (_______). Fitzgerald enabled this American spirit to live inside his stories, especially that of the 20s. Reflecting on the American Dream, Fitzgerald wrote on what he knew best, wealth and the pursuit of happiness.
Fitzgerald s work depicts a wise and tragic sense of life. J.F. Powers put it best when he says, There are places enough in his books where he seems to do this beautifully and so it does not sound funny or whimsical when he jots down. My sometimes reading my own books for advice. How much I know sometimes – how little at others (Powers 184). But the conclusion that Fitzgerald comes to, is that he was finally less wise than tragic (Powers 184). It is probably no possible for a writer to be as wise as he is tragic. Powers points out that, only saints come that size (Powers 184).
Fitzgerald s wit, observation and experience, of which he could always summon, can be found in The Last Tycoon. As many critics note, when Fitzgerald died, a good many of the obituaries showed a curious note of self righteousness (Benet 192). These obituaries did not review his work but rather the Jazz Age and that it was closed (192). This false assumption is due to his youthful success at one kind of thing, critics assumed that because he died in his forties, he had shot his bolt (192).
In the novel Tender is the Night Fitzgerald again uses experiences from his wife s stay at the Swiss sanitarium and his own. Much of the novel tackles the differences between Americans and Europeans, and from the start Fitzgerald refers to Europe as more ancient than America. The narrator makes it quite clear, however, that the story takes place at a crucial time for this particular region. Some years before, it had been a popular summer spot for Europeans; now it is becoming a hot spot again, largely for Americans. The singularity of this time period and the knowledge that it must pass is a prevalent theme of the novel. Viewing the world of the Divers through Rosemary’s youthful eyes allows the narrator to simplistically celebrate the Divers.
Around the time of its publication, Fitzgerald referred to This Side of Paradise as a “quest novel”(Bewley 190). In some respects a character study more than a quest novel, the book chronicles Amory Blaine’s attempt to make peace with himself and his place in the world (190). The three primary elements that influence Amory on his road to self-realization are convention, women, and money (190). As each of the three fails him, he comes closer to achieving his goal. Eventually, having discarded or lost convention, love, and money, Amory experiences a deep self-realization, and comes to see his own selfishness. Bewley concludes in saying the final line of the novel he claims that now, finally, he knows himself, but that is all This line consummates the quest of the entire book (190).
From it s first appearance, The Great Gatsby won critical applause for the excellence of its form, and it has continued to do so ever since. Critics have praised the novel for meticulous construction and the weaving of the past and the present together, also the effective use of symbols (Langman 31). The style, also, has been often praised with its clarity, vitality, and flavor (31). Almost all discussion of the novel, however, has turned rapidly from a perfunctory, not deeply considered, tribute to the brilliance of Fitzgerald s style, and gone on instead to what are supposed the bigger topics raised by the novel- it s legendary quality, it s quintessential vision of the American dream, romantic hope and romantic disillusion (31). The Great Gatsby does not proclaim the nobility of the human spirit; it is not politically correct; it does no reveal how to solve the problems of life; it delivers no fashionable of comforting messages (Bruccoli 1). It is summed up best when Bruccoli states, It is just a masterpiece (1). The best reason to read literature is for pleasure. In The Great Gatsby the reader misses much of the complexity that is Fitzgerald simply because it is a pleasure to read (1). Fitzgerald s masterpiece was not an accident. Broccoli agrees in saying, Geniuses know what they are trying to do. They need luck, but knowing how to use luck is an essential element of a writer s equipment (2).
Many events from Fitzgerald’s early life appear in The Great Gatsby, which was published in 1925. Like Fitzgerald, Nick Carraway is a thoughtful young man from Minnesota, educated at an Ivy League school, who moves to New York after the war. Like Fitzgerald, Jay Gatsby is a sensitive young man who idolizes wealth and luxury, and falls in love with a beautiful young woman while stationed at a military camp in the South. Like Nick in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald again finds this new lifestyle seductive and exciting–he had always idolized the very rich, and now found himself in a decade in which unrestrained materialism set the tone of society, particularly in the large cities of the East. Even so, Fitzgerald saw through the glitter of the Jazz Age to the moral emptiness and hypocrisy beneath–much like Nick–and part of him longed for the moral center absent in his era (Brooks 35). In many ways, The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s attempt to confront his conflicting feelings for the Jazz Age, spurred on, like Gatsby, by his love for a woman who symbolized everything he wanted, and who led him toward everything he despised.