American literature: Francis Scott Fitzgerald



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3. American literature: Francis Scott Fitzgerald
3.1 Introduction
The 1920s in the United States, called “roaring” because of the exuberant, freewheeling popular culture of the decade. The Roaring Twenties was a time when many people defied Prohibition, indulged in new styles of dancing and dressing, and rejected many traditional moral standards. American literature found a period of gold during all Twenties. The author, who gave an alive imagine of “roaring Twenties” is Francis Scott Fitzgerald.Fitzgerald was one of the best known American authors of the 1920s and '30s and is closely associated with the optimism and excesses of that era's "Jazz Age." Fitzgerald's stories often featured people like himself: middle-American types infatuated with the wealth and status of upper-crust society.
3.2 Life and main works
He was born in 1896 in Minnesota. His father was a Southern gentleman and his mother was of Irish descent. He studied in a Catholic boarding school in New Jersey and, in 1913, he went to Princeton University to complete his education. There he began to write and had the opportunity to associate with rich young men.
When the United States entered the First World War, he joined the army in the romantic hope of fighting to defend democracy, but, to his disappointment, he was sent to a training camp in Alabama. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald was working at his first novel, which he published in 1920 with the title «This Side of Paradise». The book gave a forceful picture ok the lifestyle of young people in the 2roaring Twenties”, and also captured the sense of loss and emptiness hiding behind the cult of money and materialism. The novel was an extraordinary success; it gave him fame and money.
In 1921 he married Zelda Sayre. They settled in New York, where they led a glamorous life spending a lot of money on entertaining, parties, alcohl and drugs. Their only daughter, “Scottie”, was born in the same year. Fitzgerald worked hard to keep their sophisticated and expensive lifestyle. In 1922 he published «Tales of the Jazz Age», with which he gave a name at that period of moral weakness following the First World War, and which flew in the Great Depression. In the same year he published his second novel «The beautiful and Damned» where he portrayed the hedonism, corruption and loss of ideals of the “Lost Generation”. Infact, in this novel, a great sense of disillusionment emerges:it dramatizes the self-destructive marriage of the rich and glamorous Anthony and Gloria Patch, damned by their excesses, and it clearly echoes the author's own marriage and high-flying lifestyle. He was never really accepted by that society which he described in his works, even because he was always conscious of disperation and irresponsibility of the society during this period.
Always in 1922, fitzgeralds went to Europe and spent some time in Paris and on the French Riviera, where Scott finished writing «The Great Gatsby», published in 1925. It is the story of a bootlegger, Jay Gatsby, whose obsessive dream of wealth and lost love is destroyed by a corrupt reality. Cynical yet poignant, the novel is a devastating portrait of the so-called American Dream, which measures success and love in terms of money.
Though regarded as his finest work, the novel was not a commercial success and marked the beginning of the decline of the author’s popularity. Back in the United States, Fitzgerald sterted to write film scripts to pay his debts. He was by now an alcoholic and his wife was suffering from mental instability. She spent the rest of her life sanatoriums until her death ina fire in 1947. In 1934 Fitzgerald published another novel, «Tender is the Night», set on the Riviera, where he dealt with the failure of the dreams and ideals of the Twenties. The book was coolly received, perhps because the tastes of the oublic had changed owing to the “Great Depression”.
In 1939 Fitzgerald began his last novel, «The Last Tycoon», which he did not finish since he died of a heart attack in 1940. The unfinished manuscript of The Last Tycoon was published in 1941, followed in 1945 by «The Crack-Up», a collection of essays and notes.

3.3 «The Great Gatsby»
The Great Gatsby was the most significative Fitzgerald’s work during this period: infact it reflected American society of that years. The novel is about society’s attitude deriving from the excessive economic growth during Twenties, and the consequent economic collapse; it describes the obsessive research of success, and the disillusion attitude appeared with the breaking of American dream.
3.3.1 Plot
The protagonist of the novel, James Gatz comes from a humble Mid-western family. He makes every effort to rise above poverty, he even changes his name Jay Gatsby. While in the army, Jay falls in love with Daisy, a beautiful but superficial young woman who, though returning Jay’s love, eventually marries Tom Buchanan, a wealthy, brutal man. Gatsby later makes a fortune as a bootlegger and through other illegal activities. He then rents a magnificent mansion on the fashionable shore of Long Island, on the opposite side of the bay to Daisy’s house; he gives fabulous, wild parties, open to everybody, in the hope that he will see Daisy turn up one day.
Nick Carraway, a young stockbroker from the Midwest, is Gatsby’s neighbour and Daisy’s cousin. Thanks to him, Daisy and Jay meet again and have an affair. One day Daisy has a fight with her husband and, while driving back to Gatsby’s house, she runs over tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson. She does not stop, and Gatsby hides the car. Myrtle’s husband finds out that the car which killed his wife is Gatsby’s. Gatsby does not protest his innocence because he wants to defend Daisy, but she deserts him and goes back to her husband. Gatsby is finally shot in his garden by Myrtle’s husband. Only Nick tries to defend his name and arranges his funeral but, unlike his parties, nobody comes.
3.3.2 American life in the “Jazz Age”
The Great Gatsby contains many insights into and criticisms of American life in the “Jazz Age”. The Americanness of the novel is emphasized by such themes as the move from West to East; the confrontation between the romantic ideals of courage, honour and beauty and the real world; the relationship of Gatsby’s material achievements to the myth of “rags to riches”; the tremendous growth of the car industry; the corrupting effects of Prohibition, and finally the poverty of spiritual life in America during its most hedonistic decade.

3.3.3 The hero
Jay Gatsby is the protagonist of the novel, and he is presented as a mysterious character, since he never takes part in the lavish parties he organises. Rich and attractive, with some secret hidden in his past, he has the stature of a romantic hero who dies for his dream; but he also embodies the selfmade man who tries to recreate the past through the power of money and is finally destroyed. In spite of his crimes Gatsby retains the original innocence of the American dream that the reader cannot help but admire.
3.3.4 Narrative technique
The narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway, from whose point of view all the events and characters of the story are presented. Nick is at the same time observer and participant in the novel; he is a retrospective narrator who, after going through an experience, looks back on it with a better understanding. Fitzgerald rejects chronological order and uses the fragmentation of time and frequent flashbacks to represent the inner world of his characters and the way knowledge is normally acquired in real life. Gatsby’s personality, therefore, is not developed through explicit statement but rather through implication, in the footsteps of Nick’s own experience.
Fitzgerald’s style is characterized by frequent appeals to the senses, the suggestive use of colours, and poetic devices such as repetition, simile and metaphor. Every scene is carefully designed so as to allow the reader an active role in the interpretation of the story.
3.3.5 Symbolism
The language blends realism and symbolism. The description of the society of the Jazz Age is extremely detailed and it is scattered with symbolic images, like the car, which stands for the destructive power of modern society and money. The most impressive description is perhaps that of “the valley of ashes”, a stretch of land full of rubbish, waste and ashes, lying between the city and the suburb where gatsby lives.
Gatsby’s house is at the same time real and symbolic: carefully described in its various rooms and acres of garden, it celebrates Gatsby’s luck and success during the parties, but embodies his melancholy and loneiness when it is empty.
3.3.6 Themes
The main themes of the novel are:
• The rise and fall of the American Dream. 'Does Gatsby embody the American Dream?' is a question that is asked to countless students who read the book. He was born to a family with no ties to society but has become a millionaire and the embodiment of success in America. In the novel, Gatsby downplays his dubious business links (to Meyer Wolfshiem), which is entirely in Gatsby's favour. Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent the cream of American society and yet they drift aimlessly from place to place ("wherever people play polo and are rich together"), with no morals, no commitment, and no dreams. Myrtle and George Wilson, victims of the Buchanans, are helpless in the face of the Buchanan's wealth and incorruptible power and influence.
• The corruption of the rich. Tom and Daisy are just as corrupted by their wealth, whatever their status in society, in contrast to Gatsby, for whom the acquisition of wealth has its origins in the underworld. Tom Buchanan is unfaithful; Daisy Buchanan is artificial; Gatsby himself is enigmatic and a shadowy figure.