Tender is the Night

The Triumph of Nature over Civilization: The Disintegration of Dick Diver

The exact nature of Dick Diver's descent throughout the course of Tender is the Night is difficult to discern. It is clear enough that his disintegration is occasioned by Nicole's burgeoning independence, but why or how her transformation affects him this way is less than obvious. Moreover, it is not at all apparent what is at stake, more abstractly, in this reciprocal exchange of fates. In this paper, I will propose a reading of this change that relates Nicole's strength to her naturalness, her identification with instinct and natural impulse, and Dick's strength to his civilization, his identification with the curtailment of natural impulse through psychiatry and prewar American civilization. The relationship between Nicole and Dick is such that what happens to the one must happen to the other. Both Nicole and Dick turn by the novel's end to impulse and instinct, but while Nicole does this by gaining an independent self-consciousness, Dick achieves this only through drinking.

Throughout the novel Nicole is identified with the childish and animalistic wildness of instinct. This is most obvious in the uninhibited expression of emotion which characterizes her episodes of madness. We see, for instance, her...

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