The perception of wealth and what is truly meant by the term is a theme explored in many of the stories. In “The Rich Boy,” Hunter is rich. He is not, however, wealthy. He is given the name Hunter as he continues to search for something that will be of true value to him. He does not value his relationship with Paula until it is too late, and he has lost the wealth she has bestowed on other men – marriage and children. At the end of the story, he is still searching when he takes up with the girl on the cruise ship.
There is a great irony in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” in that the Washingtons have found the largest diamond in the world, but knowledge of its existence would immediately remove its value. The Washingtons surround themselves with opulence and luxury, but any friends they may have had are killed after their first visit. There is beauty and power, but not true wealth and value.
In “The Offshore Pirate” the spoiled and greedy Ardita is impressed with Curtis Carlyle’s tales of armed hold ups and his plans to be a rajah. She is content when these are revealed as fantasies becausel she is pleased that Toby Moreland is in reality a rich man, both in money and in imagination.
Fitzgerald gives a description at the beginning of “The Rich Boy” of how the rich are different from ordinary people. "They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than us because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.” These qualities may be what make people rich, but people become wealthy by knowledge, experience, fortitude and resilience. Kismine has wealth at the end of the story, as she sits amongst her rhinestones planning a future with Unger and her sister. Before then, like other characters, she was just rich.
Fitzgerald’s stories represent a more modern, or at least perhaps realistic, view of family relationships than ssome earlier fiction. There is a direct criticism of the cloying closeness emphasized in texts such as Little Women. In “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” Bernice and Marjorie are cousins. There is no closeness between them, although Bernice wishes that there were. Any kinship that Marjorie shows is part of her cruel plan to humiliate Bernice. She is initially simply bored of her dull cousin, Bernice, but then fiercely jealous when she takes the beau that Marjorie had already rejected.
In “The Ice Palace,” Sally Carrol is very quickly made aware of the fact that she is unlikely to fit in with the Bellamy family. With a prospective sister-in-law who is "the essence of spiritless conventionality" and the prospect of a hostile and judgmental mother-in-law, it is evident that the union would not be a comfortable one. The Washingtons in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” have a closeness inflicted on them by the limitations of their private lifestyle, but still they are divided as Kismine and Jasmine leave with Unger, whilst Percy and his parents perish on the property.
There is seemingly no similarity between Jenny Delehanty and her sister Mrs. Choyinski, and yet perhaps Jenny’s early speech is as harsh and penetrating as her sister’s evil eyes. They each have flaws, although Jenny is able to work through hers.
In “Babylon Revisited,” Marion considers Honoria to be her family, but not Charlie. She will not forgive him for taking away her sister – a sister that she herself was not close to, so she punishes him by preventing him having a relationship with his daughter.
Despite being a writer who was infamous for his alcoholism, Fitzgerald's stories include numerous warnings about the dangers and consequences of alcohol use. In “The Jelly-Bean,” Jim Powell lost his father in a drunken brawl, which triggered the fall in fortunes of his family. His devotion to Nancy Lamar is forged on her drunken announcement that she loves him, after he saves her from a gambling debt. He is determined to improve himself to win her over, but she dashes his hopes as she goes off with another beau and marries him – while drunk. Powell gives up his plan of social betterment to return to the friendly crowd at the pool hall.
In “May Day,” Gordon Sterrett ends up taking his own life, as he cannot face the realization that he will be tied to Jewel forever. He has faced the love of his life, Edith Bradin, and revealed himself to be a poor, sad drunk. He had decided early on in the evening that his friendship with Dean was at an end, and that he was not going to get the money he needed, but he stayed in his company and kept on drinking.
Key and Rose, newly emerged from the war, head first to get alcohol from Key’s brother. They are swept up in the mob storming the newspaper offices, and Key pays with his life. Rose is apprehended later, in connection with the event.
There is a humorous edge to the characters of Mr. In and Mr. Out, wearing their ridiculous signs and lurching from one hotel to the next, but the suicide of Sterrett at the end of the story, in the cruel gloom of a hangover, destroys the jovial atmosphere.
In “Crazy Sunday,” Joel Coles’ causes his initial predicament by drinking too much and performing a lame burlesque at his boss’ party. His lack of willpower to refuse the cocktail offered at the beginning of the evening is an indicator that he will have no willpower to avoid any other challenges that he faces: such as being the pawn in the Calmans' jealousy games.
Many of the characters are supremely, obscenely selfish. Honoria Wales is used as a pawn in the family dispute between Charlie and Marion. Both have them have lost Helen: Charlie has only memories of excess whereas Marion sees her dying sister and the possibility of a bond with Honoria that she did not have with Helen. Charlie wants to be part of his daughter’s childhood now that he can afford – emotionally and financially – to support her. However, he has not let go of his past, and Marion refuses to forgive him for it. The adults spend little time considering what is best for Honoria, only what suits their selfish desires.
The Washington family in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” see only themselves and their interests. In order to protect what they have, the Washingtons enslave and murder others. To facilitate social contact they bring home friends, but kill them to preserve their lifestyle. Kismine does not understand that servants are not the norm outside of her closeted world, and she does not consider the feelings of those who are chosen, then disposed of, for her entertainment. The colossal selfishness evident in the texts has to be represented in Braddock Washington’s insane belief that he can bribe God. He sees that "God is made in man’s image," implying that he is the blueprint for the almighty. It is fitting that he does not survive this insane bargaining.
The Modern Heroine
Fitzgerald was said to have created a particular character "type" in his young, vigorous, strong-minded heroines of his short stories. There are certainly several examples of these. Bernice, in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” emerges as a resilient creature who, despite the cruel machinations of her selfish cousin, Marjorie, surfaces from beneath the tragedy of her lost locks to dynamically wreak revenge. The reader feels a similar glee to Bernice when she "scalps" Marjorie. Ardita in “The Offshore Pirate” is passionate, petulant and self-obsessed until she is calmed and charmed by Toby Moreland’s alter ego, Curtis Carlyle. The reader is relieved to see the beautiful Sally Carrol reinstated to her beloved South where she will blossom and bewitch the likes of the handsome Clark Darrow.
However, on reflection, each of these girls retains or returns to some of the conventional values of the time. Bernice is presumably going back to her parents, Ardita is to marry the man her uncle intended and Sally Carrol returns to her roots. It seems that the dynamism and excitement for these modern misses is the journey, not the destination.
The beautiful Jenny Prince emerges from a crude chrysalis of poor speech and dubious background into the dizzy heights of silver screen stardom in “Jacob’s Ladder.” She loses her childish dependence on the journey to self-confidence and love. She is not as selfish as her counterparts are, however, which may be why she is more successful and happy.
Loss of Youth
Several stories deal with the fear and inevitability of growing old, and its effects and its consequences. There is a fear among many of the characters that aging is a destructive and negative phenomenon, particularly when seen in others. In “The Rich Boy,” we see Hunter’s increasing isolation as he reaches thirty and is still single. His friends begin to move in more settled circles. He runs up a huge telephone bill trying to track down friends who could spend time with him "every one who might be in New York - men and girls he had not seen for years." He is tragically, uncomfortably unsuccessful. He becomes "stale" in his job, and is wounded when Paula tells him that she never loved him. His way of dealing with the inevitability of growing old is to deny it: he grieves for Paula only momentarily before he sees another young beauty who will spend her "brightest, freshest, rarest hours to nurse and protect that superiority he cherished in his heart."
Dexter Green’s “Winter Dreams” are dashed when the image of passionate, vital Judy Jones is gone from his life. Although he and Judy drift apart after their month together, and his emotionally stable future with Irene is wrecked as a consequence, he does not regret their time together. However, when he is told later that she has lost her youthful beauty, Green feels that "something had been taken from him" and he cries "for himself now." He has lost "that thing" - although he was not with Judy, and did not truly wish to be, he had cherished the idea of her as being out there somewhere, a beautiful possibility. With the knowledge of her ordinariness, he lost the idea of her. The Judy he knew at that moment died.
In “Jacob’s Ladder,” Jacob is already past his prime, with his worn-out vocal chords. He nurtures Jenny, values her and assumes that she will, in time, fall in love with him. She does fall in love, but with someone else, when she is away from him, on location with the vibrant, exciting movie crowd. Although Booth enjoys watching her bloom into womanhood, this growth moves her away from him.
The reversal of the aging process is explored in the fantasy story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is unusual but serves well to illustrate the way in which society perceives youth and age. When Hildegarde Moncrief first falls for Benjamin he is overwhelmed, besotted and feels their connection on a physical, chemical level. As she ages, however, he is bored of her, ‘depressed’ by her gray hair and her once enamel-blue eyes. She however, seems to believe that he should be able to control his advancing youth, which is as futile as controlling advancing age. Benjamin appears at his most ridiculous when he is trying to defy the natural processes for his development. Fitzgerald is surely making the point that the reader should consider too the absurdity of the lengths to which people go to conceal their natural developments too.
The stories in this collection were written between the two World Wars, and feature references to other wars that have affected American society. Fitzgerald’s early stories catalog the youth, exuberance and pressure that were unleashed on the home front as the armed forces returned to America. In the later stories, as political and social tensions mount again, there is evidence of Fitzgerald's greater cynicism.
In “The Ice Palace,” Sally Carrol reflects on the casualties of the Civil War. She is humbled by the sacrifice of the many men who died, but also creates an image of a woman who also sacrificed for the South: Margery Lee who died, unmarried, aged 29. She recognizes their sacrifices and is ardent that their bravery should not be forgotten. In this way, she is also keeping the dispute between North and South alive.
In “May Day,” the traditional air of celebration becomes tainted by the restlessness and lack of direction of the many demobilized troops. Thousands of men like Key and Rose were rootless, aimless and dangerous. The story illustrates how quickly tragic events can ensue.
Both Benjamin Button and Dexter Green choose to go to war for excitement, adventure and to escape their lives back home. The aging (but youthful-looking) Button is thrilled to have the opportunity to return to war, and devastated to find himself dismissed for seeming too young. Green chooses the challenges of war to escape his “Winter Dreams” and the “web of tangled emotion.”
Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald Questions and Answers
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Midnight in Paris takes place in Paris during the early 1920s. At this time, Paris was a place of parties and decadence. WWI was over and artists flocked to the city, particularly, young writers. These men and women drank together, critiqued each...
Study Guide for Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald study guide contains a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis of selected short stories.