Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night are F. Scott Fitzgerald's best-known novels. They draw on Fitzgerald's own vivid experiences in the 1920s but transform them into art. This stimulating introductory guide analyses their accomplished style and their concern with the promise and perplexity of modern life.

Part I of this indispensable study:
• provides interesting and informed close readings of key passages
• examines how each novel starts and ends
• discusses key themes of society, money, gender and trauma
• outlines the methods of analysis and offers suggestions for further work.

Part II supplies essential background material, including:
• an account of Fitzgerald's life
• a survey of historical, cultural and literary contexts
• samples of significant criticism.

Also featuring a helpful Further Reading section, this volume equips readers with the critical and analytical skills which will enable them to enjoy and explore both novels for themselves.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender is the Night (1934) are the most highly regarded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s four completed novels and remain widely read and much studied. Gatsby is the more famous of the two: it has been filmed four times, in 1926, 1949, 1974 and 2000, attracting key actors to the lead role — Warner Baxter, Alan Ladd, Robert Redford and Toby Stephens — and a fifth film is now in the making, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Baz Luhrmann (famed for his William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet). Through the novel and films, Jay Gatsby has become an iconic figure in American and perhaps global culture, a symbol of high aspiration, glamorous success and romantic defeat, like Fitzgerald himself. Very much a product of its time, Gatsby also seems to speak vividly to many readers today. But Tender, likewise engaging with aspiration, success and defeat, also continues to find many readers and interpreters and its concern with the traumas of sexual abuse and of war speaks to us perhaps more strongly than ever in the twenty-first century.
Nicolas Tredell

Analysing the Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night

Frontmatter

1. Beginnings

Abstract
On a first reading, the beginning of a novel gives us an initial idea of the style, tone, narrative technique and themes of the whole work, initiates a relationship between reader and narrator, and raises expectations about the text, the reading experience, which is to come. These expectations will not necessarily be fulfilled; indeed, they are likely to be modified in significant ways. On second and subsequent readings, our knowledge of the novel as a whole inevitably influences how we read the beginning and we are likely to understand it differently — to grasp more clearly how it prepares us (sometimes by indirection or misdirection) for the rest of the work. In analysing the beginnings of The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it will enrich our enjoyment and understanding to aim to develop a kind of double vision: to see the beginning both as it might appear to a first-time reader and as it might appear to someone rereading the book.
Nicolas Tredell

2. Society

Abstract
The society portrayed in Gatsby and Tender is one in which the bonds of family and community seem ineffectual or oppressive and in which the chief social mode in which people meet and try to relate to one another is the party. In both novels, parties both large and small provide stages on which to portray the tensions, desires and concealments of a society in fl ux. The first extract we shall examine is from Nick’s account in chapter 1 of Gatsby of Nick’s first visit to a small dinner party held by his second cousin, Daisy, and her husband Tom Buchanan, at their large East Egg home. A young female golf champion, Jordan Baker, is also present and, through the medium of the telephone, a fifth guest intrudes.
Nicolas Tredell

3. Money

Abstract
In a review of Tender in the New Yorker (14 April 1934), the American writer and media intellectual Clifton Fadiman remarked that, in Fitzgerald’s case, ‘money is the root of all novels’ (FR 301). There can be no doubt of the importance of money in Fitzgerald’s fiction; but one of his strengths is that he does not assume that money is a simple matter; rather, he attempts to grasp money in its full complexity, not only as a means of exchange but also as an element that enters, materially and symbolically, into the surfaces and depths of identity, behaviour and relationship. This chapter considers the role of money in Gatsby and Tender, examining the vivid examples of modern consumerism both novels provide and the ways in which money moulds Gatsby’s courtship of Daisy and Nicole’s marriage to Dick. The first extract we shall explore is Myrtle’s display of her buying power in chapter 2 of Gatsby.
Nicolas Tredell

4. Gender

Abstract
Fitzgerald’s success as a novelist was bound up with his representations of women. McCall’s Magazine (October 1925) dubbed him ‘the man who discovered the flapper’ and the Louisville Courier (30 September 1928) called him the ‘Creator of Modern Girl Types’ (RE 132, 112). But he also created notable male characters — Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, Dick Diver, Tommy Barban — in a tumultuous era in which both female and male gender roles, among many other things, were shifting and changing dramatically. Both Gatsby and Tender portray worlds in which (some) women are more emancipated to an extent but remain restricted in many ways, and where emancipation brings other problems, not least through the insecurity it may arouse in men. Men themselves are uncertain of their masculine identities and may become unduly aggressive or passive. In our first extract, we return to an earlier stage of the dinner party at Tom Buchanan’s house which we visited in chapter 2 of this book and see how men and women are shown there.
Nicolas Tredell

5. Trauma

Abstract
Both Gatsby and Tender are marked by the international trauma of the First World War; in Gatsby, Gatsby and Nick are veterans of that war and in Tender, Dick, Abe North (also a veteran) and Rosemary visit a Somme battlefield. The novels are also marked by physical and psychological trauma as it impacts on individuals: physically, there is the breaking of Myrtle’s nose by Tom Buchanan in Gatsby and the breaking of Dick’s nose and rib by the Italian police in Tender; the shooting of Jules Peterson and the beating to death of Abe North in Tender; the mutilation and death of Myrtle in Gatsby when Gatsby’s car, driven by Daisy, hits her; and the murder of Gatsby and the suicide of Wilson in Gatsby. Psychologically, Gatsby shows the title character’s despair (as Nick imagines it) after his loss of Daisy, and the grief of Wilson after Myrtle’s death and of Nick after Gatsby’s death; while Tender depicts the reawakening of Nicole’s memories of her father’s incestuous rape by the bloodied bedclothes she sees after Peterson’s murder, and Dick’s final knowledge that he has lost Nicole.
Nicolas Tredell

6. Endings

Abstract
This chapter looks at the endings of Gatsby and Tender, comparing and contrasting their style and significance and considering how each ending reconfigures the narrative which precedes it and reinforces, amplifies and clarifies key themes. In each ending, a dramatized scene involving two characters which refers back to major elements of the earlier narrative is followed by a concluding commentary. The first passages for analysis are these dramatized scenes, and the two final passages are the concluding commentaries which bring both novels to an end — though leaving many questions reverberating in the reader’s mind. We begin with Nick’s chance meeting with Tom Buchanan in Fifth Avenue.
Nicolas Tredell

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

7. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Life and Works

Abstract
Scott Fitzgerald was a man of many parts which seem difficult to reconcile. He was a self-destructive drunk and a prolific, hard-working and highly talented professional writer who, in his 20-year career, produced four complete novels, one major work-in-progress, about 150 short stories, around 30 articles and essays, a substantial set of notebooks, and a sheaf of correspondence. He wanted to be ‘one of the greatest writers who have ever lived’, but much of his creative energy went into commercial fiction and film scripts that were never produced. He was almost always in debt, but managed not only to support himself but also to pay for his wife’s prolonged stays in costly mental hospitals and his daughter’s private schooling and elite university education at Vassar. He lived with his wife for only ten years, all of them fraught, but he never divorced her and Scott and Zelda have joined the pantheon of great lovers in literary history and popular culture. He rarely saw his daughter as she grew up, but his letters to her show a caring father intensely concerned for her moral welfare and cultural development and ready to share his deepest reflections with her. He led an itinerant life, with few possessions, and never owned a permanent home, but he usually dwelt in some style in high-class hotels or in large and comfortable rented houses or apartments with servants. He often behaved appallingly but he could also be funny, gracious and charming.
Nicolas Tredell

8. The Historical, Cultural and Literary Context

Abstract
Fitzgerald published his first novel in 1920 and his last completed one in 1934. In that time, the USA went from prosperity through catastrophe to slow recovery and the literary and cultural focus shifted from pleasure to politics. The historical context of Gatsby and Tender includes a rich mixture of elements: the aftermath of the First World War; the spectacular unintended results of Prohibition in the shape of organized crime and the rise of the gangster as a figure of folk myth; the spectre of government corruption in the Teapot Dome scandal; the presidential pursuit of pro-business policies; immense economic growth culminating in a boom followed by a bust; technological and organizational innovations which transformed the fields of transport, communications and popular entertainment; changes in the rights and roles of women; and the anxiety aroused by immigration and the restrictive legislation that resulted. All these elements play their parts in a range of ways in Gatsby and Tender.
Nicolas Tredell

9. A Sample of Critical Views

Abstract
Both Gatsby and Tender received mixed reviews on their first appearance. Ruth Snyder, in the New York Evening World, concluded that Gatsby convinces us that ‘Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great American writers of to-day’, but in the Saturday Review of Literature, William Rose Benét praised Gatsby’s ‘thoroughly matured craftsmanship’ and its ‘concision and precision and mastery of material’. In the St Paul Dispatch, James Gray called Tender ‘a big, sprawling, undisciplined, badly coordinated book’ while in the New York Evening Journal, Gilbert Seldes saw Tender as the great novel promised by the control Fitzgerald had demonstrated in Gatsby. His ‘triumph’ in Tender was that, ‘without a trace of symbolism or allegory, he makes this special story universally interesting’ (FR 196, 220, 221, 289, 293).
Nicolas Tredell
Additional information