How does the following excerpt reveal an aspect of F. Scott Fitzgerald's philosophy?
F. Scott Fitzgerald - A Short Autobiography
". . . whatever respect [my child] may hold for the opinions of age will be taken from him. . . I shall teach my child to respect nothing because it is old, but only those things which he considers worthy of respect. I shall tell him that I know very little more than he knows about the purpose of life in this world, and I shall send him to school with the warning that the teacher is just as ignorant as I am. This is because I want my children to feel alone. I want them to take life seriously from the beginning with neither dependency nor a sense of humor, and I want them to know the truth - that they are lost in a strange world. . ."
". . . but I can make him feel mentally alone, as every great man has been in his heart - alone in his convictions which he forms for himself, and in his character which expresses those convictions. Not only will I force no standards on my son but I will question what others tell him about life."
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The words from F. Scott Fitzgerald cited above are in a significant tradition of American writers (such as Ralph Waldo Emerson) who have celebrated independence of mind and spirit by celebrating self-reliance. Indeed, Fitzgerald himself – in the essay from which this excerpt comes (“What Till You Have Children of Your Own!”) alludes to this tradition by writing,
A supreme confidence is one of man’s greatest assets, and we know from the story of our great men that it comes only through self-reliance – and nothing that can be told to my son will be of any value to him beside what he finds out for himself.
Both in this sentence and in the sentences cited above, Fitzgerald makes a number of points, including the following:
- Fitzgerald does not respect traditional and conventional opinions unless they have earned his respect. Individuals must verify the truth of such opinions for themselves rather than passively accepting them.
- Fitzgerald concedes that mere age does not make a man wise; experience does. By implication, an experienced youth may be wiser than an old man lacking in experience with the real world.
- No one – not even those paid to teach – know very much at all about “the purpose of life in this world.” Teachers should not be presumed to have all the answers in life, or even the most important answers to life’s deepest questions.
- Whatever real wisdom we acquire in life comes from a sense of being alone in the world and from consequently taking life as seriously as it deserves to be taken. In a sense, Fitzgerald describes our experience of existence in ways that resemble descriptions of the lives of early medieval Christians: humans are wanderers who face many difficult challenges before their lives end. The difference, of course, is that Fitzgerald here offers no sense of a consoling goal or destination (such as heaven) or of a consoling father-figure (God). Fitzgerald here seems more influenced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche than by traditional Christianity.
- In order to be tough enough to endure and prosper (mentally, spiritually, and materially), a person must be fundamentally self-reliant.
- Fitzgerald will challenge anyone who tries to deprive his son of the experience of this important quest for independence of mind and soul.
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