The Crack-Up Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

Few writers have been so closely associated with an era as was F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was twenty-three years old as the 1920’s began and, as he put it, he marched along slightly ahead of the decade. His novel of rebellious youth, This Side of Paradise, was published toward the end of March, 1920, and he awoke to find himself famous. On April 3, 1920, he married Zelda Sayre, a beautiful and headstrong Southern belle, and they began to live the tumultuous life of the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald’s literary earnings went from $800 in 1919 to $18,000 in 1920, his story price from $30 to $1,000. He became the Jazz Age laureate, the best-paid magazine writer of the day. His crowning achievement of the decade, The Great Gatsby, appeared as he was approaching the end of his own twenties. Ten years later, the United States was mired in the Great Depression which had followed the stock market crash of 1929, and Fitzgerald’s personal life was mirroring the woes of the nation.

In 1936, Fitzgerald had only four more years to live. In The Crack-Up, he was attempting to cope with his disastrous loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. He was the embodiment of the American Dream gone wrong, eerily reminiscent of his creation Jay Gatsby. In 1937, Fitzgerald would sign a contract as a scenarist and turn from reality to Hollywood, as the rest of the nation was doing. Because The Crack-Up contains some of Fitzgerald’s finest writing, it would be an important book in a purely literary context. Because Fitzerald was such a uniquely representative figure, however, it is an important document of cultural history as well.