Critical Essay on ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’
Based on an embarrassing incident from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own experience in Hollywood, ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ is part autobiography and part pure fiction. The main character, Joel Coles, is a young screenwriter who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is enjoying a measure of success. Trying to impress all the right people, he instead humiliates himself and finds himself in the middle of a marriage on the rocks. Throughout the story, Fitzgerald portrays Joel as emotionally immature in every relationship he has. He is immature in his relationship to himself, creating a self-image that is often convenient and reassuring if not always accurate. He is immature in his relationships with others, seeking approval and validation from whoever is most likely to give it. And he is immature in his relationship to his career and his industry, setting professionalism aside in favor of soothing his ego. As the story progresses from beginning to end, Joel experiences no personal growth and misses opportunities to gain wisdom because he is too immature to seize them.
First, Joel lacks the maturity to be honest with himself and exercise discipline or self-control. He knows that he drinks too much, and he promises himself not to have any drinks at Miles Calman’s party. Within the first hour, he has broken this promise, accepting a cocktail because Stella, Miles’s beautiful wife, gives it to him. Rather than exhibit the self-assuredness to refuse the drink politely, he feels that he has no choice but to take it and drink it. He makes excuses that he believes are legitimate reasons to make poor decisions. Once he begins drinking, he is unable to moderate his behavior at all. To him, the first drink is never the last, and he paves his own road to ruin.
Fitzgerald shows how Joel’s mind-set changes with the effects of the alcohol. He feels warm and friendly toward the others at the party, and he feels overconfident in his ability to conduct himself appropriately. This reveals his immaturity because he has been drunk enough times to know better; he should know that drinking lowers important inhibitions and alters the good judgment he needs in the company of his industry peers. However, living in the moment, he leaves such wisdom behind and once again falls prey to the deceptive powers of alcohol.
Joel also fails to be completely honest with himself about his own talent and importance in the Hollywood studio scene. He has only been working for six months, yet he exhibits admittedly false humility about his talent, feels completely entitled to be among the Hollywood elite at Miles’s party, and sees himself as superior to other writers such as Nat Keogh. He initially looks down on Nat because of his reputation for being a heavy drinker, which is not only hypocritical but also ignores the fact that Nat is extremely successful and very well paid for his work in their competitive industry.
Second, Joel is immature in his relationships with other people. He is insecure and tends to shift his focus away from those who might reject him, moving toward those who are likely to accept and even admire him. When he feels vulnerable, he is less honest with others than he is with himself. Trying to shrug off the bad reception of his performance, Joel keeps his disgust to himself and clings ‘‘desperately to his rule of never betraying an inferior emotion until he no longer felt it.’’ He craves external validation, especially from people he considers impressive. When he receives the invitation to Miles’s party, he imagines all the ways he will impress the important director, but after one cocktail, he practically forgets about Miles and focuses entirely on Stella. Similarly, when he feels accepted by the group at the party, he feels warm toward them. The narrator comments that Joel ‘‘felt happy and friendly toward all the people gathered there. . . . He liked them—he loved them. Great waves of good feeling flowed through him.’’ But when he senses their rejection during his performance (‘‘the thumbs down of the clan’’), he puts on emotional blinders and concentrates on Stella. In the morning, his first order of business is to send an apologetic note to Miles, but when he receives an ego-boosting message from Stella, he forgets about Miles again.
Joel’s relationship with Miles is somewhat complicated. On the one hand, he wants to stay in his good graces for personal and professional reasons, but on the other hand, he continues to see Stella. He likes being on the ‘‘inside’’...
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Public Exposure of Private Relationships
In ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the tale of Hollywood citizens Joel Coles, a young, up-andcoming screenwriter; Miles Calman, a powerful movie director; and Stella Walker (Calman), a beautiful, famous actress and Miles’s wife. As to be expected, the lives of famous, Hollywood inhabitants receive much more exposure and attention than an ordinary, everyday citizen. Calman and Walker are no exception. Their public actions are scrutinized, watched and reported. Yet beyond what they do in public, Calman and Walker are under a constant, inquisitive eye that desires to see past their public actions, deep into their private lives. Coles, on the other hand, experiences no overt analysis from the public realm. He lives his life publicly in a way that is similar to most individuals. He moves through life as an active participant and contributor, but when he returns to his private realm, he feels removed from the public realm. Also, because of his ordinary stature, his private life is of no interest to the public. Thus, his private life is truly his own, in that he can decide to share it or to keep it completely isolated. However, as his life overlaps with Calman and Walker’s life and relationship, the destructive, invasive power that public scrutiny holds over the private realm becomes unwaveringly apparent.
To better examine the concept of a public realm overpowering the private in ‘‘Crazy Sunday,’’ it is best to turn to German-born philosopher, Hannah Arendt. For Arendt, the public realm is common. This means that everything that is seen or heard in this realm is intended to have the widest possible publicity. There is no expectation that what occurs in the public realm would be, in any sense, unavailable to any other person. The public realm is used to communicate and validate reality. To bring ideas, stories or art into the view of the public realm brings them into reality. The existences of things in the private realm, e.g., thoughts, feelings or passions, are inherently shadowy. This means, of course, that anything completely internalized lacks any alternative perspective and, thus, an individual has no way to verify the validity of such a thing without the analysis of another person. Arendt writes in The Human Condition, ‘‘Each time we talk about things that can be experienced only in privacy or intimacy, we bring them out into a sphere where they will assume a kind of reality which, their intensity not withstanding, they never could have had before.’’ With the new reality of private things in the public realm, the privacy of the things inherently dissolves; Meaning that when an individual discusses feelings or thoughts, these thoughts necessarily lose their shadowy reality.
Of course, Arendt does not only delve into the nature of the public realm. However, it is with respect to the public realm that she derives the meaning of ‘‘private.’’ For Arendt, the extreme definition of private is to live outside of reality. Arendt states that the denial of this movement from private to public ‘‘means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life.’’ However, Arendt also does not believe that a wholly public life is worthwhile. The private realm holds as much importance in the definition of the human condition as the public realm. The private realm is removed from the scrutiny of the prying and inquisitive eyes of the public. For Arendt, ‘‘the four walls of one’s private property offer the only reliable hiding place from the common public world, not only from everything that goes on in it but from its very publicity, from being seen and being heard.’’ The thoughts, feelings and passions that exist only in the shadowy sphere outside of the public realm remain outside of reality. They are perfectly and completely intimate. Therefore, just as it is necessary to be seen and heard in the common realm, to be empowered with the ability to retreat from it is also essential to a truly human life. Roughly, what Arendt proposes as a truly human life is an individual’s ability to facilitate the ebb and flow between the public, common realm and the private, personal realm. To live exclusively within the public or the private realm is not simply the denial of the other, it is the denial of what it means to be human.
With this Arendtian framework in mind, Fitzgerald’s ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ explodes with deeper meaning. In the story, Coles is a young screenwriter with a bright future in Hollywood. When he is invited to a Sunday night party at the home of powerful director, Calman, and his famous actress wife, Walker, he has his future in mind. Coles is aware of his position in the public realm at the Calman’s home. He intends to keep himself sober, as he knows that his actions will be under a great amount of scrutiny at such a high-profile party. Fitzgerald writes, ‘‘Miles Calman’s house was built for great emotional moments—there...
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The Sane Method of ‘Crazy Sunday’
Precise factual information which aids the reader to place an artist’s work securely into a biographicalhistorical context is always welcome. Such information establishes a sound foundation for critical analysis and enhances our appreciation of the artist’s achievements. Fortunately, any student of Fitzgerald’s brilliant story ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ (1932) finds an abundance of data already provided by Arthur Mizener, Dwight Taylor, Andrew Turnbull, Kenneth Eble, Henry Dan Piper, and Aaron Latham, among others. Accordingly, no further evidence is needed to prove that in writing ‘‘Crazy Sunday,’’ Fitzgerald chose a phase of recent experience in which he suffered disappointment and disgrace, then deliberately...
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Hollywood in Fitzgerald: After Paradise
As Arthur Mizener has remarked in The Far Side of Paradise, the movies fascinated Fitzgerald, ‘‘as they must fascinate any artist, because, as a visual art, they have such exciting possibilities of greatness, for all their actual shoddiness, and because they offered Fitzgerald what always drew him, a Diamond-as-Big-as-the-Ritz scale of operation, a world ‘bigger and grander’ than the ordinary world.’’
According to Henry Dan Piper, scriptwriting offered little challenge to Fitzgerald, but ‘‘he had always been fascinated by the motion-picture industry as literary subject matter.’’ This would have been especially true for Fitzgerald around 1924 since movies were not only becoming established as...
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