Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
At St. Midas’s School, John T. Unger befriends a new boy, Percy Washington, who invites him to spend the summer on the family estate in the Montana Rockies. Percy’s boast that his father owns a diamond as big as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel seems preposterous, but on arrival John learns that the Washingtons’ family chateau actually does sit atop a five-cubic-mile flawless diamond.
The next morning, Percy sketches the family history for his friend. In 1866, his grandfather Fitz-Norman, a “direct descendant” of George Washington and Lord Baltimore, left the defeated Confederacy accompanied by a group of faithful slaves to start a ranch in the West. The venture failed within a month. Then, while hunting for food, Fitz-Norman noticed a brilliant stone drop from a squirrel’s mouth—a perfect diamond worth one hundred thousand dollars. Returning to the site with his employees the following day, Fitz-Norman soon filled his saddlebags with diamonds. When the sale of a few of these gems in New York City loosed a wave of wild rumors, he realized that he would have to operate clandestinely lest the government seize his diamond mine and establish a monopoly to avert financial panic. Accordingly, he poured his gems into two trunks and peddled them to the courts of Europe and Asia. Later, his son Braddock (Percy’s father) sealed the mine and devoted himself to protecting the family’s incalculable fortune—and its secret.
The more complex of the story’s two strands unwinds...
(The entire section is 612 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” is Fitzgerald’s most successful fantasy story, a genre in which he worked mainly during the early phase of his career. While it contains what might be read as a happy ending, the story carries many of the tragic elements inherent in Fitzgerald’s most enduring theme: how a young man is destroyed by the wealth of the woman he loves.
The plot of “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” is relatively simple. John T. Unger, a young man from the small midwestern town of Hades, is sent by his ambitious parents to the exclusive eastern school of St. Midas. There he makes friends with Percy Washington and is invited to spend the summer at the Washington estate in the far West. Unger learns that the Washingtons are literally the richest family in the world, because they own a flawless diamond that is as large as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. There is also a darker side to this fortune: To protect it, the Washingtons have made their estate a fortress, completely isolated from the outside world, and intruders are held captive in a giant cage.
While in this strange combination of luxury and prison, Unger meets and falls in love with Kismine, Percy’s sixteen-year-old sister. From Kismine, Unger learns that all invited visitors to the Washington estate are murdered before they can leave. As Unger and Kismine flee, the place is attacked by airplanes, led there by one of the prisoners who managed to escape. The fabulous estate is destroyed as Unger and Kismine discover they have fled with worthless rhinestones instead of...
(The entire section is 637 words.)