F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Fiction Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis of Stories

"The Ice Palace"

A deep sense of place plays the key role in this tale, with the principal conflict developing between the warm and "soft" South and the cold and harsh North. The two principal characters, Sally Carrol Happer (in typical Southern fashion, always addressed by her first two names by her friends) and Harry Bellamy, probably represent Zelda Fitzgerald (from Montgomery, Alabama) and Fitzgerald himself (from St. Paul). The plot is simply the story of how these young people, affianced at the opening of the story, fall out over the clash between their home grounds.

A visit to St. Paul, which is the unnamed city where Harry lives, by Sally Carrol (from Tarleton, Georgia) creates the rift. Even before she leaves for the visit, her friend Clark says, "Don't marry a Yankee, Sally Carrol. We need you round here." This urging sets the tone for the rest of the text. It is emphasized by Harry's ill-thought ejaculation, "Those damn Southerners!" — a remark whose humor escapes Sally Carrol and which irritates her.

The climax of the plot develops when Harry insists on taking Sally Carrol through a large ice structure (of which there was one in St. Paul in earlier times), where she becomes lost, frightened, and finally near collapse. She cannot wait to return home, where she is finally heard (in a fine piece of dialogue) speaking with Clark while eating: "What you doin'?" She blissfully replies, "Eatin' green peach. 'Spect to die any minute." She is home, and she is happy.

The theme of what could be termed a geographical/cultural conflict is represented not only by the plot but also by Fitzgerald's fine depiction of two key scenes. The first is in a cemetery filled with the graves of Confederate soldiers, a place where Sally Carrol tenderly feels her Southern heritage (also a scene reminiscent of the one in Henry James's The Bostonians, 1886, in which a Civil War memorial is visited by the two main characters). The other is the depiction of St. Paul in the winter and, especially, the imposing but (at least to Sally Carrol) forbidding edifice of ice. Seldom in a work of short fiction has the ambience of place been so clearly and forcefully set forth — perhaps, as is often the case, the intensity of the clash derives from the author's personal experience with these two areas.

"Mayday"

Like many of Fitzgerald's stories, this one (perhaps the most grim of the early tales) is divided into sections. In this case, there are eleven of them, adding to the episodic effect of the piece, which some critics find a negative quality. However, Fitzgerald said that his intention was to capture the atmosphere of the events of the spring of 1919 and of the postwar "hysteria" that emerged then, particularly in New York, the setting of the story.

Arthur Mizener believes this tale to be an "impressionistic" one, and the diversified sets of characters supports this judgment. The plot does have the unity of time; all the events take place within one day. However, the actions of the character groups are unrelated except for chance encounters (sometimes in coincidental form that is difficult to accept as realistic). In this long story (almost reaching the length of a novella), the principal groups are Gordon Sterrett and Philip Dean, two former friends and classmates at college; the recently mustered out veterans Carroll Key and Gus Rose (some critics, like Jeffrey Meyers, comment on the choice of names by Fitzgerald, to the effect that he selected names of people he knew — or, as in the case of Key, his own name — and even chose a title that puns on the term for a call for aid; such speculation is interesting and may be valid); the grasping Jewel Hudson, who is, in effect, blackmailing Gordon Sterrett, and Edith Bradin, a former girlfriend who still likes Gordon; and a group of minor characters who help to advance the plot and react with the main personages.

Fitzgerald once declared that the period of this story marked the opening of the Jazz Age with its chaotic events, from the disorderly mob advancing toward the newspaper office (where suspected German sympathizers are believed to work) and wrecking the office, to the near insanity and finally the suicide of Gordon Sterrett. Certainly the story line of this tale suggests the more unhappy aspects of that period, including the wild party scenes at Delmonico's, at Childs' restaurant, and at the Commodore, where the two friends, Peter Himmel (perhaps a pun on the German word for heaven) and Philip Dean misbehave outrageously. Andrew Turnbull asserts that both the riot (which has been well documented) and the party at Delmonico's and the shenanigans the following day are all based on actual events in New York on that day. Surely, the way that Fitzgerald presents them bears the mark of deep personal experience and understanding.

While many of the episodes are unrelated in any plotlike way, they all...

(The entire section is 2015 words.)