The Last Tycoon Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

After the overwhelming success of his autobiographical novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), and his fourth novel, Tender Is the Night (1934), which describes the precipitation of what he later termed “emotional bankruptcy,” F. Scott Fitzgerald settled in Hollywood. There, he died while pursuing a fruitless career as a screenwriter. The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald’s last and unfinished novel, is a sobering picture of society written by a man who had experienced both ends of prosperity’s spectrum.

Although Fitzgerald intended this novel to be “an escape into a lavish, romantic past that perhaps will not come again in our time,” the fragmentary novel has at least two qualities that transcend its nostalgia: the manner in which the narrative is handled and the characters’ views of society. Cecilia Brady functions as both narrator and character and is able to piece the story together by collecting fragments from people involved in various incidents. By means of a retrospective device revealed in the novel’s projected outline, however, she is shown to be as limited in her view of American society as anyone else in the novel connected with the motion-picture industry. It is this limited viewpoint that gives unity between plot and theme to the novel as well as credibility to the characters.

Fitzgerald’s decision to use Cecilia Brady instead of a detached narrator allows him to reveal only those elements of reality that he deems thematically essential. Reality is filtered through life in Hollywood; Hollywood, in turn, is revealed only in relation to Stahr, and Cecilia reveals only the aspects of Stahr’s life that she finds interesting. The narrator functions as a personification of the illnesses of Hollywood life; the illnesses manifest themselves physically in the form of her tuberculosis.

The major significance of this unfinished novel is the evidence in its stylistic daring and social criticism that Fitzgerald was far from through as a novelist. The moral subtleties of Stahr’s characterization recall Fitzgerald’s greatest achievement, The Great Gatsby (1925). Like the hero of that novel, Stahr becomes involved with the underworld to preserve a dream. The difference between Gatsby’s illusion of Daisy and Stahr’s professional integrity is the measure of Fitzgerald’s own hard-won maturity as a writer and man.