In his literary work, F. Scott Fitzgerald is a retrospective oracle. He describes an age of individuals who came on the scene and burned themselves out even before they were able to conceptualize themselves. His first published novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), is autobiographical and describes the early Jazz Age, with its vague values of money, beauty, and a distorted sense of social propriety. His masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, came in 1925, and Tender Is the Night fictionalizes the personal and social disintegration that followed the success that The Great Gatsby had brought Fitzgerald.
In addition to describing the glamour, excitement, and frenetic pursuit of the good life between the two world wars, Tender Is the Night contains a masterful attempt at thematic telescoping. Beyond his potential as a fictional character, Dick Diver serves a double function in the novel: He is, on the largest scale, a mid-twentieth century American equivalent of the tragic hero, and he also represents the complex disintegration of the American individual during a precarious point in history.
In many ways, Diver’s fall follows Aristotle’s formula for classical tragedy: He is an isolated hero upon whom an entire community of individuals depends to give necessary form to their lives, yet he has a tragic flaw, a lack of perspective and introspection. (He is once told by a classmate, “That’s going to be your trouble—judgment about yourself.”) He represents the individual in his role as a psychiatrist, a person who is expected to understand human motivation. Ever since the precipitating element, Nicole’s case, “drifted into his hands,” he has been at the mercy of fate, and his fall is monumental, from an elevated position in life into failure and anonymity. Most significant, Diver has a perception of his own tragic importance. He realizes that he is losing his grip on situations, and even though he recognizes some of the possible consequences of his actions, he is not equipped psychologically to combat them.
Dick Diver, however, is not a strictly tragic figure; at most, he is the sort of tragic hero that...
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