“The Four Fists” is a selection in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first book of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers, published in 1920 after his debut novel, This Side of Paradise. The main character, Samuel Meredith, is a man who, as Fitzgerald says, “is certain that at various times in his life hitable qualities were in his face, as surely as kissable qualities have ever lurked in a girl’s face.” From boarding school to the business world, he gets into confrontations that lead to him being punched in the face, and these four major conflicts in his life lead him to be the type of man about whom the narrator eventually says, “At the present time no one that I know has the slightest desire to hit Samuel Meredith....”
It all starts at boarding school. Being spoiled all his life, Meredith’s sense of superiority over others eventually drives his roommate to finally result to hitting him, and after landing the first punch Meredith finds he does not want to fight back, but just walks away. He faces the usual repercussions from the rest of the boys, but after returning from a later vacation he finds that by keeping quiet about the incident everyone has forgiven him. He soon becomes one of the best-liked boys in school. He has learned his first important lesson from the “first fist.”
In college his sense of superiority again leads to trouble. He insults a common laborer one night, and the man lands the second “fist” to Meredith’s jaw. Again, he does not fight back, but realizes that the man had a right to his beliefs and standards. Once out of college and in the business world, he meets a married woman and starts an affair with her. Caught by the jealous husband, the third “fist” lands him on the ground again, and again he realizes the error of his ways. The fourth and final “fist” is from a man who Meredith’s company is trying to buy out, and it shows our hero that there are more important things than money.
Of course, all this knowledge gained from the “four fists” makes Meredith a great success, and now whenever he has to make an important decision he rubs his hand along his chin to feel the permanent lump left from the four blows. As Fitzgerald says at the end, “It’s so he can feel again the gorgeous clarity, the lightening sanity of those four fists.”