F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story "The Ice Palace" was first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1920. It was also included in the collection Flappers and Philosophers (1920), which followed his successful debut novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). During the 1920s, Fitzgerald’s stories commanded excellent prices, but he was nonetheless a reluctant writer of short fiction in many ways, often dismissing them as “trash.” It is for perhaps this reason that Fitzgerald’s short fiction does not garner the critical attention of his novels. While some of Fitzgerald’s short stories obviously catered to commercial pressure, many titles exhibit sharp observation and cunning critique. The “Ice Palace,” which chronicles the cultural conflict between a Southern woman and her Northern lover, is an example of one of Fitzgerald’s more serious and effective short pieces. As it often does, biography creeps into “The Ice Palace.” Engaged to a Southern belle (Zelda Sayre), Fitzgerald was interested in the cultural influence of the South. Indeed, the figure of the Southern belle would be sketched several times in Fitzgerald’s work, most famously as Daisy in The Great Gatsby (1925).
The story opens with Sally Carrol Harper idly surveying a sleepy Southern day. The imagery of the opening paragraph, full of dappled sunlight and warm, lazy inertia, contrasts sharply with the cold rigidity suggested by the story’s title. It is a contrast that Fitzgerald will explore throughout the story as he examines the cultural and social differences between the North and the South. As the story progresses, we learn that Sally is engaged to a Northerner, a fact that her friends view with a sense of betrayal and alarm. Her friend Clark worries that Sally’s fiancé would “be a lot different from us, every way.” Sally, however, worries that her ambitions are incompatible with the sleepy pace of Tarleton, Georgia. She wants to “go places and see people” and to live where “things happen on a big scale.” She describes herself as having two sides, and this duality is a major theme of “The Ice Palace.”
Sally Carrol’s trip to the North continues Fitzgerald’s theme of cultural incompatibility. Fitzgerald describes her as restless and shivering on the train, and it is clear that the adjustments for her will be difficult. When she exits the train, the scene is confusing and uncertain. She is kissed by a “faintly familiar icy-cold face” (in contrast to the lazy kiss she shared with Harry in Tarleton), quickly introduced to Harry’s family, and hurried away in a cloud of heavy coats and breath vaporizing in the cold air. As Sally Carrol’s visit progresses, it becomes clear she is an outsider. Aside from a professor she meets at a dinner party, Sally Carrol finds the people she meets to be as cold as the climate they live in.
The story’s climax occurs when Sally Carrol and Harry visit the ice palace indicated by the title. Constructed of blocks of solid ice, the palace was the highlight of the winter carnival. Interestingly, the ice palace itself was not a figment of Fitzgerald’s imagination; such structures were indeed constructed in his home town of St. Paul, Minnesota. Already imagining her spiritual and cultural death in the North, Sally Carrol gets separated and lost in the labyrinthine ice castle. Delirious with cold, Sally Carrol is both frightened and comforted by hallucinations and phantoms. Ultimately, when she is found, she demands that she go back home “to-morrow! To-morrow!” and the story ends as it began, with Sally Carrol contemplating another quiet Southern day from her window.