F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories reveal the author as a romantic idealist who captured the breathless exultation of the 1920s yet retained the ability to distance himself from the social scene and carefully critique it.’ Discuss Fitzgerald’s short stories in the light of this statement.
The observation of F. Scott Fitzgerald – that he was “the ultimate romantic idealist who would capture both the breathless exultation of the period yet retain the ability to distance himself and carefully critique it” – is grounded in Fitzgerald’s maturation as an observer of 1920s society and of his growing cynicism regarding the superficial nature of much that was so exciting about that period, especially in New York City during the so-called Jazz Age and before the 1929 crash of the stock market. In his novel This Side of Paradise, one of Fitzgerald’s characters, Amory, famously describes himself as “a cynical idealist.” That quote, as well as any of Fitzgerald’s many noteworthy expressions, captured the author’s ability to “distance himself and carefully critique” the almost surrealist atmosphere in which he was immersed. A common theme throughout much of Fitzgerald’s writing, both fiction and nonfiction, including his “notebooks,” is one of disillusionment and nostalgia for a lost time. In his 1932 essay “My Lost City,” he wrote regarding his memories of New York before Black Friday and the onset of the Great Depression:
“For the moment I can only cry out that I have lost my splendid mirage. Come back, come back, O glittering and white!”
Observations of the passage of time and the loss of innocence are consistently reflected in Fitzgerald’s short stories, essays and personal notes. Even well-before the death of the exuberance of the Jazz Age, his writings are fraught with musings regarding the emotional and physical process of aging. In his short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” he observes,
“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.”
And, in “Old Russet Witch,” from the compilation Tales of the Jazz Age, he wrote:
"The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round. True, they are a merry-go-round of ill-gaited and wind-broken horses, painted first in pastel colors, then in dull grays and browns, but perplexing and intolerably dizzy the thing is, as never were the merry-go-rounds of childhood or adolescence; as never, surely, were the certain-coursed, dynamic roller-coasters of youth. For most men and women these thirty years are taken up with a gradual withdrawal from life."
Finally, in his essay “Early Success,” published in American Calvacade in October 1937, Fitzgerald wrote:
"The man who arrives young believes that he exercises his will because his star is shining. The man who only asserts himself at thirty has a balanced idea of what willpower and fate have each contributed, the one who gets there at forty is liable to put the emphasis on will alone."
These are only a handful of quotes from Fitzgerald’s writings, but they illustrate well the sentiment underlying much of his work. Fitzgerald, as with many great writers, was a keen observer of his times. The figure of Jay Gatsby, the author’s most enduring character, is emblematic of the dark side of our nature; he is the mythological figure who conceals a hidden past. Fitzgerald was able to stand back from the period he exalts because he was cynical enough to see behind the facades. Robert Roulston, in his biography of Fitzgerald, The Winding Road to West Egg: The Artistic Development of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1995), illuminates this aspect of Fitzgerald's character, and provides the observation from which the question was derived.
Winter Dreams is another one of Fitzgerald's short stories that criticizes American society and the American dream. It denounces materialism and consumerism. Dexter is obsessed with acquiring wealth and being the best. Although he seems to have all of the good life, he is not happy. Dexter pursues a girl thinking she will make him happy but that does not solve his problem either. Fitzgerald seems to be arguing overall that materialism and consumerism will never lead to happiness--only to illusions.