Style and Technique

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The point of view of “Crazy Sunday” is that of a limited omniscient, or selected omniscient, narrator. Everything is seen as Joel sees it or could see it; thus, dramatic irony is provided by the contrast between Joel’s perception of events and the deeper understanding afforded to the reader. When...

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The point of view of “Crazy Sunday” is that of a limited omniscient, or selected omniscient, narrator. Everything is seen as Joel sees it or could see it; thus, dramatic irony is provided by the contrast between Joel’s perception of events and the deeper understanding afforded to the reader. When Joel makes a fool of himself at the Calman’s party, he is conscious of his error, but when, at the end of the story, he makes a much more serious mistake, abandoning Stella, only the reader grasps the significance of Joel’s action. Joel himself has lost the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and thus he fails to see the reality of Stella’s suffering.

This is a dramatic story with cinematic effects. There is a five-part structure, with three strong Sunday scenes separated by interims at the studio. The interims set up the logical business of the Sunday scenes. Each Sunday shows the humiliation of a different main character, first of Joel at the Calman’s party, then of Miles being attacked for his adultery, and finally of Stella’s collapse with grief at the news of Miles’s death. In each scene, Joel’s love for Stella progresses a step further, a commitment from which he later retreats.

The fully dramatized Sunday scenes (which include the Saturday of the Perrys’ party, extending to the tragic early hours of Sunday) are visually oriented. Readers are constantly being directed to appearances, shapes, colors, positions. Moreover, the characters are always looking, seeing, noticing. In the world of “Crazy Sunday,” only appearances count.

As usual with good F. Scott Fitzgerald stories, there is crisp, concise observation: “an Italian-colored sweater,” “a dress like ice-water, made in a thousand pale-blue pieces, with icicles trickling at the throat,” “under the pure grain of light hair.” The descriptive language works well with the theme of glamorous make-believe threatened by reality.

Historical Context

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Hollywood in the 1930s
Early in the 1930s, color and sound came to Hollywood movies. This heightened public interest in American movies, which in turn catapulted the celebrity status of actors, actresses, and musicians. Not surprisingly, many studios capitalized on the new capabilities of film by producing musicals. This tendency toward light fare was ideal for moviegoers whose Depression-era lives contained enough tragedy and anxiety. Excitement and adventure was also evident in the popularity of gangster movies and westerns. But the Great Depression dragged on through the years, and while Americans sought the two-hour escapes offered by movies, their ability to afford them dwindled. By 1934, one-third of the nation’s movie theaters had closed their doors. To stay afloat, Hollywood studios were forced to utilize less expensive means of production in order to pay the high salaries that popular celebrities earned. Without major names on the marquis, movies were rarely very successful. Among the big names that drew crowds were Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Mae West, W. C. Fields, Marlene Dietrich, and James Cagney. First introduced in 1934, Shirley Temple movies provided a loveable figure of innocence and hope for struggling moviegoers.

Movies in the 1930s represented everything that real life seemed to lack—romance, adventure, glamour, fantasy, and happy endings. Some historians have noted that in the 1920s, movie protagonists often cruised effortlessly into their happy endings, but in the 1930s movie producers depicted happy endings coming about as a gradual change of fortune. In The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s, Gary Dean Best quotes Will Hays, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America president in 1934:

No medium has contributed more greatly than the films to the maintenance of the national morale during a period featured by revolution, riot and political turmoil in other countries. . . . It has been the mission of the screen, without ignoring the serious social problems of the day, to reflect aspiration, achievement, optimism and kindly humor in its entertainment.

Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer
The party that Fitzgerald fictionalizes in ‘‘Crazy Sunday’’ is based on an actual party he attended, hosted by Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer. Thalberg was a very successful Hollywood producer whose rise to prominence was well known among his contemporaries. Having never completed high school, he got a job at a movie studio, where he worked hard and eventually became a major executive at MGM Studios. Thalberg had a special focus on screenplays and worked closely with writers. He was known, however, for protecting the integrity of some projects by having two writers work simultaneously on a script without letting them know. Born with a heart defect, Thalberg never expected a long life and often overworked himself to the point of collapse, intent on finishing his projects according to his vision. He died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven. The movie producer in The Last Tycoon is based on Thalberg, as is Miles Calman in ‘‘Crazy Sunday.’’

Norma Shearer was an actress in Hollywood who enjoyed success in silent and sound films. She was nominated numerous times for an Academy Award, winning once. Early in her career, she modeled while she waited for her big break. Her modeling experience helped prepare her for the facial expressions necessary for success in silent movies. Once she began making movies for MGM, her celebrity status rose quickly. Having made numerous silent movies, married Thalberg, and started a family in the 1920s, she and her husband decided to pursue bringing sound to movies. Luckily, she had a voice that allowed her to bridge her career from silence to sound. In the early 1930s, she was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. After Thalberg’s death, Shearer continued her acting career and stayed active in the movie business. Although she remarried, she was buried alongside Thalberg upon her death at the age of eighty.

Literary Style

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Foreshadowing
Fitzgerald uses foreshadowing to hint at Joel’s misfortune at Miles’s party and later with Stella. In Part I, Joel is full of the anticipation of the party and promises himself he will not have anything to drink. The first indication that alcohol is a stumbling block for Joel is when the narrator comments, ‘‘Ordinarily he did not go out on Sundays but stayed sober and took work home with him.’’ The first words spoken by Joel in the story are to himself, when he declares, ‘‘I won’t take anything to drink.’’ Joel’s fears about lowering his inhibitions at such an important party foreshadow his humiliation when he breaks his promises to himself and has several cocktails. By the time the narrator reveals ‘‘He took another cocktail—not because he needed confidence but because she [Stella] had given him so much of it,’’ the reader knows that his confidence is false.

The closer Joel gets to Stella, and the more attracted he is to her, the more he begins to realize that she lacks the self-assuredness to make her own decisions. This character weakness foreshadows the demise of their relationship when she tells Joel that she is attracted to him but loves Miles. By this time, Joel has learned that Stella is overly influenced by Miles and probably only liked Joel because Miles liked him first. He remembers a conversation in which Miles said, ‘‘I’ve influenced Stella in everything. Especially I’ve influenced her so that she likes all the men I like—it’s very difficult.’’ In retrospect, Joel realizes that the signs of her rejection were there all along.

Film Industry Setting
As the story opens, the narrator describes the day-to-day reality of working life in Hollywood. He writes:

Behind, for all of them, lay sets and sequences, the long waits under the crane that swung the microphone, the hundred miles a day by automobiles to and fro across the county, the struggles of rival ingenuities in the conference rooms, the ceaseless compromise, the clash and strain of many personalities fighting for their lives.

Besides overt descriptions, the narrator subtly describes the setting of the story in ways that are reminiscent of the film industry itself. Room descriptions sound like settings, and physical environments are sometimes described in relation to their emotional impact. Miles’s house is described as having been ‘‘built for great emotional moments— there was an air of listening, as if the far silences of its vistas hid an audience.’’ Later, the Calmans’ home is described this way: ‘‘Under the high ceilings the situation seemed more dignified and tragic.’’ These are aspects that someone in the film industry would notice. In introducing them into the story, the narrator also supports the theme of the importance of appearances.

Compare and Contrast

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1930s: Despite the Great Depression, this decade is a memorable one for the American film industry. Shirley Temple movies, epics like Gone with the Wind, and feel-good films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington make this an important decade in American film and culture.

Today: In 2003, American moviegoers spent almost $9.5 billion on tickets. In decidedly more stable and prosperous years than the Depression era, Americans have more to spend on movies but do not rely as heavily on them for emotional relief and escape.

1930s: In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment is ratified, overturning the Eighteenth Amendment’s prohibition on alcohol. This is the first time a constitutional amendment is repealed.

Today: Laws regarding the sale of alcohol primarily dictate the legal age at which a person can purchase alcohol. There are still counties that are ‘‘dry,’’ meaning that the sale of alcohol is illegal in that area.

1930s: Fitzgerald’s status as a popular author wanes, as most readers and critics have lost interest in his work. Because he is so strongly associated with the Jazz Age (1920s), he finds it difficult to sell his fiction in the 1930s.

Today: Fitzgerald is considered one of the great American authors, and his works are taught in schools and universities around the world. According to Scribner, readers buy half a million copies a year of his works.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 50, 51, 58, 71.

Best, Gary Dean, The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s, Praeger Publishers, 1993, pp. 73–83.

Diorio, Carl, ‘‘Valenti Valedictory View an Eye-Opener,’’ in Variety, March 29, 2004 .

Eble, Kenneth, ‘‘F. Scott Fitzgerald: Chapter 7: Stories and Articles, 1926–34,’’ in Twayne’s United States Authors Series Online, G. K. Hall, 1999; originally published as ‘‘Chapter 7: Stories and Articles, 1926–34,’’ in F. Scott Fitzgerald, rev. ed., Twayne’s United States Authors Series, No. 36, Twayne, 1977.

‘‘F. Scott Fitzgerald,’’ in Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2004.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, ‘‘Crazy Sunday,’’ in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Collier Books, 1986, pp. 404, 410, 412, 415.

Grebstein, Sheldon, ‘‘The Sane Method of ‘Crazy Sunday,’’’ in The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Approaches in Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1982, p. 283.

‘‘Irving G. Thalberg,’’ in International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Vol. 4, Writers and Production Artists, St. James Press, 2000.

Kazin, Alfred, F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Man and His Work, World Publishing, 1951, p. 108.

Pelzer, Linda C., Student Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greenwood Press, 2000, p. 26.

Prigozy, Ruth, ‘‘F. Scott Fitzgerald,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 86, American Short-Story Writers, 1910–1945, First Series, edited by Bobby Ellen Kimbel, Gale Research, 1989, pp. 99–123.

Sapienza, Madeline, The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998.

Vidal, Gore, ‘‘Scott’s Case,’’ in New York Review of Books, Vol. 27, No. 7, May 1, 1980, pp. 12–20.

Further Reading
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection, Scribner, 1995. Edited by Fitzgerald expert Matthew J. Bruccoli, this collection contains forty-three of Fitzgerald’s short stories. In his selections and introductions, Bruccoli makes a case for Fitzgerald’s stature as an important short story writer.

French, Warren, ed., The Thirties, Everett/Edwards, 1967. Students interested in reading more about Fitzgerald’s life and work in Hollywood will be interested in the chapter by Jonas Spatz titled, ‘‘Fitzgerald, Hollywood and the Myth of Success.’’ Spatz comments on such works as The Last Tycoon and the Pat Hobby stories, as they relate to the Hollywood phase of the author’s career.

Kuehl, Richard, F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1991. Focusing on eight of Fitzgerald’s hundreds of short stories, this treatment explores the evolution of the author’s themes, subjects, and structure in his short fiction.

Tate, Mary Jo, F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work, Facts On File, 1997. Ideal for students of Fitzgerald’s work, this reference includes correspondence, biographical information, work summaries, and critical commentary in an accessible format.

Westbrook, Robert, Intimate Lies: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham: Her Son’s Story, HarperCollins, 1995. While in Hollywood, Fitzgerald had a stormy romance with a columnist named Sheilah Graham. Although she published her memoir about the relationship after Fitzgerald’s death, this book (written by her son) seeks to tell the story objectively, culling information from letters, diaries, and other accounts.

Bibliography

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Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.

Berman, Ronald. “The Great Gatsby” and Fitzgerald’s World of Ideas. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Jay Gatsby. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. New Essays on “The Great Gatsby.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.

Curnutt, Kirk, ed. A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Gale, Robert L. An F. Scott Fitzgerald Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Gross, Dalton, and MaryJean Gross. Understanding “The Great Gatsby”: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Kuehl, John. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Lee, A. Robert, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Miller, James E., Jr. F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique. New York: New York University Press, 1964.

Stanley, Linda C. The Foreign Critical Reputation of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1980-2000: An Analysis and Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Tate, Mary Jo. F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Taylor, Kendall. Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, A Marriage. New York: Ballantine, 2001.

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