F. Scott Fitzgerald Long Fiction Analysis
“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked in the late 1930’s, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” At his best—in The Great Gatsby, in parts of Tender Is the Night, in the unfinished The Last Tycoon, and in parts of his first two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned—Fitzgerald demonstrates the kind of intelligence he describes, an intelligence characterized by the aesthetic principle of “double vision.” An understanding of this phrase (coined and first applied to Fitzgerald’s art by Malcolm Cowley) is central to any discussion of Fitzgerald’s novels.
“Double vision” denotes two ways of seeing. It implies the tension involved when Fitzgerald sets things in opposition such that the reader can, on one hand, sensually experience the event about which Fitzgerald is writing, becoming emotionally immersed in it, and yet at the same time retain the objectivity to stand back and intellectually criticize it. The foundation of double vision is polarity, the setting of extremes against each other; the result in a novel is dramatic tension. By following the changes in Fitzgerald’snarrative technique from This Side of Paradise to The Beautiful and Damned to The Great Gatsby and finally into Tender Is the Night, one can trace the growth of his double vision, which is, in effect, to study his development as a literary artist.
The major themes of Fitzgerald’s novels derive from the resolution of tension when one idea (usually embodied in a character) triumphs over another. Amory Blaine, the protagonist of Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, is a questing hero armed with youth, intelligence, and good looks. Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned has a multimillionaire grandfather, a beautiful wife, and youth. Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby possesses power, newly made money, and good looks. Finally, Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night has a medical degree, an overabundance of charm, and a wealthy wife. The common denominators here are the subjects with which Fitzgerald deals in all of his novels: youth, physical beauty, wealth, and potential or “romantic readiness”—all of which are ideals to Fitzgerald. Set against these subjects are their polar opposites: age, ugliness, poverty, squandered potential. Such conflict and resulting tension is, of course, the stuff of which all fiction is made.
With Fitzgerald’s characters, however, partly because of the themes with which he deals and partly because of his skillful handling of point of view, the choices are rarely as obvious or as clear-cut to the main characters at the time as they may be to a detached observer, or as they may seem in retrospect to have been. Daisy, for example, so enchants Gatsby and the reader who identifies with him that only in retrospect (if at all) or through the detached observer, Nick, does it become clear that she and the other careless, moneyed people in the novel are villains of the highest order. It is Fitzgerald’s main gift that he can draw the reader into a web of emotional attachment to a character, as he does to Daisy through Gatsby, while simultaneously allowing him to inspect the complexity of the web, as he does through Nick. That is what Fitzgerald’s double vision at its best is finally about.
For the origins of Fitzgerald’s double vision, it is helpful to look at several ingredients of his early life, particularly at those facets of it that presented him with the polarities and ambiguities that would later furnish the subjects and themes of his art. “In a house below the average on a block above the average” is the way that Fitzgerald described his boyhood home. A block above the average, indeed. At the end of the “block” on Summit Avenue in St. Paul lived James J. Hill, the multimillionaire empire builder referred to by Gatsby’s father in the last chapter of The Great Gatsby . The Fitzgerald...
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