F. Scott Fitzgerald Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Short Story Criticism) - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940

(Full name Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, scriptwriter, dramatist, and poet.

The following entry presents criticism on Fitzgerald's short fiction from 1990 through 2003. See also criticism on Fitzgerald's short story “Babylon Revisited,” The Great Gatsby, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Contemporary Literary Criticism.

Fitzgerald is regarded as one of the most influential novelists and short-story writers of the twentieth century. He is viewed as the spokesman for the Jazz Age, America's decade of prosperity, excess, and abandon, which began soon after the end of World War I and concluded with the 1929 stock market crash. As such, in his novels and stories, Fitzgerald examined an entire generation's search for the elusive American dream of wealth and happiness. Most of his stories were derived from his own experiences and portray the consequences of his generation's adherence to false values. The glamour and insouciance of many of Fitzgerald's writings reveal only one side of a writer whose second and final decade of work characterized a life marred by alcoholism and financial difficulties, troubled by personal tragedy, and frustrated by lack of inspiration.

Biographical Information

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fitzgerald grew up in a wealthy family and showed an early interest in writing plays and poetry. As a young man he emulated the rich, youthful, and beautiful, a social group with whom he maintained a lifelong love-hate relationship. In 1913 he enrolled at Princeton University, and his first stories were published in Nassau Lit, the university's literary magazine, which was edited by his friend and fellow student Edmund Wilson. Leaving Princeton for the army during World War I, Fitzgerald spent his weekends in boot camp writing the earliest draft of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). The acceptance of this work for publication by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1919—and the ensuing popular and financial success it achieved—enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, a socially prominent young woman he had met and courted during his army days. Zelda significantly affected her husband's life and career. During the 1920s, she was Fitzgerald's private literary consultant and editor, while publicly she matched Fitzgerald's extravagant tastes and passion in living for the moment.

While continuing to illuminate the manners of the Roaring Twenties, Fitzgerald's second and third novels, as well as the story collections published between novels, evidenced a growing awareness of the shallowness and brutal insensitivity that are sometimes accoutrements of American society. These weaknesses and America's lost ideals are movingly described in Fitzgerald's strongest and most famous work, The Great Gatsby (1925). Although it gained the respect of many prominent American writers and is now considered a classic, The Great Gatsby was not a popular success and marked the beginning of the author's decline in popularity. Another commercial disappointment, Tender Is the Night (1934) reflected the disillusionment and strain caused by the Great Depression and Zelda's gradual deterioration from schizophrenia and eventual breakdown. These events scarred Fitzgerald, contributing to a deep, self-reproaching despair that brought his career to a near standstill during the mid-1930s. Fitzgerald described his tribulations in detail in the three confessional “Crack-Up” Essays of 1936, which brilliantly evoke his pain and suffering. Trying to start anew, he became a motion picture scriptwriter and began The Last Tycoon (1941), a novel based on his Hollywood experiences, which remained unfinished when Fitzgerald died in late 1940.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Fitzgerald's short stories have often been dismissed as slick, commercial productions intended to capitalize on the successes of his novels. The author's own disparaging remarks regarding his stories have also helped lend discredit to their status as works of literature. Yet, since the 1960s, critics have come to regard many of Fitzgerald's short pieces as works that reflect themes characteristic of his most significant writings while experimenting with new techniques and subjects. In “The Rich Boy,” for example, Fitzgerald writes about the life of the wealthy and privileged. The protagonist of the story, the wealthy Anson Hunter, has developed a sense of superiority and aloofness, a need for dominance, and contempt for commonplace life—attitudes that result in alienation from those who would love him and separation from happiness. Instead of a means to fulfill his dreams, wealth has become for Anson an obstacle to self-realization. Another early tale, “Winter Dreams,” relies, like many of Fitzgerald's writings, on his recollections of childhood. In this story a young boy's longing for the “glittering things” of life guide his actions over the years until he realizes as a successful and wealthy adult that the greatest value of dreams resides in dreaming and striving, not in fulfillment.

In other stories, Fitzgerald portrays the socioeconomic divisions that characterized the early twentieth century. His story “May Day” is perceived as a somber and complex tale that many critics have interpreted as a remarkable evocation of the imminent collapse of the Jazz Age. The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three young protagonists—wealthy Phillip Dean; Dean's penniless former Yale roommate, Gordon Sterrett; and shallow, pretty Edith Bradin—during the May Day Parade in New York City in 1919. In “Babylon, Revisited,” overwhelmingly Fitzgerald's most frequently anthologized and analyzed short story, the author expands on his characteristic themes. Set against the backdrop of expatriate Europe during the 1930s, this story focuses on Charlie Wales, wealthy playboy of 1920s Paris whose excesses contributed at least in part to the death of his wife and subsequent placement of his daughter into the custodianship of his bitter and resentful sister-in-law, Marion. He has now returned to Paris, having put aside his careless ways and reestablished himself as a responsible member of society, to reclaim his daughter. Marion's suspicions of Charlie's insincerity are apparently confirmed, however, when two acquaintances from his halcyon days emerge to momentarily divert his attention. As a result, Marion will not relinquish the child. The story ends as Charlie resolves to return and try again to regain his daughter, believing that “they couldn't make him pay forever.”

Critical Reception

At the time of his death, Fitzgerald was virtually forgotten and unread. Since the 1950s, however, a growing Fitzgerald revival has led to the publication of numerous volumes of stories, letters, and notebooks. Critics have universally praised Fitzgerald's mastery of style and technique that renders even his most trivial efforts entertaining and well-executed. Numerous critical studies on Fitzgerald's short fiction have been published, exploring his stories from socioeconomical, feminist, psychoanalytical, and autobiographical perspectives. Recent critical studies have examined the relationship between his novels and short stories, asserting that although earlier critics dismissed his short fiction as inferior efforts intended to capitalize on the successes of his novels, the stories are valuable for their insight into Fitzgerald's characteristic, thematic concerns and deserve a well-considered place in Fitzgerald's fictional oeuvre. He is regarded as a profound and sensitive artist, as well as the unmatched voice of the Jazz Age.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Flappers and Philosophers 1920

Tales of the Jazz Age 1922

All the Sad Young Men 1926

Taps at Reveille 1935

The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1951

Afternoon of an Author: A Selection of Uncollected Stories and Essays (stories and essays) 1957

Six Tales of the Jazz Age, and Other Stories 1960

The Pat Hobby Stories 1962

The Apprentice Fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 1909-1917 1965

Babylon Revisited, and Other Stories 1971

The Basil and Josephine Stories 1973

Bits of Paradise: Twenty-One Uncollected Stories by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald [with Zelda Fitzgerald] 1973

The Price Was High: The Last Uncollected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1979

The Fantasy and Mystery Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald 1991

Jazz Age Stories [with Thomas Hardy] 1998

This Side of Paradise (novel) 1920

The Beautiful and Damned (novel) 1922

The Vegetable (drama) 1923

The Great Gatsby (novel) 1925

Tender Is the Night (novel) 1934

The Last Tycoon (novel) 1941

The Crack-Up (essays, notebooks, letters, miscellany) 1945

The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (letters) 1963

Dear Scott/Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence (letters) 1971

As Ever Scott Fitz—Letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and His Literary Agent Harold Ober (letters) 1972

The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald (notebooks) 1978

The Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald (letters) 1980

Poems, 1911-1940 (poetry) 1981

Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters (letters) 1994

Dear Scott/Dearest Zelda (letters) 2002

Elizabeth M. Varet-Ali (essay date spring 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Varet-Ali, Elizabeth M. “The Unfortunate Fate of Seventeen Fitzgerald ‘Origins’: Towards a Reading of The Pat Hobby Stories on Their Own Merits Completely.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 14 (spring 1990): 87-110.

[In the following essay, Varet-Ali praises the originality of The Pat Hobby Stories and considers their place within Fitzgerald's oeuvre.]

I'm awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn't seem to be so much money in it, and I'd like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don't read me for the same reason. In other words it would...

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Barbara Drushell (essay date summer 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Drushell, Barbara. “Fitzgerald's ‘The Ice Palace’.” The Explicator 49, no. 4 (summer 1991): 237-38.

[In the following essay, Drushell investigates the role of earth, air, fire, and water in “The Ice Palace.”]

In “The Ice Palace,” F. Scott Fitzgerald's interest in the lasting influence of birthplace on his characters1 is manifested in the central conflict of the story: Can the protagonist, Sally Carrol Happer, from Tarleton, Georgia, go through with her marriage to the northerner Harry Ballamy? She yearns to escape the “lazy days and nights” of the South and to embrace the “energy” of the North, where “things happen on a big...

(The entire section is 765 words.)

Bryant Mangum (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mangum, Bryant. “Fitzgerald and Literary Economics.” In A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Short Stories, pp. 3-7. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1991.

[In the following essay, Mangum explores the relationship between Fitzgerald's novels and short stories and discusses the reputation of his short stories as inferior fiction written only for financial gain.]

From the beginning critics have argued that Fitzgerald prostituted his talent by writing slick magazine fiction when he could have devoted his energy to the production of more novels. Consequently, his career is often viewed as a study in literary schizophrenia. In a 1935 review...

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Park Bucker (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Bucker, Park. “‘Each Time in a New Disguise’: The Author as a Commercial Magazinist.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald: Centenary Exhibition, September 24, 1896-September 24, 1996, pp. 47-8. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press for The Thomas Cooper Library, 1996.

[In the following excerpt, Bucker provides a brief overview of Fitzgerald's career as short story writer for commercial magazines.]

On February 21, 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald entered the commercial magazine marketplace when The Saturday Evening Post published “Head and Shoulders,” a bittersweet comedy of young love. With a circulation of more than 2,750,000 weekly readers and a cost of...

(The entire section is 1359 words.)

Susan F. Beegel (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Beegel, Susan F. “‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’: Fitzgerald's Jazz Elegy for Little Women.” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 58-73. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Beegel contends that Fitzgerald borrows the key plot elements and thematic concerns for his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.]

In 1915 nineteen-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a remarkable letter to his younger sister Annabel, criticizing her social deportment and arguing that a successful debutante's popularity is composed of a concerted appeal to male...

(The entire section is 6172 words.)

Ruth Prigozy (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Prigozy, Ruth. “An Unsentimental Education: ‘The Rubber Check’.” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 206-18. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Prigozy asserts that “The Rubber Check” is one of Fitzgerald's most complex and important stories.]

Five years have rolled away from me and I can't decide exactly who I am, if anyone.

—Letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Maxwell Perkins, May 1932

Sometimes he was able to forget that he really wasn't anybody at all.


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Peter L. Hays (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Hays, Peter L. “Philippe, ‘Count of Darkness,’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Feminist?” In New Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Neglected Stories, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, pp. 291-304. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Hays argues that the four Count of Darkness stories—“The Kingdom in the Dark,” “In the Darkest Hour,” “The Count of Darkness,” and “Gods of Darkness”—reveal insights about Fitzgerald, particularly his sympathy for the feminist movement.]

In April 1934 Fitzgerald began a series of four linked stories set in ninth-century France, the nucleus of a historical novel he never...

(The entire section is 5534 words.)

Robert L. Gale (essay date spring 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Gale, Robert L. “Fitzgerald's ‘A Snobbish Story’.” The Explicator 55, no. 3 (spring 1997): 154.

[In the following essay, Gale identifies the source for Josephine Perry's nickname in “A Snobbish Story,”]

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's “A Snobbish Story” (1930), the Chicago Tribune reporter John Boynton Bailey, who is also a would-be socialist playwright, derisively labels as “Miss Potterfield-Swiftcormick” the heroine Josephine Perry, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman.

This name satirically combines the names of Chicago merchant-capitalist Potter Palmer (1826-1902) and perhaps his wife, the art collector...

(The entire section is 151 words.)

William G. Jolliff (essay date fall 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Jolliff, William G. “The Damnation of Bryan Dalyrimple and Theron Ware: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Debt to Harold Frederic.” Studies in Short Fiction 35, no. 1 (fall 1998): 85-90.

[In the following essay, Jolliff investigates the influence of Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware on Fitzgerald's “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong.”]

F. Scott Fitzgerald's debt to the fin de siècle American naturalists is well known. Princetonian Amory Blaine gives the most famous suggestion of the influence in This Side of Paradise when he finds himself “rather surprised by his discovery through a critic named Mencken of several excellent American novels:...

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Matthew J. Bruccoli (essay date 2001)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Bruccoli, Matthew J. Introduction to Before Gatsby: The First Twenty-Six Stories, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, pp. xv-xxxii. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Bruccoli enumerates the reasons for the popularity of Fitzgerald's early short stories.]

The proper assessment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short-story achievements has been impeded by allegations that he squandered or damaged his genius by selling out to the high-paying mass-circulation magazines: that he deliberately wrote bad commercial stories to satisfy the requirements of the market. Their popularity was cited as evidence of their triviality. Fitzgerald wrote...

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Bryant Mangum (essay date 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mangum, Bryant. “The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” In The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Ruth Prigozy, pp. 57-78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Mangum traces the relationship between Fitzgerald's early short stories and his novels, asserting that he used the shorter pieces as a “workshop for subjects, themes, and techniques that he would continue to develop in later stories and novels.”]

In an all-too-brief professional career of approximately twenty years, Fitzgerald wrote 178 short stories, most of them for sale to commercial magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. Thirty-nine of these...

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Lilly J. Goren (essay date 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Goren, Lilly J. “A Man of Will.” In Seers and Judges: American Literature as Political Philosophy, edited by Christine Dunn Henderson, pp. 87-100. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2002.

[In the following essay, Goren examines the theme of the tension between the United States and Europe in “The Swimmers.”]

Of his short story “The Swimmers,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Harold Ober, that it was “the hardest story I ever wrote, too big for its space + not even now satisfactory. … However, its done + its not bad.”1 Written while Fitzgerald was in Cannes, France during the summer of 1929, “The Swimmers” examines...

(The entire section is 7417 words.)

Mary McAleer Balkun (essay date 2003)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Balkun, Mary McAleer. “‘One Cannot Both Spend and Have’: The Economics of Gender in Fitzgerald's Josephine Stories.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Ruth Prigozy, and Milton R. Stern, pp. 121-38. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, Balkun views the theme of emotional bankruptcy as central to Fitzgerald's Josephine stories.]

It has long been a given that the idea of emotional bankruptcy is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's central themes. However, critics have tended to focus upon the “emotional” aspect of the equation, the protagonist's eventual inability to feel and...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Hatwalkar, Kavita S. “The Allure and Illusion of the East in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Basil Stories.” In MidAmerica XXVII, pp. 78-83. East Lansing, Mich.: The Midwestern Press, 2000.

Underscores Fitzgerald's interest “in the cultural geography of the United States and especially with the binary oppositions he constructed between the North and South and the East and the Midwest” in his Basil stories.

Hearn, Charles R. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Popular Magazine Formula Story of the Twenties.” Journal of American Culture 18, no. 3 (fall 1995): 33-40.

Examines the association between Fitzgerald's...

(The entire section is 262 words.)