Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Two dominant themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works are the arrogance of the rich and the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. Both these themes are reflections of Fitzgerald’s own experiences as a young man whose social position exposed him to the manners and expectations of the very rich without providing the means to participate directly and effectively in their way of life. Of particular importance is the positive outcome of the story. Basil, the middle-class protagonist, matures and accepts responsibility, a resolution that contrasts with Fitzgerald’s stories in which the protagonists are reared in wealth and fail to mature. It was Fitzgerald’s belief that the wealthy fail because of their sense of superiority to all others.

Basil has been indoctrinated about and had idealized life among the rich, specifically life at an elite boys’ school. He knows that he is not really one of them and hence mimics their arrogance, creating a protective facade for his insecurity. Sensing his vulnerability, the other boys see that he does not really believe in his own superiority as those who have been reared in wealthy families do. They perceive him as a fraud, and with the cruelty typical of children they ridicule and ostracize him.

Basil cannot understand why there is such a contrast between his life, in which everything goes wrong, and the play and his fantasies, in which everything turns out right. This confusion reflects naïveté rather than arrogance; he is unaware, until he witnesses the scene between the actress and the football star, that everyone has problems. Once he realizes that he is not alone in his misery, he is able to become more objective, to face and analyze reality and accept responsibility. In short, he matures because of his experiences, and through his subsequent refusal to escape, he develops a self-respect that cannot be destroyed by his classmates. Once they recognize that he is no longer vulnerable, they begin to accept him. His facade of arrogance is replaced by a real strength of character that makes him actually superior to the rich boys around him.