Last Updated on February 1, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 818
The American Dream
Like The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon explores the theme of the American Dream. Specifically, it depicts an America clinging to its ideals, enjoying the lavish post-war lifestyle of the late 1930s. In just a few years, the...
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The American Dream
Like The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon explores the theme of the American Dream. Specifically, it depicts an America clinging to its ideals, enjoying the lavish post-war lifestyle of the late 1930s. In just a few years, the United States will declare war and join the Allies in fighting the Nazis. World War II will destroy what's left of those ideals, effectively signaling the death of the American Dream as Fitzgerald knew it. In The Last Tycoon, the American Dream is represented by Stahr, a famous Hollywood producer and wunderkind who vaults to the top of the industry thanks to his wit, talent, and political maneuvering. Ultimately, however, the various Hollywood intrigues come back to bite Stahr, who feels compelled to hire a hitman to kill Brady, his boss, upon learning that Brady may be planning Stahr's death. These nefarious plots indicate to the reader that the so-called land of opportunity has become a dangerous place where jealousy is apt to destroy those who try to get ahead.
Death pervades the novel, beginning with the suicide of Mr. Schwartz, a failed Hollywood producer, and the sudden death of Monroe Stahr's wife. Stahr, a successful Hollywood producer quickly rising in the ranks, has long been suffering from a heart condition and has been told that he has six months to live. His wife's death leaves him heartbroken. In an effort to avoid this pain, Stahr throws himself into his work and has an ill-fated affair with Kathleen, a soon-to-be-married woman who rejects his initial advances. Stahr's death hangs over him, giving him an artificial expiration date. Nevertheless, his death proves to be a surprise, coming not as a result of his heart failure but in the form of a plane crash. Prior to this, Mr. Brady, Stahr's boss, threatened him, causing Stahr to arrange Brady's murder out of a sense of self-preservation. Stahr has a change of heart, but when he tries to call it off he's unable to do so before the plane crashes. In the end, both men die. Cecilia, Brady's daughter and Stahr's girlfriend, is left to contend with the deaths of the two most important men in her life. It upsets her so much that she later has a nervous breakdown and retreats to a sanitorium, where she is treated for tuberculosis and begins writing this very story. Her mental health calls her reliability as a narrator into question, forcing the reader to rethink her descriptions of the other characters.
Love is an important theme in the novel, particularly as the love triangle develops between Monroe Stahr, Cecilia, and Kathleen. In the opening chapters, Cecilia admits to the reader that she has been in love with Stahr since she was a child and that she hopes this summer in Hollywood will spark an illicit affair. Cecilia attempts to take advantage of the untimely death of Stahr's young wife, but her hopes are later dashed when she realizes that Stahr has given his heart to Kathleen, a woman who is engaged to be married. Love temporarily blinds Cecilia to this problem, and when Kathleen gets married Cecilia seizes on the opportunity to win Stahr's love for herself. Stahr, who had rebuffed Cecilia's advances earlier in the novel, finally agrees to date her, but he never really loves her. When he dies, Cecilia is heartbroken and appears to suffer a nervous breakdown. Later, the reader learns that she's writing this story from a sanitorium, where she is being treated for tuberculosis. The ending suggests that love does not conquer all and that, like the American Dream, the romantic ideals of the past are dying.
Jealousy plays an important role in The Last Tycoon, affecting both Cecilia's relationship with Stahr and Stahr's relationship with Mr. Brady, Cecilia's father. Early on in the novel, Cecilia states that it's only natural for her to be jealous of the other women in Stahr's life (including his wife) and that this jealousy makes her human. Nevertheless, Cecilia doesn't make any dramatic displays of jealous or possessive behavior, and after her initial advances she waits until the right moment to steal Stahr away from Kathleen. This moment comes after Kathleen's wedding, when Stahr is vulnerable. Like Cecilia, Brady experiences jealousy that makes him calculating and a little desperate. Brady resents Stahr's success, which is disproportionate to his age and experience, if not his talent. This resentment leads Brady to plot against Stahr, whom he openly and repeatedly threatens in the latter half of the novel. Afraid for his life but not at all jealous of Brady, Stahr arranges Brady's murder, as Brady has threatened to do to Stahr. Ultimately, Stahr dies in a plane crash, the victim of an accident, and Brady is killed by the hitman Stahr hires. One could argue that jealousy, not Stahr, caused Brady's death.