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...

(The entire section is 818 words.)

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Fitzgerald's experiences as a screenwriter from 1937 until his death, and his previous work on the screenplays of Tender Is the Night, Red-Headed Woman, and other works during the 1920s and 1930s gave him the basis for his last work. He patterned his central character, the producer Monro Stahr, after the famous boy-genius Irving Thalberg, but Stahr is an embodiment of the heroic aspects of the Thalberg legend, not an actual portrait of Thalberg. Fitzgerald envisioned Stahr as the rare Hollywood mogul with taste and courage who could elevate the typical studio product into an artistic statement while still making money. Stahr shares Fitzgerald's commitment to traditional values and the fundamental ideals of American culture, and Fitzgerald may have been trying to record his vision of what was best in America before the turmoil of the coming war permanently altered the landscape. As Fitzgerald admitted, he was growing nostalgic for a "lavish romantic past."

Fitzgerald's choice of a Jewish man was certainly influenced by Thalberg's background, but he may also have been trying to compensate for some of the idle, unknowing, and off-hand comments he had made about Jewish people in some of his previous books. He called it a "fortuitous circumstance" that American Jews were "somewhat uncertain in their morale" in the 1930s, but his lifelong dedication to progressive political positions must have had something to do with his emphasis at a time when the...

(The entire section is 375 words.)