Themes

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Alcoholism
Alcohol came to play a leading role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life. During his wife’s emotional decline, he drank excessively, and though he technically died of a heart attack, there is no question that his lifestyle and his abuse of alcohol played a contributing role in his death. Likewise, alcohol came to rule and ruin Dick Diver. When we first meet Diver, he is a happy-go-lucky bon vivant, always reaching for a drink but never in excess. By the novel’s conclusion, however, alcohol has helped to ruin his marriage and his career.

Dick Diver, however, is not the only character affected by drinking. Nearly everyone in the book drinks to varying degrees of excess, and Abe North is eventually killed because of his drinking. Fitzgerald is preoccupied in Tender Is the Night with the effects alcohol has on his characters and their careers.

Art
Although there are only a few characters who could be classified as artists in Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald treats their characters with more respect than he does the others. Albert McKisco, for instance, is portrayed early on as an aspiring writer, but years later when Diver meets him on the ship coming back from America, he has emerged as a successful author and is a much more pleasant person to accompany. At the clinic that he runs with Dr. Gregorovius, Diver became intensely affected by the death of a woman painter—the one case he seems to have truly cared about.

European Capitalism
Following World War I, as Europe rebuilt its economy, there was great weight placed on attracting wealthy Americans to the continent. However, with that wealth came the stereotype of the “ugly American”—loud, brash, unsophisticated, and entirely self-centered.

Fitzgerald, who spent much of his adult life in Europe, saw the effects Americans had on European culture firsthand, and Tender Is the Night portrays some of those effects. In the process of courting money to help establish the burgeoning capitalist structures, Europeans were forced to compromise a great deal of their culture and in the process lost a fair amount of the identity that had always set them apart from America and the rest of the world.

Class Structure
Fitzgerald’s world is a upper-class world, replete with servants, personal attendants, and all the formalities that great wealth affords. Nicole Diver, by virtue of her birth, has been given a handsome allowance by her sister, the executor of her family’s money, and as a result she and Dick Diver are never without the luxurious decorations money brings. Their positions in society are never questioned, and discussions among friends often fall to the topic of pedigree. Baby Diver, for instance, interviews Dick on his family and wealth before he marries Nicole, and when she delivers Dick from jail, she continually reminds the police of who she and, by extension, Dick are. Abe North, in the oblivion of drink, falls to the depths of the lower classes where he dies, and even Dick Diver, once alcohol gets the best of him, falls into the oblivion of small-town America, far removed from the upper classes of his European life.

Family
Although Dick and Nicole Diver have two children, very little is made of them until problems in the marriage or other relationships occur. At the scene at the fair, following the disclosure that Dick was being accused of harassment by a patient, the children are left with a gypsy woman, and after the car accident, they are whisked off to the inn. In one of the few times a character directly addresses one of the children, Rosemary...

(This entire section contains 1596 words.)

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asks Topsy if she would like to be an actress, a question that causes Nicole to storm away. Only after he decides to leave Nicole, does Dick spend time with the children, but shortly following his exile to upstate New York, he stops corresponding even with them.

At the clinic, Dick is asked to interview a young man who is about to be disowned by his father because of his homosexuality. Nicole’s family background involves incest. Even Rosemary and her mother, the other major example of a family in the book, are as much friends and business partners as they are mother and daughter to one another. Dick’s relationship with his own father amounts to years of no communication and then, suddenly, news of the father’s death.

In short, Tender Is the Night does not reflect well on the family structure; Fitzgerald has little tosay that is redeeming about families or their roles in any of the characters’ lives.

Incest
Incest is a major theme in Tender Is the Night. Nicole is ruined emotionally and psychologically by the incestuous relationship her father inflicts upon her. That relationship colors every aspect of her and Dick’s life; there is nothing that happens in Tender Is the Night that cannot be, in some way, attributed to Devereux Warren’s sexual abuse of his daughter.

It is no accident that the movie Rosemary Hoyt has just starred in is called Daddy’s Girl, and neither is it an accident that both Rosemary and Nicole fall for the much older Dick Diver who, in many ways, is as much a father to the women, especially Nicole, as he is a partner or lover. There is no question that Fitzgerald used the incest motif in his book consciously and to wide-ranging effect.

Psychiatry
Dick Diver is a brilliant, up-and-coming psychiatrist when he first meets Nicole. He is passionate about his studies and hopes to write a definitive text on psychiatry. However, the more he engages in the practice, the more he sees psychiatry as a plaything for the very wealthy, for it is only the wealthy who can afford it. In Book Two, Dick engages in a conversation with Dr. Gregorovius about Gregorovius’s youthful plans of opening “an up-todate clinic for billionaires.” Fitzgerald clearly portrays the field as more of a business than as an instrument for healing. Also, one of the few cases he actually shows passion about is with a woman artist who seems not to fit the stereotype of the rich, pampered client. When she dies, he is devastated, and he effectively moves to end his practice of psychiatry. And after years as a clinician, he seems so confused about his thoughts on psychiatry that he cannot even think clearly enough to properly title his book.

Fitzgerald, because of his years with his wife Zelda and her severe psychiatric problems, grew to know the industry and its practices intimately. Tender Is the Night does not paint a positive picture of the practice.

Violence
Just beneath the surface of the luxurious and idyllic life that the group of wealthy American expatriates lead, there exists a significant amount of violence. When Dick and Nicole are seeing Abe North off at the train station, a woman shoots a man for no obvious reason. Much earlier in the novel, Tommy Barban and Albert McKisco engage in a duel. After his drunken spree, Dick assaults a bandleader, a taxicab driver, and a detective, and he himself is then violently dealt with by the police. Abe North, who was the cause of the death of Jules Peterson, is last mentioned with respect to his violent death at a New York speakeasy, and of course the entire novel is permeated by the violence inflicted upon Nicole by her father.

War
Although Tender Is the Night takes place during the interwar years, the echoes of the Great War, World War I, reverberate throughout the entire story. At the clinic, Dr. Gregorovius says that even though Diver lacks firsthand experience of war, that does not necessarily mean he has not been affected by it. Gregorovius tells Dick of “some shell-shocks who merely hear an air raid from a distance. We have a few who merely read newspapers.” Much later Dick has a dream filled with war imagery, and he wakes up and notes, “Non-combatant’s shellshock.” At the battlefields of Somme, standing with Abe North and Rosemary, Dick eulogizes at great length about what was lost during the war. “All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” he says. World War I had destroyed much of what Europe had come to be known for, and with it, it had destroyed the lives of millions. Fitzgerald returns to this theme throughout Tender Is the Night and is possibly making a connection between it and the violence that underscores his characters’ lives.

Wealth
First and foremost, Fitzgerald, in nearly all of his major works, addresses the theme of wealth and the effects it has on individuals and societies. In Fitzgerald’s fictional universe, nearly everyone is rich or has access to the attendant luxuries of the very rich. Set in a time referred to as the “Jazz Age,” Tender Is the Night explores how a small group of very rich Americans live and, eventually, die. None of the rich come off well under Fitzgerald’s examination. Baby Diver, as executor of her family’s wealth, is portrayed as manipulative and controlling; her father, the wealthy Chicago magnate, destroys Nicole’s life through sexual abuse. And although Dick Diver himself is not rich, once he fully accepts Nicole’s world, his own life and desires seep from him, and he slowly disappears into an alcoholic oblivion. Wealth seems to have no redeeming value in Fitzgerald’s eyes, other than its ability to allow for some exciting, but ultimately destructive, evenings.

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