Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419

Fitzgerald’s direct narrative style is as clear and straightforward as Dexter’s romantic purpose. The flashbacks and gaps in the story mirror Dexter’s on-again, off-again affair with Judy, though his unswerving obsession with her and the chronicle of it is emphasized here. Fitzgerald’s tale uses poetic language and diction, yet it does not imply more than it states, and, in the story’s episodic structure of fits and starts, it is loose enough to accommodate some things that are almost irrelevant. Dexter’s business success, for example, is fortuitous; the real attraction and attention of the protagonist and the reader is his private life.

The third-person limited omniscient point of view allows the reader to know Dexter’s story exclusively through Dexter’s thoughts and reactions to what is happening. It is necessary to remember that Dexter is a romantic idealist and that his temperament is responsible for both his idealization of Judy and his subsequent disillusionment.

Dexter’s enchantment with Judy and the vitality he draws from her are symbolized by the color and sparkle Fitzgerald uses to present her and to create a context in which Dexter can contemplate her. When he first sees her as a young woman, Dexter notices the blue gingham edged with white that shows off Judy’s tan; then, later in the afternoon, the sun is sinking “with a riotous swirl of gold and varying blues and scarlets” and Dexter swims among waters of “silver molasses.” The author establishes the painting motif when Dexter stretches out on the “wet canvas” of the springboard, which suggests that Judy’s seeming art of beauty and charm is all really superficial artifice. With Judy’s blue silk dress at their first dinner and her golden gown and slippers at their last dance, Dexter swoons “under the magic of her physical splendor.”

During his engagement to Irene, Dexter wonders why the fire and loveliness and ecstasy have disappeared. The very direction of his life, which he let Judy dictate by her casual whim, is gone as well, until she appears to play his heartstrings once more. Irene quickly fades from Dexter’s romantic imagination because there is nothing “sufficiently pictorial” about her or her grief to endure after he breaks up with her. Judy is the picture of passion and beauty, energy and loveliness, the true love and true dream that are with him until, learning of Judy’s decline, he recognizes it as a signal of the demise of his own dreams.

Historical Context

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The Jazz Age
In the aftermath of World War I American society went through a period of dramatic change. Traditional beliefs in God, country, and humanity were shaken as Americans faced the devastation of a war of this magnitude. The feelings of confusion and dislocation that resulted led to a questioning and often a rejection of conventional morality and beliefs. In the 1920s, Americans recognized that an old order had been replaced by a new, freer society, one that adopted innovative fashions in clothing, behavior, and the arts. Fitzgerald called this decade the ‘‘Jazz Age,’’ which along with the ‘‘roaring twenties’’ came to express the cultural revolution that was then taking place.

During this era of Prohibition, Americans experimented with expressions of personal and social freedom in dress, sexuality, and lifestyle. Women cut their hair and wore shapeless ‘‘flapper’’ dresses that gave then an androgynous look. Premarital sex began to lose its stigma, and exciting developments in musical styles pulled whites into predominantly black neighborhoods. The pursuit of pleasure, especially as related to the accumulation of wealth, became a primary goal, overturning traditional notions of hard work, social conformity, and respectability. Literary historian Margot Norris in her essay ‘‘Modernist Eruptions’’ notes that during this age, ‘‘the aesthetics of glamour produced by material and social extravagance’’ were ‘‘simulated and stimulated by the celluloid images of the burgeoning movie industry.’’

The Lost Generation
This term became associated with a group of American writers during this period that felt a growing sense of disillusionment after World War I. As a result, many left America for Europe. T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound initially relocated to London, while Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway traveled to Paris, which appeared to offer them a much freer society than America or England did. During this period, Paris became a mecca for these expatriates, who congregated in literary salons, restaurants, and bars to discuss their work in the context of the new age. One such salon was dominated by Gertrude Stein who at one gathering, insisted ‘‘you are all a lost generation.’’ Stein, an author herself, supported and publicized artists and writers in this movement. Ernest Hemingway immortalized her quote in For Whom the Bell Tolls, which, like Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, has become a penetrating portrait of this lost generation.

W. R. Anderson, in his article on Fitzgerald for Dictionary of Literary Biography, explains that the author never quite felt as comfortable in Paris as did his compatriots. Even though he lived there for over six years, during a most productive period in his literary career, ‘‘an air of transience’’ emerges in his writing. Yet, he notes, Paris, and his association with the other writers of the lost generation, had a major impact on his work.

The characters in works by these authors reflected their growing sense of disillusionment along with the new ideas in psychology, anthropology, and philosophy that had become popular in the early part of the century. Freudian psychology, for example, which had caused a loosening of sexual morality during the Jazz Age, began to be studied by these writers, as they explored the psyche of their characters, and recorded their often subjective points of view of themselves and their world. Hemingway's men and women faced a meaningless world with courage and dignity, exhibiting ‘‘grace under pressure,’’ while Fitzgerald's sought the redemptive power of love in a world driven by materialism.

This age of confusion, redefinition, and experimentation produced one of the most fruitful periods in American letters. These writers helped create a new form of literature, later called modernism, which repudiated traditional literary conventions. Prior to the twentieth century, writers structured their works to reflect their belief in the stability of character and the intelligibility of experience. Traditionally, novels and stories ended with a clear sense of closure as conflicts were resolved and characters gained knowledge about themselves and their world. The authors of the Lost Generation challenged these assumptions as they expanded the genre's traditional form to accommodate their characters' questions about the individual's place in the world.

Literary Style

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Fitzgerald employs a third person omniscient narrator in ‘‘Winter Dreams,’’ but with an innovative twist. The narrator almost becomes a separate persona in the story, as he occasionally steps back from the plot and speaks directly to the reader, giving his critical perspective on the characters or on the action. Fitzgerald borrows this technique from Joseph Conrad who, in works like Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, creates the character Marlow, a seasoned sailor who narrates the story of the main characters through his sometimes subjective perspective. Fitzgerald perfected this technique in The Great Gatsby in the character of Nick Carraway, the naïve Midwesterner whose task it is to pin down the enigmatic Gatsby for his audience.

In ‘‘Winter Dreams,’’ Fitzgerald does not name his character, but his presence is felt nevertheless. The first time his voice emerges is at the opening of Part II, where he tells readers, ‘‘of course the quality and the seasonability of [Dexter's] winter dreams varied.’’ The inclusion of ‘‘of course’’ adds an almost conspiratorial note, as if the narrator is communicating a hidden detail of Dexter's character, one of which Dexter is not aware.

Later, in Part IV, he speaks more directly to the reader just before he tells them about what happens after Dexter gets engaged to Irene Scheerer. Here he warns readers to remember Dexter's illusion of Judy's desirability, ‘‘for only in the light of it can what he did for her be understood.’’ Fitzgerald's chatty and perceptive narrator becomes an appropriate vehicle for an analysis of a character who has trouble separating illusion from reality.

Fitzgerald uses setting as a symbol of Dexter's changing state of mind during the course of his relationship with Judy. Initially, his restlessness in his position as caddy to the wealthy residents of his home town fills him with sadness, which Fitzgerald expresses through the landscape: as Dexter skis over the snow-covered fairways, he notes that ‘‘at these times the country gave him a feeling of profound melancholy’’ as he is ‘‘haunted by ragged sparrows’’ and ‘‘desolate sand-boxes knee-deep in crusted ice.’’ It is during these times that Dexter has his ‘‘winter dreams’’ of success, as represented by the ‘‘gorgeous’’ fall, which ‘‘filled him with hope.’’ After he returns from college and sees Judy again at the golf course, he takes a swim in the lake, which, due to his vision of his limitless future, becomes ‘‘a clear pool, pale and quiet,’’ turning ‘‘silver molasses under the harvest moon.’’

Compare and Contrast

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  • 1920s: The Flapper, who presents a new, freer female image, becomes the model for young American women.

    Today: Women model themselves after a wide-range of role models, from popular cultural icons to political, historical or international figures.

  • 1920s: As a result of the decade's spirit of experimentation, sexual mores loosen and young men and women begin to engage in premarital sex.

    Today: The epidemics of AIDS and unwanted pregnancies prompt schools to augment sex education in the classroom, where one of the options stressed is abstinence.

  • 1920s: After the devastation of World War I Americans turn to a pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of wealth. Their extravagant and unchecked spending habits contribute to the economic crisis America experiences at the end of the decade.

    Today: After a decade of unprecedented and unrealistic spikes in the stock market, the Dow has dropped considerably. As a result, many lose their jobs in corporate downsizing and restructuring.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Anderson, W. R. ‘‘F. Scott Fitzgerald,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939. Gale Research, 1980, pp. 132-50.

Flibbert, Joseph. '‘‘Winter Dreams’: Overview,’’ in Reference Guide to Short Fiction, 1st ed. St. James Press, 1994.

Norris, Margot. ‘‘Modernist Eruptions,’’ in The Columbia History of the American Novel, edited by Emory Elliot. Gale Research, 1989,311-30.

Prigozy, Ruth. ‘‘F. Scott Fitzgerald,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 86: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945, First Series. Gale Research, 1989, pp. 99-123.

Review, in Bookman, May 1926.

Further Reading
Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. University of Alabama Press, 2001. Berman presents a penetrating analysis of the literary world in the 1920s.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Mary Jo Tate. F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. Facts on File, 1998. Bruccoli and Tate focus on the life and literary works of Fitzgerald and his wife.

Donaldson, Scott. Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship. Overlook Connection Press, 1999. This work explores the friendship and rivalry between these two lost generation authors.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. A Life in Letters, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Judith S. Baughman. Scribner, 1994. Bruccoli, a renowned Fitzgerald scholar, has amassed a fascinating collection of Fitzgerald's letters that reveal his artistry and humanity.


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Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.

Berman, Ronald. “The Great Gatsby” and Fitzgerald’s World of Ideas. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Jay Gatsby. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. New Essays on “The Great Gatsby.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.

Curnutt, Kirk, ed. A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Gale, Robert L. An F. Scott Fitzgerald Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Gross, Dalton, and MaryJean Gross. Understanding “The Great Gatsby”: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Kuehl, John. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Lee, A. Robert, ed. Scott Fitzgerald: The Promises of Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Miller, James E., Jr. F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique. New York: New York University Press, 1964.

Stanley, Linda C. The Foreign Critical Reputation of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1980-2000: An Analysis and Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Tate, Mary Jo. F. Scott Fitzgerald A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Taylor, Kendall. Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, A Marriage. New York: Ballantine, 2001.

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