Style and Technique
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.
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...
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