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Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays Essay, Research Paper

Have you ever felt that there were two of you battling for control of the person

you call yourself? Have you ever felt that you weren’t quite sure which one you

wanted to be in charge? All of us have at least two selves: one who wants to

work hard, get good grades, and be successful; and one who would rather lie in

the sun and listen to music and daydream. To understand F. Scott Fitzgerald, the

man and the writer, you must begin with the idea of doubleness, or twoness.

Fitzgerald himself said in a famous series of essays called The Crack Up,

"the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed

ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to

function." Everything about Fitzgerald is touched by this idea. For

example, he both loved and hated money. He was attracted to the life of the very

rich as an outsider who had very little, and at the same time he hated the

falseness and hypocrisy and cruelty of their lives. He was disciplined, knowing

that he had to have great mental and physical self-control to succeed as a

writer, but he was often unable to exercise those very qualities he knew he

would need in order to succeed. He loved his wife Zelda more than anything in

his life, and yet he hated her for destroying his talent. Part of him lived a

dazzling life full of parties, gaiety, and show; and part of him knew that this

sort of life was a complete sham. All of this doubleness Fitzgerald puts into

the novel you are about to read: The Great Gatsby. As you begin reading think

about Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, and Jay Gatsby, the hero of the

novel, as the two sides of Fitzgerald. Think of Fitzgerald as putting into his

two main characters both of the people that he knew he had within him. As you

read, ask yourself whether or not you have these two people within you: Nick,

the intelligent and disciplined observer; and Gatsby, the passionate and

idealistic dreamer who wants his dream so much that he will sacrifice everything

for it. Fitzgerald himself seemed genetically destined for doubleness. His

mother’s father, P. F. McQuillan, went to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1857, at the

age of twenty-three. In twenty years he built up–literally from nothing–an

enormously successful wholesale business. He was a totally self-made man, and

from him Scott inherited a sense of self-reliance and a belief in hard work. The

Fitzgeralds, on the other hand, were an old Maryland family. Scott

himself–Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was his full name–was named for his

great, great, great grandfather’s brother, the man who wrote "The Star

Spangled Banner." And Edward Fitzgerald, Scott’s father, was a handsome,

charming man, but one who seemed more interested in the family name than in hard

work. The McQuillan and the Fitzgerald in Scott vied for control throughout his

childhood. He was a precocious child, full of energy and imagination, but he

liked to take short cuts, substituting flights of fantasy for hard work. On his

seventh birthday in 1903 he told a number of the older guests that he was the

owner of a yacht (perhaps the seeds of Gatsby’s admiration for Dan Cody’s yacht

in the novel). As an adolescent he loved to play theatrical games–pretending to

be drunk on a streetcar or telephoning an artificial limb company to discuss

being fitted for a false limb. He was an excellent writer and a vivid satirist

of his classmates, but his marks were not good; so, like so many Midwestern

boys, he was shipped East to boarding school, where he would be taught

discipline and hard work. In September of 1911, with the words and music of

Irving Berlin’s new song "Alexander’s Ragtime Band" uppermost on his

mind, he enrolled at the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey, a popular

Roman Catholic school among Midwestern families. Here he was to have two years

to ready himself for a good Ivy League College, preferably Princeton or Yale.

Scott chose Princeton, but Princeton very nearly didn’t choose him. The

doubleness in Scott is beautifully illustrated by the way in which he maneuvered

himself into Princeton. An avid writer and reader, Fitzgerald tended to read

what he liked and ignore his school work, and therefore he failed his entrance

exams during his senior year. After a "summer of study," he took them

again and failed them again. Finally on September 24, 1913, his seventeenth

birthday, he appeared before the Admissions Committee and convinced them to

accept him. Personal magnetism was able to achieve what hard work had not. One

of the things Scott inherited from his Grandfather McQuillan was ambition. Scott

was a fierce competitor, and if he wanted something badly enough he could work

like a demon. What Scott wanted were women and popularity, and the way to win

women and be popular, he had learned at Newman, was with money, good looks, and

athletics. He didn’t have the first, but he had the second, and he worked very,

very hard at the third by trying out for freshman football. His problem was that

he was only 5′ 6" and weighed only 130 pounds, which doesn’t get one very

far in football. So he scrapped the football pads and found another outlet for

his energy and his ambition: writing musical comedies. One of the most

prestigious organizations at Princeton was and still is the Triangle Club, a

group that writes and produces a musical comedy every year. (Among its graduates

are the actors Jimmy Stewart and Jose Ferrer.) Fitzgerald devoted most of his

energies at Princeton to the Triangle Show, writing the book and lyrics in his

freshman year and the lyrics in his sophomore year. He was elected secretary of

the club, and was in line to become its president–something he wanted more than

anything in his life. But it was not to be. In December of 1915, the fall of his

junior year, he was sent home with malaria. He was told when he returned in

March that he would have to fall back a year and that he was academically

ineligible for the Triangle presidency. In the spring of 1917 his class

graduated, and Scott was left behind to complete his senior year. He never did;

instead, he enlisted in the army. Why? Perhaps because he wanted to be a hero,

and the United States was about to make the world safe for democracy. Perhaps

because college was no fun anymore. Perhaps because beautiful women love young

men in uniform. Whatever the reason, Fitzgerald left Princeton in November and

found himself in the summer of 1918 stationed at Camp Sheridan, outside

Montgomery, Alabama. Here 2nd Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald met Miss Zelda Sayre,

who was to become his wife and the single most important influence on his life.

Zelda was seventeen, and a combination of tomboy and Southern belle. She was

used to having her own way with her traditional parents, and she very much

enjoyed being courted by the officers from Camp Sheridan, just as Daisy in The

Great Gatsby is courted by the young officers at Camp Taylor. It was love at

first sight. Just as Jay Gatsby, an outsider with no money and no respectable

family, falls utterly in love with Daisy Fay, so the Midwestern outsider Scott

Fitzgerald fell head over heels in love with the Montgomery belle Zelda Sayre.

He loved her beauty, her daring, her originality. He loved her crazy, romantic

streak which matched his own. He proposed to her, and she turned him down. Like

Jay Gatsby, he was too young and he had no money, and she could not be sure he

would ever amount to anything. So he went off to war but, unlike Gatsby, he

never got to Europe. By the time his regiment had been sent overseas, the

Armistice had been signed and his dreams of military glory had to be set aside

with the football pads and the presidency of the Triangle Club. But Scott was

determined to be famous, and in March of 1919–this time like Nick Carraway–he

went to New York to learn his trade. Scott’s trade was writing and he had

written, during his long, lonely months in the army, a novel about life at

boarding school and at Princeton. But no one would publish it and Zelda, who had

finally promised to marry him, changed her mind. In what he called his

"long summer of despair," he went home to St. Paul, rewrote his novel,

and submitted it to Charles Scribner’s Sons. Maxwell Perkins, a young editor who

was to become Fitzgerald’s friend and supporter for life, accepted the book. In

March of 1920, Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, was

published. This Side of Paradise made Fitzgerald famous. It also made Zelda

change her mind again. On April 3, 1920, in the Rectory of St. Patrick’s

Cathedral in New York City, they were married. Within two years they became the

most notorious young couple in America, symbolizing what Fitzgerald called The

Jazz Age. The Jazz Age began, Fitzgerald tells us in his short story, "May

Day," in May of 1918. It ended with the stock market crash of 1929. The

Jazz Age brought about one of the most rapid and pervasive changes in manners

and morals the world has ever seen, changes that we are still wrestling with

today. It was a period when the younger generation–men and women alike–were

rebelling against the values and customs of their parents and grandparents.

After all, the older generation had led thousands of young men into the most

brutal and senseless war in human history. People of Fitzgerald’s age had seen

death, and when they came back, they were determined to have a good time.

"How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Paree"

was one of the most popular songs of the day. And have a good time they did. The

saxophone replaced the violin; skirt hemlines went up; corsets came off; women

started smoking; and Prohibition, which was supposed to stop drinking, only

reshaped it into secret fun. The public saloon, now illegal, was replaced by the

private cocktail party, and men and women began drinking together. Parties like

the ones given by Gatsby began to thrive, and hoodlums became millionaires in a

few months by controlling the bootleg liquor business. Scott and Zelda not only

chronicled the age, they lived it. They rode down Fifth Avenue on the tops of

taxis; they dove into the fountain in front of New York’s famous Plaza Hotel.

Scott fought with waiters, and Zelda danced on tabletops. They drank too much

and passed out in corners; they drove recklessly and gave weekend parties, which

were not too different from the ones Gatsby gives in the novel and which lasted

until the small hours of Monday morning. In the midst of all this, Fitzgerald

tried to write. Part of him believed in work and tried repeatedly to discipline

himself, to go "on the wagon," to give up parties. Many years later in

a beautiful letter to his daughter Scottie, he talked about the tension of those

years: "When I was your age I lived with a great dream. The dream grew and

I learned to speak of it and make people listen. Then the dream divided one day

when I decided to marry your mother… I was a man divided–she wanted me to

work too much for her and not enough for my dream." The dream, of course,

was his dream of being a great writer. This Side of Paradise had made him famous

because it was the first novel that honestly described the life-style of the new

generation, but his work during the first three years of his marriage was not

nearly what he knew it could have been, and so in 1923 he set out to write a

book that he could be proud of. In July 1923, Zelda wrote a friend: "Scott

has started a new novel and retired into strict seclusion and celibacy."

The new novel of course was The Great Gatsby, and the ten months he devoted to

that novel was artistically the most disciplined ten months of his life. The

novel was published in the spring of 1925. Though sales were disappointing, the

criticism was very positive. Great writers like the novelist Edith Wharton and

the poet T. S. Eliot wrote Fitzgerald letters of congratulations. And Gertrude

Stein, who called Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway members of a "lost

generation," gave great praise to the book. Hemingway himself, a new friend

of Fitzgerald’s in 1925, loved The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald was never again to

reach the success of Gatsby. Until 1925 the Nick Carraway in him had sustained

him enough to keep him writing well, but just as Gatsby’s love for Daisy drove

him to tragedy, so Fitzgerald’s love for Zelda occupied more and more of his

time. To maintain the social style she loved, he wrote stories for the popular

magazines of the time, like Cosmopolitan, Smart Set, and the Saturday Evening

Post. Maintaining a dizzying social life, Scott, Zelda, and their daughter

Scottie moved from New York City to Great Neck, Long Island (the model for West

Egg in Gatsby), eventually on to Paris and the Riviera, and finally back to the

United States. He could not finish another novel, and he could not make Zelda

happy. She became more and more depressed, and finally in April 1930, Zelda had

a complete breakdown and had to be hospitalized. The great stock market crash of

1929 had ended America’s decade of prosperity, and Zelda’s breakdown in 1930

ended the Fitzgerald’s decade as the symbol of The Jazz Age. The party was over.

From 1930 until his death in Hollywood in 1940, Scott struggled to regain the

stature he had earned with The Great Gatsby, but he never could. He wrote Tender

is the Night, which is a beautiful novel, during the early ’30s, but when the

book was published in 1934, America was not interested in a story about rich

Americans partying on the French Riviera. This was the Depression, and the

novelists in demand were Sherwood Anderson and John Steinbeck, writers who

talked about the plight of poor people. Scott continued to care for Zelda, who

was to spend the rest of her life in and out of sanitariums. He also kept

writing. But during 1935 and 1936 he had his own breakdown, which he recorded

brilliantly in the series of essays for Esquire called "The Crack Up."

Desperate for money, he took a job as a script writer for M-G-M in 1937, where

he worked on and off for the next two years. With the support of his friend the

columnist Sheilah Graham, in 1939 he began a new novel. Called The Last Tycoon,

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