Women in the 1920s were part of a changing world and a new identification with gender roles, especially in the mother role. In Fitzgerald’s fiction, especially the works, Tender Is the Night and This Side of Paradise, this “new woman” personae leads to the male protagonists’ development, and, in some cases, to their downfall throughout these novels. Mother figures are highly influential characters in his work. The romantic relationships developed between male and female protagonists of Fitzgerald’s fiction reveal this new role of mother, as well as the indirect control female protagonists play in the development of male protagonists throughout the novels.
Table of Contents:
F. Scott Fitzgerald, famed for writing The Great Gatsby (1925), has inspired a wide range of scholarship from his own time to today. Fitzgerald scholars often note the autobiographical nature of his work; according to Curnutt, “[w]hile the autobiographical impetus behind a certain plot or motif is often easily identified, his works usually deviate from authorial actualities to serve a literary purpose” (42). Fitzgerald was undoubtedly his own source of vital inspiration, but this fact does not overshadow his own literary expertise. The majority of scholarship on Fitzgerald’s writing tends to focus on The Great Gatsby due to its popularity, whereas the bestselling novel of his career, This Side of Paradise (1920), draws little attention. The same can be said for Tender Is the Night (1934), a novel that Fitzgerald himself refers to “as a philosophical or psychological novel” (Bruccoli 369). Both Tender Is the Night and This Side of Paradise use “the method of ‘transmuted autobiography,’ which subsequently allowed him to combine his own emotions with the qualities of an actual figure in his most memorable characters” (Bruccoli 124). Tender Is the Night included his later experiences with his wife Zelda, so it “synthesized many events and figures from the Fitzgeralds’ expatriate years. Zelda’s mental illness . . . [is] transferred to Nicole Diver[, and] Dr. Richard Diver . . . [which] represents Fitzgerald’s self-judgment and self-condemnation” (Bruccoli 336). The autobiographical focus in these two novels is more than a simple cathartic experience; Fitzgerald articulates elements of contemporary 1920s life to communicate the values and changing dynamics of a generation.
The male protagonists of these two novels are constantly changing throughout the plot and experience varying crises of identity alongside several different types of female characters. As a result of the dramatic changes in male characters throughout Fitzgerald’s novels, scholars have treated his female characters as mere background upon which the male protagonists shine their accomplishments (Curnutt, DiBattista, & Joseph). This reading denies Fitzgerald’s dynamic, progressive women characters’ individual identities and powerful influence. In This Side of Paradise and Tender Is the Night, male protagonists’ self-discoveries stem directly from their interaction with the women from a generation of shifting gender roles, mothers as primary caregivers, and newfound independence. Without the impact of mothers and female companionship, Amory Blaine, the protagonist of This Side of Paradise, would be less rounded by experience, and perhaps unable to speak one of the most famous lines at the very end of the novel: “‘I know myself,’ he cried, ‘but that is all’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 260). Women’s changing role of dual motherhood, or acting as a father and mother for lack of a father figure in these novels, and their role as lovers with power, facilitates this path of self-discovery and self-knowledge for the male characters.
From Victorianism to Modernism: Redefinition of Gender Roles
The Victorian tradition defines manhood through hard labor and self-control, but, as the world moved into the new twentieth century, the social world took precedence and the balance of the sexes in the workplace caused men to lose accountability in their own adulthood.
Men . . . struggled with an elusive ideal of manliness. While Victorian mores dictated that middle-class men be independent breadwinners who claimed heroism and respect in the world of business, modern reality . . . required neither heroics nor initiative. (Filene qtd. in Joseph 65)
As an author who personally felt the strain of the drastic generational change, “Fitzgerald explored . . . the emergence of a leisure culture that challenged the Protestant work ethic by insisting that entertainment, not productive labor, was life’s main aim” (Curnutt 36). Modern life brought with it the ease of office jobs, stock market riches, and “old money” earned by established businesses from fathers that were passed to offspring; men did not need muscles, and in some cases, did not need intellect to maintain a monetarily successful lifestyle.
As men were abandoning the traditional masculine ideal through the ease of earning money in office jobs and the stock market, women were successfully integrating into masculine power structures; the female role in society shifted from the background to the foreground. Perspectives on this change for women tend to focus on the sexual aspects: “[M]ost of Fitzgerald’s major women characters merely daydream about the possibility of developing careers of their own, they actively engage in social and sexual activities undreamed of by their mothers” (Fryer 10). Although the flapper sexual freedom has been thoroughly recognized by historians, other aspects of the women’s revolution were just as groundbreaking. “In the business and political worlds, women competed with men; in marriage, they moved toward a contractual role. . . . Sexual independence was merely the most sensational aspect of the generally altered status of women” (Leuchtenburg qtd. in Freedman 373). Although this dramatic change was revolutionary for women at the time, it was mostly based on social circumstance. The Great War was the motivation to accept women into the working world, but the sustaining need for independence was not anticipated by the whole of society.
Women left the household for the working world as a result of the First World War, much to the dissatisfaction of men when they came home from battle. Women’s newfound opportunity to obtain a “job, or the potential for earning, created a feeling of comparative economic independence in women, which . . . threatened husbandly and parental authority” (Allen qtd. in Freedman 379). The former model of femininity through “high Victorianism held that while women were unequal, they were not inferior, cloaking their subordination in the glories of innate spirituality or maternal duty” (Visweswaran 598). The discovery of a life beyond motherhood taught women that they could actualize hopes to go beyond traditional roles. Although the social conditioning of women had formally manifested into “[a] feminist assumption . . . that women lack control over their lives” (Green 365), the growth of opportunity for women, and the enthusiastic reaction women had as a result, caused “[f]eminism [to] become . . . a pervasive force in structuring a woman’s consciousness. . . . Because this consciousness is real, and its reality can be demonstrated, this suggests that adult socialization can produce new consciousness in people” (Green 373). Regardless of this possibility of a change in society, opposition was still strong among the general population.
Society worked hard to keep women from going too far with this new freedom; reconstruction of gender identity gave:
American society . . . ample reason to readjust to working women, [but the problem remained that] by no means had a consensus been reached on the proper place of women in American society, for the postwar years witnessed a renewed debate over women’s roles. (Freedman 381)
Essentially, women took on more responsibility in the working realm while still maintaining the home, but rather than this inspiring a balanced and equal society, resonating Victorian ideals inhibited significant change from occurring in the most appropriate moment. Women tasted freedom but could not incorporate independence into their daily life due to societal limitations.
The war itself represented opportunity for many American men to regain some kind of masculine identity, so the conclusion was reached that
anxiety about masculinity was central to the enthusiasm for the war, which led directly to its outbreak and to its continuance and to American participation. The war gave men the chance to be men in an honorific and absolute sense. (James 25)
Although the Victorian era had been abandoned for a modern, leisurely lifestyle, the threat men felt from women’s accessibility to independence and the working world led them to participate in the last realm where women were not allowed. Fitzgerald himself was enthused by America’s decision to join the war, “for it solved the problem of his future. . . . [T]he aviation service attracted him as the romantic equivalent of the Civil War cavalry” (Bruccoli 71). The author’s own longing to incorporate Victorian heroism into his character confirms the evidence that men needed something more than the modern routine of everyday life to feel like they connected to the Victorian masculine ideal in which men were required for protection, leadership, and strength. This anxiety is reflected in each of his protagonists, as they all participated in the war during or before the setting of the novel.
The “New Woman” and New Motherhood of the 1920s
The struggle to regain masculine identity among men in the modern time period can be attributed to more factors than the emergence of the leisure class; many changes in America had slowly contributed to a weakening of male influence in the family:
Historically, since the Revolutionary War, the position of the father as the head of the family and the just regulator of his offspring’s development had been slowly deteriorating . . . the mother had assumed the place of dominance in the family, in education, and in cultural life. . . . Her power, a misplaced paternalism, is occasionally of great value in the training of children; but more often it is crippling to the pursuit of identity and maturity. (Stavola 76)
The modern revelation of changing family roles, the final confirmation of the slow transition to the mother as the chief influence in the household, caused a decrease in commitment to fatherhood among men in modern society; Fitzgerald’s male protagonists are prime examples of this fact. Amory’s father, Stephen Blaine, “grew wealthy at thirty through the death of two elder brothers, successful Chicago brokers,” and went on to value luxury time more than his own family (Fitzgerald, Paradise 3). Stephen Blaine “hovered in the background of his family’s life,” and is “an unassertive figure with a face half-obliterated” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 3). There is no moment in This Side of Paradise that demonstrates the instillation of values or morals from Stephen Blaine to Amory; in fact, Amory spent his youth “deriving a highly specialized education from his mother,” Beatrice (Fitzgerald, Paradise 4). Thus, the slow transition of motherhood from solely a domestic influence, to the main influence on how their children understand the world is due to the lack of a father figure in a child’s life; in turn, the flapper era forces women to become independent beyond spheres of sexual freedom and the working world.
The notions and nuances of Beatrice are directly passed into Amory’s perception of the world, and, in the absence of a father figure, Amory has nothing with which to contradict what his mother instills in him. Beatrice only marries due to a lack of options: “In her less important moments she returned to America, met Stephen Blaine and married him—this almost entirely because she was a little bit weary, a little bit sad” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 4). Beatrice has lived the life of a cultured and educated woman, so she settles into domestic life resentfully, never being able to let go of what potential she has. As a result, Beatrice travels extensively and avoids direct commitment to any potential friends or even to her husband, attempting to recreate the life she had before her marriage. Amory’s mother’s role as the primary interpreter of how to function in modern society, in turn, causes a further rift between Amory and his father, as well as Amory and reality. He thrives on fantasy: “before he fell asleep he would dream one of his favorite waking dreams. . . . It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being. This . . . was quite characteristic of Amory” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 16). Beatrice is a prime example of this woman caught between competing distinctions of womanhood: the traditional subservient Victorian woman and the modern, independent, and educated woman. It may seem that Amory’s “mother’s melancholia distances her from him and promotes a coldness in his personality” (Schiff 63), but even though it seems that this “coldness” Amory experiences is an adverse reaction to his mother’s depression, in reality he is merely empathizing with the fact that she is so stifled by society, further solidifying the effeminacy he experiences through his upbringing. Women as the main parent, therefore, generate anxiety in the new male generation.
In contrast, another mother figure in This Side of Paradise manages to retain masculine and feminine principles which are both passed on to her daughters. Rosalind’s mother, Mrs. Connage, teaches her daughter how to manage her relationships in a business-like manner, rather than being led by her heart or simply allowing men to make Rosalind’s choices for her. When Rosalind gets involved with Amory, Mrs. Connage protests in an upfront fashion: “‘You’ve already wasted over two months on a theoretical genius who hasn’t a penny to his name, but go ahead, waste your life on him. I won’t interfere’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 174). She wants her daughter to maintain independence, but as a strong willed parent, she knows what direction to lead her, as well. Mrs. Connage is fully aware of how women work in the climate of the times; if Rosalind wants success, the only way to attain that is to marry for money rather than love. Even as her daughter protests, Mrs. Connage states: “‘I have your best interests at heart when I tell you not to take a step you’ll spend your days regretting. It’s not as if your father could help you’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 175). Mrs. Connage acknowledges the fact that Rosalind’s father is the classic absent figure; he is present, but he is useless for parenting matters. Unlike Beatrice, Mrs. Connage is a realist; she is grounded by her knowledge of how gender roles function in her society. Rosalind’s mother sees that, despite women’s advances, modern society is still resistant to incorporating women as equals; as a result, Mrs. Connage teaches her daughter to be independent in a way that conforms to societal expectations.
Much like Rosalind, Rosemary, a lead female protagonist in Tender Is the Night, is taught to adopt a business mentality by her own mother, Elsie Speers. Rather than experiencing personality trauma through primarily feminine influence like Amory, Rosemary experiences triumph and the pleasure of sovereignty through her mother’s powerful influence. Fitzgerald scholar Maria DiBattista claims that “Elsie Speers . . . surrounds her daughter Rosemary with the unreal air of a nursery. It is she who nourishes and approves of the idealization of the Oedipal child into ‘Daddy’s Girl’” (36). When stepping outside of the Freudian box, however, it is more apparent that Elsie Speers understands her society better than the traditional women who surround her. The compromise that Mrs. Speers makes lies in the fact that she is well aware of how women are caught between success and tradition and, therefore, pushes Rosemary to use her femininity to her economic advantage. Rosemary may be a highly successful actress in America, but her work ethic and manner are both derived from Mrs. Speers influence: “By not sparing Rosemary [her mother] had made her hard—by not sparing her own labor and devotion she had cultivated an idealism in Rosemary” (Fitzgerald, Tender 13). Rosemary’s philosophy has been cultivated by her mother’s influence, therefore attributing her successes to her mother’s efforts.
This idealism is centered on masculine Victorian tradition; due to Mrs. Speers functioning as a single parent, “Rosemary had been brought up with the idea of work” (Fitzgerald, Tender 40). Mrs. Speers states directly to her daughter that “‘[y]ou were brought up to work—not especially to marry. . . . whatever happens can’t spoil you because economically you’re a boy, not a girl’” (Fitzgerald, Tender 40). Rather than conforming to Victorian female roles, Mrs. Speers emphasizes the opposite, or Victorian male roles, in Rosemary’s upbringing to enable her daughter’s independence and teach Rosemary not to rely on men in a world in which the emerging leisure class had rendered them as unsure providers at best.
Also, like Amory, Rosemary is bereft of a father figure, causing her to see men as less authoritative and more as equals: “Actors and directors—these were the only men she had ever known, those and the heterogeneous, indistinguishable mass of college boys, interested only in love at first sight” (Fitzgerald, Tender 19). Rosemary is better able to size up men as counterparts rather than being lost in a desperate attempt to find a father figure. Her mother’s strong capability to instill core values and independence in her daughter has given Rosemary her own masculinity; this can only be the result of a woman taking on male characteristics to function as a dual parent.
Intimate Influence in This Side of Paradise
Motherly authority in This Side of Paradise and Tender Is the Night marks a beginning to male protagonists’ reception to women’s influence. Beatrice is the catalyst to future female influence on Amory’s development; the women he encounters throughout his formative years represent different ideals and realizations that resonate in Amory’s character long after the dissolution of Amory’s relationship to each of them. His first passionate encounter occurs at a very young age with a girl named Myra, and his repulsion after he kisses her is a significant example of his effeminate character; his values reflect a traditional Victorian chastity. Even the suspense preceding the encounter reflects his mother’s principles: he “came into sight of Myra’s house, on the half-hour after five, a lateness which he fancied his mother would have favored” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 9). After Amory’s arrival he instigates a kiss with Myra, yet his reaction is in stark contrast to the expected male conquest mentality.
Sudden revulsion seized Amory, disgust, loathing for the whole incident. He desired frantically to be away, never to see Myra again, never to kiss anyone; . . . he wanted to creep out of his body and hide somewhere safe out of sight, up in the corner of his mind. (Fitzgerald, Paradise 13)
He feels the intense lack of desire for consummation and strong focus on keeping up the fantasy to avoid actualization; as Beatrice continues to travel to avoid settling into the life to which she resigned herself, Amory feels threatened by commitment, since commitment equates to accepting the effeminacy that he already embodies. Essentially, Amory is fighting the fact that his mother has had such a profound influence on his character.
In contrast, Myra’s reaction also reveals the independence and self-control young women received in this new, maternally dominated society. Although she does have quite the tantrum as an initial reaction to Amory’s sudden rejection, all at once “[t]he pout faded, the high pink subsided, and Myra’s voice was placid as a summer lake when she answered her mother” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 14). Witnessing her instantaneous control of her emotions, much like a man would be expected to do, “Amory rose and stared at her helplessly, as though she were a new animal of whose presence on the earth he had not heretofore been aware” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 14). Myra not only asserts herself through her anger at Amory’s rejection; rather than adopting the demur and silent nature of the Victorian woman, she also is able to rapidly regain composure when her mother enters the room, further proving the mother’s influence on a young girl’s sovereignty and self-control. Amory must face this new knowledge that the women of his generation are better able to regulate their emotions than he is, changing the direction of his future encounters with women.
Further proving his self-realized effeminization is Isabelle, Amory’s first adult romance. Isabelle is an example of a confident woman of the 1920s: “Her education or, rather, her sophistication, had been absorbed from the boys who had dangled on her favor; her tact was instinctive, and her capacity for love-affairs was limited only by the number of susceptible within telephone distance” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 58). She is open to many love affairs with men, but rather than seeing this as her own defilement, she uses these men to attain social knowledge and social standing. Her promiscuity is the key to her ability to transcend social gender limitations by assuming a masculine understanding of sexual interaction. Amory is enamored with her due to their similar ascension in society: “She had begun as he had, with good looks and an excitable temperament, and the rest was the result of accessible popular novels and dressing-room conversation culled from a slightly older set” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 61). Their mutual attraction is based upon a mutual selfishness, but Amory feels this is love at first sight, so when he discovers they are merely admiring themselves in each other, he must confront Isabelle’s independent and assertive nature. She teaches him about the impression he leaves by saying “‘you’re always talking about yourself and I used to like it; now I don’t’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 85). What he believes is emotion, she knows to be vanity. She tells him “‘[y]ou’re a nervous strain . . . and when you analyze every little emotion and instinct I just don’t have ‘em’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 86). He finds that he is controlled by his own emotions more than Isabelle. As Amory’s second encounter with a woman whose reasoning ability overpowers emotional influence, his lack of emotional control reveals his predominately feminine upbringing.
Isabelle forces Amory to confront the connection between his vanity and his emotions; the only way for Amory to reject reality in favor of fantasy is to abandon reason and control in favor of his more primitive responses. He is left in reflection after Isabelle leaves him:
He took somber satisfaction in thinking that perhaps all along she had been nothing except what he read into her; that this was her high point, that no one else would ever make her think. Yet that was what she had objected to in him; and Amory was suddenly tired of thinking. (Fitzgerald, Paradise 87)
Isabelle inspires Amory’s deep self-reflection to discover that his mother’s fear of commitment has transferred to him and caused him to create an unreasonable shell, leading him to construct what he wants to believe over what he actually sees around him, and to interpret the women in his life through his own fantastical tendencies.
Clara, Amory’s one relationship that can be defined as platonic, brings a different level of clarity to Amory’s developing personality. Thus far, Amory has been exposed to the empowered women of his generation, but Clara is a widow with children, so responsibility and independence are already ingrained in her lifestyle out of economic necessity, rather than from the revolutionary new role of women:
Sorrow lay lightly around her . . . a latent strength, a realism, was brought to its fullest development by the facts that she was compelled to face. She was alone in the world, with two small children [and] little money. (Fitzgerald, Paradise 126)
She opposes Amory’s immersion in fantasy and his lack of actualization, for she is forced to participate in reality as a single mother with responsibilities.
Although Clara confronts harsh facts, she maintains a humble yet positive outlook on her life, something Amory fails to understand, being the child of the willful and selfish Beatrice. She exists outside the realm of the assertive female: “Her goodness was above the prosy morals of the husband-seeker, apart from the dull literature of female virtue” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 126), yet she describes herself as “‘most humdrum and commonplace. One of those people who have no interest in anything but their children’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 128). Clara is an example of a woman who espouses modern feminine sovereignty and Victorian values; her method of balancing these expectations is to ascribe to the motherly role the tantamount of virtue, while maintaining her intelligence and social skills. Amory, finding such unique qualities in a woman that he does not share, immediately feels like he is falling in love simply because he desires to obtain said qualities, for:
he gradually fell in love and began to speculate wildly on marriage. . . . Once he dreamt that it had come true he woke up in a cold panic, for in his dream she had been a silly, flaxen Clara, with . . . platitudes falling insipidly from her changeling tongue. (Fitzgerald, Paradise 129)
Rather than loving her, he is idealizing her for her potential to influence his own personality, much like his mother has influenced him his whole life.
Once Amory approaches Clara with these ideas, however, she refutes his intentions and he turns the conversation to his true desires: for Clara to analyze him and illustrate how he needs to abandon his affinity for fantasy over reality. Although Amory mostly attempts to analyze himself at first, when he claims he has a lack of will power, she responds with: “‘[t]his has nothing to do with will-power; that’s a crazy, useless word, anyway; you lack judgment—the judgment to decide at once when you know your imagination will play you false, given half the chance’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 131). Clara’s perspective causes Amory’s vanity to become muted: “She was the only girl he ever knew with whom he could understand how another man might be preferred,” although the egoism pervades his personality (Fitzgerald, Paradise 134). After Clara, Amory has faced his own vanity, his capricious emotions, and his choice to remain outside the bounds of reality; what she opens him to is the ultimate self-deprecation to which he is doomed if he allows his own egoism to persist.
Rosalind, the most important love interest of Amory in This Side of Paradise, is entirely different from Amory’s previous experiences. She knows how to use herself as a commodity by integrating traditional femininity into her personality, dress, and mannerisms, and expresses a business mentality in which she aims for the best deal for her own life; essentially, she is the modern business woman stuck in a Victorian ideological system. Yet, like Isabelle, she shares a quality with Amory that he locks onto immediately; she desires the unattainable. Rosalind claims, “‘the only men who interest me at all are the totally ineligible ones’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 158). She is the first woman Amory encounters who embodies the masculine characteristics inherited from a culturally savvy mother. Their first conversation reflects this very fact: “HE: Odd, you have the same point of view on men that I have on women. SHE: I’m not really feminine, you know—in my mind” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 159). Her approach to the world is practical and domineering, which challenges Amory’s embedded obsession with fantasy.
In regards to the love she develops for Amory, Rosalind is able to make the practical choice, whereas Amory is decidedly impractical. She recognizes that “‘[t]he very qualities I love [Amory] . . . for are the ones that will always make [him] . . . a failure’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 177). Amory’s overt romanticism and devotion (to the point of destructing his previous self) in his relationship with Rosalind reveal his ability to recognize what his previous relationships have exposed to him, but his romantic tendencies drive him away from traditional success and still leave him stubbornly residing in his fantasy. Amory must face that he is unable to provide the lifestyle that Rosalind desires, but he must also acknowledge his continuing lack of ability to step outside his own emotions. Unlike Amory, however, Rosalind is capable of maintaining reason regardless of her emotions: “‘I can’t be shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you. You’d hate me in a narrow atmosphere. I’d make you hate me’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 179). In this moment, Rosalind becomes the male and Amory the female in their relationship dynamic. Amory may have found real love, but he cannot recognize that his “love” is debilitating for both parties involved, since companionship must incorporate necessary routines of daily life. Although Amory does work to show he is willing to try to attain the “normal,” modern lifestyle, their mutual obsession leans more toward fantasy, which can never end in a successful relationship that merits marriage, especially for reasonable Rosalind.
Eleanor, Amory’s ultimate love affair, opens all the doors that previous female influences have managed to crack. The novel itself speaks to this official deconstruction: “Eleanor was, say, the last time that evil crept close to Amory under the mask of beauty, the last weird mystery that held him with wild fascination and pounded his soul to flakes” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 204). Just as with Amory’s previous loves, he finds in Eleanor qualities that resemble himself, but in this case, all of Eleanor’s qualities reflect his own: “Eleanor and Amory could be ‘on a subject’ and stop talking with the definite thought of it in their heads, yet ten minutes later speak aloud and find that their minds had followed the same channels and led them each to a parallel idea” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 208). Their same-track minds lead them through a quite philosophical and intuitive love affair, but the culmination of the relationship brings to Amory a harsh realization. Their deviation from each other lies in gender roles. Eleanor explodes with frustration about the female predicament, specifically her own case, stating: “‘I’m too bright for most men, and yet I have to descend to their level and let them patronize my intellect in order to get their attention’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 218). Eleanor has to submit to patriarchal society, something Rosalind, Isabelle, and Clara were all capable of doing in their own way, but Eleanor cannot find a way to fit since she is entirely too assertive and intelligent to function in a marriage/motherly relationship, which is specifically why she states “‘[O]h, why am I a girl?’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 218). Amory finally comes to terms with his tendency to avoid actualization; Eleanor mourns her lack of opportunity based strictly on her gender, and, since Amory and Eleanor share many intellectual qualities, he realizes that all he is proving by fantasizing is his inability to commit to solid decisions. At first, Amory regards Eleanor with contempt due to this newfound awareness:
Amory’s love waned slowly with the moon. . . . For a minute they stood there, hating each other with a bitter sadness. But as Amory had loved himself in Eleanor, so now what he hated was only a mirror. (Fitzgerald, Paradise 220)
The truth that Amory has been seeking throughout the novel is found in Eleanor: when faced with someone equal to him in every way except socialized gender roles, he must acknowledge that his lack of success and personal realization lies in his inability to deal with reality, for Eleanor, given half the chance, would decidedly become successful in mainstream society.
In the end, even though Amory is left with a mere memory of his beginning self as Beatrice’s traveling partner, he reflects on these contributors to his new self:
Women—of whom he had expected so much; whose beauty he had hoped to transmute into modes of art; whose unfathomable instincts, marvelously incoherent and inarticulate, he had thought to perpetuate in terms of experience—had become merely consecrations to their own posterity. Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind, Eleanor, were all removed by their very beauty, around which men had swarmed, from the possibility of contributing anything but a sick heart and a page of puzzled words to write. (Fitzgerald, Paradise 242)
Not only has Amory faced the problem of his own identity, but he also has to realize the plight of women; the beauty that inhibits these women’s contributions to his character ties directly to the limiting role of woman in the modern world. Capability aside, Amory realizes that these new women have everything to offer to the world and are limited merely by sex, while he has all the same opportunity and is limited by what they have revealed to him: his vanity, his impulsive emotions, his reveling in fantasy, and his wild imagination. Although Amory realizes all of these inhibiting qualities due to his encounters with these women, in the end, all he is left to utter is “‘I know myself . . . but that is all’” (Fitzgerald, Paradise 260). He has seen himself clearly through women’s eyes, but the thought of the next step being up to him has left him paralyzed, revealing the incapability of men to move on without female influence.
Utilization of Opportunity by Women in Tender Is the Night
Economic independence aided professional women in the transcendence of traditional Victorian gender roles. In Tender Is the Night, for example, the film star Rosemary Hoyt enjoys a freedom that few other women, and in the novels themselves, no other women, can obtain; as a result, she can take romantic situations in stride and assume the dominant “male” role: “Rosemary’s very understanding of performativity appears to insulate her. Dick sees her as naïve and immature, but by the end of the novel, Rosemary is more intact, more aware, and less damaged than he is” (Joseph 76). By “performativity,” Tiffany Joseph is referring to the idea of performing everyday life as opposed to directly experiencing it, in which a person adopts personality traits and attitudes rather than letting these elements naturally occur. Rosemary, then, sees herself as an actress throughout her romantic experiences with men, performing love by seeing her intimate interactions as roles rather than personal emotional relationships. In so doing she shields herself from emotional pain. In Rosemary’s attempts to get Dick, the main male protagonist in Tender Is the Night, to sleep with her, “[s]he was calling on things she had read, seen, dreamed through a decade of convent hours. Suddenly she knew too that it was one of her greatest roles and she flung herself into it more passionately” (Fitzgerald, Tender 64). She has been sheltered and educated like a woman, as the referral to convent hours’ suggests, but she is also taught to handle the world with a man’s dignity and strength, and maintains dominance in her relationship with Dick at the same time.
Dick Diver, who shares Amory’s lack of self-control and fear of solid commitment, is dominated by more than just Rosemary. There is no question that Nicole, his wife and former patient, is the leader of his destiny, although at first it appears the other way around. Women outwardly display a subservient attitude in the beginning of the novel. Rosemary, Nicole, and a female friend are compared on the basis of their resignation to masculine dominance in the following line: “Their point of resemblance to each other and their differences from so many American women, lay in the fact that they were all happy to exist in a man’s world—they preserved their individuality through men and not by opposition to them” (Fitzgerald, Tender 53). Herein lies the rub; perhaps these women are unable to transcend women’s limitations individually, but they can assert subtle influence through suggestion to their husbands, and thereby achieve goals vicariously. Nicole is the most significant example of indirect achievement. Fitzgerald makes her the dominant force in the relationship to highlight Dick Diver’s susceptibility to control, especially since she has more wealth than Dick. In the protagonist’s own reflection, he knows:
[H]e had never felt more sure of himself, more thoroughly his own man, than at the time of his marriage to Nicole. Yet he had to be swallowed up like a gigolo, and somehow permitted his arsenal to be locked up in the Warren safety-deposit vaults. (Fitzgerald, Tender 201)
The symbolic robbing of manhood through forced forfeiting of control in their relationship directly implicates Nicole’s financial influence on Dick’s life decisions, so he has learned to depend on her to make all the decisions about the children, relationship, and money by the end of the marriage. When Dick finally ends his relationship with Nicole in his one solid attempt at independence, (much like many Fitzgerald male protagonists including Amory), he ends up wandering and unsettled, almost childlike in the last years of his life. Dick’s tendency toward capricious and inappropriate behavior, such as his affair with Rosemary and romantic involvement with more patients than just Nicole, reveals his lack of accountability and need for attention. Nicole takes care of Dick despite all of his less than noble actions, and without her he must face the responsibility that he was able to avoid for many years.
As for Nicole, although her sickness may make her appear weak, she maintains composure and poise in most situations. When Dick first hears her story in the hospital, her issues are directly linked to men; her father recalls that “‘[a]lmost always . . . [she feared] men [were] going to attack her, men she knew or men in the street—anybody’” (Fitzgerald, Tender 127). Even when Nicole experiences a mental breakdown in a hotel with Rosemary as a witness, Nicole states, “‘I never expected you to love me—it was too late—only don’t come in the bathroom, the only place I can go for privacy,’” and the fact that Dick responds with “‘Control yourself!’” hints at other probable issues (Fitzgerald, Tender 112). Rather than a typical schizophrenic episode, this moment seems to be a child-like reversion to her tainted past; Nicole’s father, seemingly consensually, begins a romantic relationship with her after her mother dies. In committing incest with his daughter, in psychoanalytic terms, then, “the young girl immediately takes the mother’s place in bed,” thereby confirming the lack of stability in a motherless family (Cokal 83). Thus, Nicole and Dick both exhibit child-like behavior, but Nicole’s is the result of trauma and Dick’s is the result of an absence of impulse control. In this specific case, Nicole must pull herself back to reality, and, for most of the time in the novel, Nicole remains quite in control of herself. Since Dick relies on the damaged Nicole to keep him from childish impulses, he is revealed to be weaker than the weakest woman; women have become powerful in the modern world, not just over men, but over themselves. Male impulses toward childish behavior, as Nicole’s father admiring his young daughter shows, goes uncontrolled without a mother figure to control it. The effect of the father’s actions on Nicole are ignored. Women have become accustomed to male dominance and modern, immature men running amok. Nicole learns quickly that without maintaining control of her own relationship, Dick might mimic this behavior.
In other situations, Nicole is as solid and reasonable as a businesswoman. Dick himself acknowledges that “‘[w]hen Nicole takes things into her hands,’ he said with affectionate irony, ‘there is nothing more to be done’” (Fitzgerald, Tender 84). Dick’s sullenness is the direct result of his irritation at his inability to maintain a dominating role in the marriage. Regardless of his hurt pride, Dick does sympathize with Nicole’s situation in life as a woman, for he thinks
It [is] awful that such a fine tower should not be erected, only suspended, suspended from him. Up to a point that was right: men were for that, beam and idea, girder and logarithm; but somehow Dick and Nicole had become one and equal. (Fitzgerald, Tender 190)
In this passage Dick realizes the mutual exclusivity of his relationship with his wife. Nicole’s power robs Dick of the original authority of the doctor-patient dynamic, and he is now fused with a woman who, at first, seemed to need him indefinitely; Dick has to accept that, without Nicole, he loses his identity, which begins his ultimate breakdown and reversion to immature and irresponsible behavior.
Nicole’s recognition of her own masculine tendencies may reveal the root of her vicarious attainment of her own ambitions through Dick:
“Talk is men. When I talk I say to myself that I am probably Dick. Already I have even been my son, remembering how wise and slow he is. Sometimes I am Doctor Dohmler and one time I may even be an aspect of you, Tommy Barban.” (Fitzgerald, Tender 162)
Nicole adopts male personalities to assert herself and maintain control in a masculine world; it is her survival tactic in the face of illness and no chance of singular female achievement. Not only can she use this adaptation to her own advantage, but she can file through the men of her past to express herself through different male personae; Nicole has the singular ability to embody male personalities she has encountered and use them to maintain her own independence and assertion in a patriarchal world.
Nicole’s decision to divorce Dick is affirmative and determined. As she rationally weighs the pros and cons of both Dick and Tommy Barban, her prospective lover/relationship, she feels “a thrill of delight in thinking of herself in a new way. New vistas appeared ahead, peopled with the faces of many men, none of whom she need obey or even love” (Fitzgerald, Tender 294). As Dick was her doctor before he was her lover, she could never feel a true independence from him, but she also is the responsible and rational party in the relationship; it seems she happily resigns to a traditional male-female dynamic in order to at least gain relief from one of her former pressures. She overcomes her inner turmoil, however, when she decides to leave him:
for this inner battle [against Dick] she used even her weaknesses—fighting bravely and courageously with . . . empty receptacles of her expiated sins, outrages, mistakes. And suddenly . . . she achieved victory and justified herself to herself without lie or subterfuge. (Fitzgerald, Tender 302)
In this metaphorical step into the last male realm left on earth, Nicole chooses power (Tommy) over impulse (Dick), and thereby conquers the juxtaposition within herself. Nicole achieves what Dick never can: the reasonable over the emotional. In the end, just like Amory, Dick learns he is incapable of action without a woman beside him, and ultimately loses his identity with Nicole forever; he loses his only authoritative position by his “patient” not recognizing his authority, and is, therefore, driven by his childlike impulses the rest of his life.
The women of Tender Is the Night exhibit more masculine characteristics than in This Side of Paradise, but the clear influence, albeit different, reveals the changing role of women in marriage, motherhood, and the social realm as a whole. Even though Fitzgerald himself is well known to have desired the achievement of masculinity that eluded many men of his own time, either directly or indirectly, he also acknowledges the powerful role women have in controlling men, instilling their own virtues in children absent of fatherly influence, and integrating traditionally male characteristics, such as dominance and self-control, within their personae in the modern time period. The New Woman changed a generation and redefined motherhood as not simply the managing a household, but as the primary source for values and personality traits that are passed to children. In our current era, true equality in a family is seen as being between parents in both child-rearing and providing for the household. Fitzgerald’s generation apparently set the example for this dynamic through the new dominance of motherhood beyond the traditional housewife expectations.
- Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. 2nd ed. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1981. Print.
- Cokal, Susann. “Caught in the Wrong Story: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Structure in Tender Is the Night.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 47.1 (2005): 75-100. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 March 2010.
- Curnutt, Kirk. The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print. Cambridge Intros. to Lit.
- DiBattista, Maria. “The Aesthetic Forbearance: Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender Is the Night.’” A Forum on Fiction. 11.1 (1977): 26-39. Jstor. Web. 9 March 2010. 11.1 (1977): 26-39.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender Is the Night. 1933. Intro. Charles Scribner III. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.
- —. This Side of Paradise. 1920. Intro. Patrick O’ Donnell. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.
- Freedman, Estelle B. “The New Woman: Changing Views of Women in the 1920s.” The Journal of American History. 61.2 (1974): 372-93. Jstor. Web. 12 Dec 2009.
- Fryer, Sarah Beebe. Fitzgerald’s New Women: Harbingers of Change. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988. Print. Studies in Mod. Lit. 86
- Green, Pearl. “The Feminist Consciousness.” The Sociological Quarterly. 20.3 (1979): 359-74. Web. 6 Dec 2009.
- James, Pearl. “History and Masculinity in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise.” Modern Fiction Studies. 51.1 (2005): 1-33. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 March 2010.
- Joseph, Tiffany. “‘Non-Combatant Shell Shock’: Trauma and Gender in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night.” NWSA Journal 15.3 (2003): 64-81. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 March 2010.
- Schiff, Jonathon. Ashes to Ashes: Mourning and Social Difference in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 2001. Print.
- Stavola, Thomas J. “This Side of Paradise: Amory Blaine.” Scott Fitzgerald: Crisis in an American Identity. London: Vision Press Limited, 1979. 73-106. Print.
- Visweswaran, Kamala. “Histories of Feminist Ethnography.” Annual Review of Anthropology 26 (1997): 591-621. Web. 6 Dec 2009.