F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
John F. Callahan and John Alberti
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students often tend to identify Fitzgerald with the nostalgic sensibility
of the protagonist of "Babylon Revisited," Charlie Wales, and
have a corollary tendency to view Fitzgerald as a participant in the excesses
of the Jazz Age rather than as a writer who cast a critical eye on his
Fitzgerald's essays serve as important companions to his fiction. I
fall back on the trick of photocopying one or more of the following essays:
"Echoes of the Jazz Age"; "My Lost City"; "The
Crack Up"; "Sleeping and Waking"; or "Pasting It Together."
On the relationship between Fitzgerald and Wales, I focus on the overlay
of observation and allusion that gives the story a perspective much deeper
than Charlie Wales's rather superficial, self-pitying point of view.
Students are very interested in the relationship between Fitzgerald's
life and his work and in his sense that the best possibilities of American
history are in the past. Their questions include why relationships between
men and women seem often bound up with money and social status, and whether
or not Fitzgerald maintains a critical detachment from his characters'
views of reality.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Note the relationship hinted at in "Babylon Revisited" between
the twenties and thirties, the Boom and the Crash. Also it is important
to note that although Wales is once again very well off, despite the depression,
his emotional and psychological stock is precarious. Can personal and historical
issues be separated? Again, this is why it is important to use or at least
refer to Fitzgerald's essays and letters.
In "May Day," note how the story contrasts the smug complacency
of Philip Dean with the disintegrating circumstances of his classmate,
Gordon Sterret. Look for similar contrasts in the story, such as the juxtapostions
of celebration and suicide, frivolity and despair, hope and bitterness.
How do these conflicting attitudes darken the sense of post-war jubilation
the narrator ironically refers to at the beginning of the story?
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
In "Babylon Revisited," how, and how successfully, does Fitzgerald's
evocative, lyrical prose set up an interplay of identification with and
detachment from the protagonist's nostalgic sensibility? To what extent
does Fitzgerald's style mirror the story's conflict of sensibility; namely,
the contrast between a spare, pared-down modern style showing Hemingway's
influence, and a metaphorical, romantic style reliant on a rich, sensuous
In "May Day," how does the episodic structure of the story
reinforce feelings of alienation and impending disaster both among the
characters and in the readers? How does the ironic, almost sarcastic tone
of the narrator color our views of events in the story in particular and
post-World War One America in general?
I call attention to Fitzgerald's self-conscious awareness of a double
identity as a popular writer of stories for the Saturday Evening Post
and a serious novelist aspiring to the company of Conrad, Joyce, and James.
I consider the relationship, the compatibility between popular and serious
fiction in a democratic and vernacular culture.
The issues of freedom and responsibility, the cost of self-indulgent
personal behavior seem particularly appropriate to our time.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
The following stories in Volume 2 of The Heath Anthology might
provide a useful frame of reference: Hemingway's
"Hills Like White Elephants"; Porter's
"Flowering Judas"; Toomer's
"Blood-Burning Moon," "Seventh Street," and "Box
Seat." All involve landscape, social milieu, memory, and transitional
moments of experience.
The best sources on "Babylon Revisited" and "May Day" are
Fitzgerald's essays listed above, a piece called "Ring," written
after the death of Ring Lardner, and also Fitzgerald's letters.