F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

    Contributing Editors:
    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 generation's experience.

    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 imagery?

    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?

    Original Audience

    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.