Back To Course9th Grade English: Homework Help Resource
21 chapters | 271 lessons
Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.
For all his enormous talent and tremendous fame, F. Scott Fitzgerald's life did not end happily. As he watched his beloved wife, Zelda, descend into madness, Fitzgerald battled his own demons--insecurity, depression, alcoholism--struggles which are powerfully reflected in his last finished novel, Tender Is the Night.
The darkest and most autobiographical of Fitzgerald's novels, Tender Is the Night tells the story of Dick and Nicole Diver's crumbling marriage. Though not well received at the time of its 1934 serial publication, both readers and critics have since recognized the novel as one of the twentieth century's best. More than a simple story of estrangement and infidelity, Tender Is the Night grapples with the complexity of human relationships and the manipulations and ministrations of those closest to us. The novel explores how love can be won, lost, and perverted by the myriad forces that shape our lives, including money, illness, and politics.
Love is an action, not a feeling. At the outset of the novel, the Divers' life seems idyllic: two beautiful children, a luxurious lifestyle spent traveling across Europe, and a profound love for one another beginning when Nicole was a teenager and Dick not much older.
When Dick becomes infatuated with the beautiful young actress, Rosemary Hoyt, the chinks in the Divers' marriage emerge. A number of years pass before Dick and Rosemary consummate their attraction. During this time, Dick struggles to remain faithful to a wife he sincerely loves, demonstrating the arduous nature of romantic commitment. The reality is that love is a daily choice, one that's hard to make and even harder to fulfill.
The high life is not so high. Dick's infatuation with Rosemary is less a reflection of his feelings for her than a manifestation of the very real problems facing the Divers. On the surface, the Divers seem to have it all: Dick is a world famous psychiatrist with a seemingly limitless future, and Nicole a beautiful heiress with money to spare.
In Fitzgerald's novel, the couple owns beautiful homes in the most desirable parts of Europe, and their leisure time is spent sunning and shopping their way across the Continent. Readers soon come to find that the underbelly of things is far darker than this dazzling veneer.
As a child, Nicole was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, while Dick is an insecure working-class Midwesterner with a savior complex. Both are broken people, trying desperately to save each other and themselves. Their fraught relationship proves that money, for all its glamor, cannot mend wounded spirits.
No one can save you but yourself. Like Zelda Fitzgerald, who was institutionalized when Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is the Night, Nicole Diver suffers from severe mental illness. When Dick first meets her, she is in the throes of a psychotic breakdown and is hospitalized where he is a promising young physician.
Dick quickly finds himself enrapt in his beautiful young patient, and his savior complex begins. Nicole is eventually released and resumes a relatively normal life. After a brief period spent apart, the two reunite and eventually marry. Once man and wife, they each define themselves by their relationship with one another. With the memory of Nicole's illness and the constant threat of its recurrence ever in the background, Dick forges an identity as perpetual caregiver and Nicole as eternal dependent.
As their marriage deteriorates, it becomes increasingly clear that Dick and Nicole have lost themselves in one another. The depletion of each's individual sense of self begins to fracture their union. Nicole relapses for a time, while Dick seeks solace in Rosemary's bed and alcohol.
We are (not) what we can buy. The Divers' dysfunctional marriage and their increasing codependence are worsened by the blatant differences in their social class. Dick comes from a middle class Midwestern family, much like Fitzgerald's own, while Nicole hails from prodigious wealth, the daughter of a New York business mogul. This echoes Zelda Fitzgerald's own monied background and the very real burdens of class status that infected the Fitzgeralds' marriage.
The novel repeatedly meditates on issues of class, as this determines the level of treatment the sick and mentally ill receive. Class informs how friends and colleagues treat one another and even shapes one's identity: those born into money see themselves as superior to those with 'new' money and perceive their wealth and power to be virtually infinite.
The status of those hailing from humbler origins, such as Rosemary Hoyt, is less assured. Those who have earned rather than inherited money are on constant guard against its loss. They have neither the luxurious abandon nor the unquestioning entitlement of the born wealthy. Thus, while Nicole, and her sister, Beth ('Baby') Warren, belong to this rarified realm of old money, Dick is the product of the new. His wealth, power, and fame are acquired, not inherited. Despite his talent and tremendous professional success, his lifestyle, including the psychiatric clinic he partially owns, is financed almost entirely by his wife's fortune.
As much as Dick and Nicole love one another, this inequality in their social class blights their relationship, demonstrating that not even love is immune from the often corrosive influence of money.
A generation truly lost: Tender Is the Night takes place in the aftermath of World War I, casting a pall across the story. Fitzgerald frequently alludes to battlefields, monuments, the millions dead, and millions more left wounded and recovering. This is a novel about trauma, about the devastation of battle, both literal and figurative.
Fitzgerald belonged to a group Gertrude Stein famously referred to as The Lost Generation. These were American writers who had been through the horrors of the Great War and in its aftermath found themselves traveling rootless and restless across Europe.
In the Divers' travels, they encounter those who are equally nomadic: foreign nationals from every corner of the globe who seem to have neither permanency nor direction, only an increasingly desperate desire to chase new amusements and distractions.
This background of war, loss, and subsequent wandering suggests that the aftershocks of trauma--whether it be battle, sexual abuse, or mental illness--shake us to our foundation. What we turn to for solace, whether it be travel, shopping, partying, sex, or alcohol, are nothing more than feeble distractions which, like all false foundations, will eventually crumble, leaving us unmoored and groping for a new touchstone.
Tender Is the Night is F. Scott Fitzgerald's last finished novel. On the surface, the novel recounts the destructive marriage between Dick and Nicole Diver, including Dick's affair with the beautiful young actress, Rosemary Hoyt. The novel's themes, however, delve far deeper: Fitzgerald examines the pernicious influences of social class, the tragedy of mental illness, the ravages of sexual abuse, and the destructive force of codependent love. Arguably Fitzgerald's most autobiographical novel, it mirrors the author's own troubled marriage to his beloved Zelda. Published in 1934 to lukewarm response, the work has since come to be recognized by critics and audiences alike as one of the most important novels of the twentieth century.
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Back To Course9th Grade English: Homework Help Resource
21 chapters | 271 lessons