Fitzgerald and His Notion of a Hero in “The Beautiful and Damned”

Introduction

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in all his novels, recounts the problems that were inherent in the American dream in the aftermath of the Civil War. The style and depiction of the characters in his fictional stories embody the American experience and identity. He criticises the American dream by depicting the characters in his works as corrupt and immoral, which underscores the failure and disillusionment that followed the Post-Renaissance period in America. According to Will, Fitzgerald’s works revolve around the successes and failures of the American dream (87).

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To analyse the notion of the American hero as depicted in Fitzgerald’s works, it is important to examine the historical and social contexts around the emergence of the American identity. An examination of the post-war (1920s) conditions can provide insights into the illusions implicit in the American society at the time. Brooks, Warrington, and Warren write that the post-war era was not only filled with creativity and the revival of learning and culture, but had a great deal of disenchantments (23).

Fitzgerald reports the events that characterised this period in the American history in his literary works. Anthony Patch, a leading character in Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel, The Beautiful and Damned, represents the beliefs, values, and perspectives of the Americans in the 1920s, which were marked with a pursuit of the “lustrous and unromantic haven” (Will 41). According to Mizener, Fitzgerald appropriately depicts America as a lustrous, rosy, and romantic place for Americans; but, a strong desire for a “meretricious life” prevented the youth from achieving this dream” (87). Fitzgerald’s characters embody the origins, promises, and corruptions that defined the American dream and personality. One dominant theme in Fitzgerald’s novels is the quest for heroism. In his works, the characters engage in a quest or a “pursuit of happiness” throughout the novel. In The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald starts by disclosing the corruption that bedevilled the “dream in Industrial America” (Brooks, Warrington, and Warren 87). His hero (Anthony Patch) is a person who pursues ‘romantic wonder’ only to end up destroyed and reduced morally and physically by the leisure of the American experience.

This essay analysis F. Scott Fitzgerald’s idea of a hero in the American society in his works. In particular, it examines his depiction of the leading character in The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch, in his quest for the American experience.

Summary of the Story

The Beautiful and Damned revolves around the life and times of a young man named Anthony Patch during the Jazz Age. This period was characterised by flappers, merry making, boozing, and other acts of self-indulgence. The Jazz Age was also marked by bliss and great developments in literature and music, which heralded the coming of the Great Depression (Mizener 87). The setting of the novel relates to the period that predated these dark times in the American society. The story is a portrayal of Fitzgerald’s academic life, marriage, and career challenges.

In the novel, Patch is an influential Harvard graduate and an heir to a vast family wealth. The story revolves around Antony Patch, who falls in love and marries a woman named Gloria Gilbert. However, Patch’s becomes disinclined to his marriage when he turns to alcoholism, leisure, and materialism. Anthony Patch is an educated man, but has no job nor does he strive to secure one. He is the sole inheritor of a vast wealth from his aging grandfather. He dwells among the privileged and rich folks in New York City. Patch’s friends, Richard and Maury, initially counsel him to avoid a life of luxury, but they also later succumb to his luxurious lifestyle.

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On the other hand, Gloria Gilbert, before marrying Patch, is a woman obsessed with her looks and beauty. She dreads losing her beauty because it is her valued possession. She believes that she is a goddess with unparalleled beauty and attractiveness and regards herself as one who cannot be spoiled through ageing or mortality. She rejects the advances of men, as she reserves her love for no one, but herself. When she meets Patch, she sees a perfect companion and treats him with a lot of love and fondness. She welcomes Patch into her life and shares her dreams with him. However, it soon becomes apparent that their marriage is founded on lost dreams, as it withers due to Anthony’s self-destructive attitudes and behaviours.

In the novel, Patch is depicted as a person who can go into greater lengths to live a life of opulence and class. However, Patch’s behaviour and attitudes reveal him as a person who has little understanding of his social condition. He drinks a lot and does not care about the emotional needs and welfare of his wife. He tries to find work on several occasions, but his attempts prove to be futile. He later joins the American Army, where he abandons his wife and marries an attractive woman called Dot. Throughout the story, the fortune left by his grandfather seems to be the only thing motivating his actions. However, as we learn later, his carefree attitude turns him into “a bleak and sordid wreck” (Fitzgerald 45).

Fitzgerald’s Depiction of Anthony Patch

The novel recounts the lives and experiences of Anthony Patch, which are filled with futile escapades. His experiences do not reach the level of decency expected in any ordinary human life. It is devoid of “loyalty, devotion, honour, real friendship, affection, and generosity” (Bruccoli, Duggan, and Walker 19). He does not even have physical courage, which is one of the admirable qualities in heroes. Patch’s only positive qualities that can be associated with a hero are his “understanding, which is too good to blame” (Donaldson 62). It is apparent that his uncanny ability to absolve himself from blame stems from his laziness, irresponsibility, and general indisposition to inactivity with regard to searching for work or showing commitment to his marriage.

The book details how Patch’s attitude and immoral actions lead to the disintegration of his personality. His moral, intellectual, and physical wellbeing declines when he engages in alcoholism and self-destructive behaviours that render him inept and ineffectual in relation to his interpersonal interactions and relationships. In the beginning of the book, Patch comes out as an extravagant, lazy, arrogant, and annoying person who prides himself in his “sophistication” and “as one who is aware that there can be no honor and yet had it, who knew the sophistry of courage and yet was brave” (Fitzgerald 151). Moreover, he does not desire higher achievements or honour because “all efforts and attainment are equally valueless” (Bruccoli 78). He is just waiting for his grandfather to pass away so that he can inherit his fortune. This description fits Patch’s life when he is 25 years of age. Six years later, his extravagant, irresponsible, and carefree lifestyle turns him into a lazy, backward, and physically degraded person.

The book depicts Anthony’s gradual decadence into a hopeless wreck. Despite his pretentious, immoral, and carefree lifestyle, Fitzgerald does not seem to criticise Patch. Instead, he depicts him as an intelligent and talented young man. However, it is apparent to the reader, through his long conversations with his friends, Caramel and Maury, that he is not particularly clever. He lives in a pseudo-reality filled with wastefulness and lack of effort. However, Fitzgerald does not criticise his lifestyle; rather, he depicts him as an embodiment of the American experience during the Jazz age. Fitzgerald’s characters and depiction of the American dream in his works have attracted criticisms from various people. According to James, Fitzgerald manipulates history in order to “accommodate gender anxiety and disillusionment” that followed the post-war era (90). In this regard, he stereotypes the suffering and challenges that people faced during this period in the way he portrays the leading characters in his novels.

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Anthony Patch is an embodiment of the successes and failures of the American dream. Fitzgerald, who witnessed the great economic growth of the ‘roaring 1920s’, the Jazz Age, and the decadence of moral values, recounts his personal experiences in the story. Thus, he does not criticise the behaviour or actions of the characters; rather, he attributes their lifestyles to the failure and despair of people in their pursuit of happiness. To him, the American dream that gave people “extraordinary gift of hope and romantic readiness” resulted in recklessness in spending and interpersonal relations, as people failed to achieve it (Fitzgerald 66). In this regard, Fitzgerald sees the American experience during the Jazz Age as a nostalgic, yet defining characteristic of Americans. Thus, in his works, the characters symbolise the defining characteristics of the American experience and thus, does not criticise their actions or attitudes.

Scott Fitzgerald’s realisation that the American dream, as stated during the Declaration of independence, was elusive is apparent in the way he depicts the leading characters in his novels. Anthony Patch is in “pursuit of happiness” as espoused in the American dream (Fitzgerald 74). Thus, Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Patch as a person who is unrestrained by convention is an indication of the hope and desires that characterised the blissfulness of the 1920s. The founders of the nation portrayed the American dream as the ultimate promise that all people should pursue. According to Trilling, Thomas Jefferson changed the “life, liberty, and property” provision in the law to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (8). Thus, the “pursuit of happiness” became an inviolable right for every American. Patch’s lifestyle and actions augur well with this premise and thus, are consistent with the views and perspectives in the post-war American society, which considered “human personality to be both sacred and inviolable” (Will 77).

The Beautiful and Damned is a portrayal of the struggles that marked the pursuit of happiness and American experience during the Jazz Age. Patch’s rise and fall depict the possibilities that were open to all people during this time. This period was marked with individual responsibility and freedom, as the foundations of the pursuit of happiness. In short, Fitzgerald portrays Patch as an intelligent, happy, and extravagant person whose dreams are based on false dreams and the hope of inheriting his grandfather’s wealth. Fitzgerald does not seem to criticise Patch or fault his actions; instead, he depicts him as a young man in pursuit of happiness and the American experience. Thus, in this book, he criticises the foundations and the failed promises of the American dream.

Fitzgerald’s Life in His Novels

F. Scott Fitzgerald famous works include The Great Gatsby (1925) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922). In his novels, he describes the events surrounding the Jazz Age, which he experienced as a young man. In The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald’s story revolves around the events of his life and marriage to Zelda Sayre. The author was born in Minnesota in 1896 to a local peasant family (Birkerts 9). The family depended on his grandfather for financial support. Fitzgerald joined Princeton University in 1913, but quit in 1915 to pursue extracurricular activities. He resumed his studies in 1916, but again left after a year to join the army.

As an army lieutenant based in the Montgomery naval base during World War I, Fitzgerald began his writing career. It was while at Montgomery that wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise. He also met Zelda at Montgomery and later married her (Bloom 50). However, before they could get married, Zelda, a daughter of a wealthy businessperson, wanted Fitzgerald to prove that he could be able to take care of her. Fitzgerald, although not doing well financially, was determined to marry her. His writing career was not generating much at the time. Fortunately, in 1920 Charles Scribner’s and Sons agreed to publish and sell his first book, The Side of Paradise (Milford 72). This marked a turning point in his career. Moreover, he was able to raise enough funds to marry Zelda.

The large sums of money he earned after launching his career successfully allowed Fitzgerald and Zelda to lead extravagant lives. They spent lavishly as they hosted regular parties, had many servants, and traveled widely in “pursuit of pleasure” to places like Paris and Rome (Bloom 63). Similarly, in the novel, Anthony Patch actions and interests revolve around the “pursuit of pleasure”. His lifestyle is characterised with wasteful spending, drinking, pleasure seeking, and recklessness. Fitzgerald also led a wild and expensive lifestyle, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on his writing career. As a result, he was not able to meet most of his expenses and fell in huge debts

In The Beautiful and Damned, it is evident that Patch and Gloria represent Fitzgerald and Zelda. Patch’s background and pursuit of Gloria is reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s own life. Moreover, the fact that the grandfather supported Fitzgerald’s family is apparent in Patch’s obsession with ancestral inheritance. As a result, he does not see any need to work or seek gainful employment. Gloria and Zelda also bear some similarities. They are both obsessed with good looks, drinking, dance, and sumptuous living. In addition, initially, Fitzgerald and Zelda enjoyed life because they had wealth that came from his successful literary career, but things got worse when the family income begun to dwindle. In 1934, Zelda became mentally ill and was institutionalised in a mental hospital (Bloom 76). This had a big impact on his literary career. In 1937, Fitzgerald remarried Sheilah Graham, who he believed resembled Zelda (his wife). Similarly, Patch, after joining the Army, he meets and marries a woman named Dot. It is evident that Fitzgerald’s family background, relationship with (Zelda), and experience in the army and college influenced his life as reflected in the novel, The Beautiful and Damned.

Fitzgerald’s Unique Literary Style

The central theme in Fitzgerald’s novels is idealistic dream and fantasy. The characters like Fitzgerald live a life of fantasy, youthful dreams, heroism, and pursuit of happiness. The novel’s plot revolves around the reinvention of human imaginations and the social pressures of the post-war American society. It tells a story of the “romantic imagination” among youthful Americans during the Jazz Age. Two prominent patterns emerge from Fitzgerald’s writings: pursuit of the American experience and failure to achieve it. The pursuit for happiness espouses the search for “American Dream”. In the novel, initially, Anthony Patch lives a life of fantasy, immorality, and wasteful spending. Thus, it is evident that Fitzgerald depicted the quest for happiness as an escape from social realm and reality. He revealed the dark side of the seductive quest for the American dream, which was mired in corruption, laziness, and immorality, among others. In the end, the reader discovers that the pursuit is fruitless. The characters are destroyed by their passion and obsession with the American experience.

In the novel, Patch’s quest for the American experience has two central aims. First, he pursues eternal youthfulness and happiness throughout the story. Fitzgerald portrays him as a person obsessed with leisure and merry making. Thus, Patch’s quest embodies the imaginations of young Americans when they were seeking for pleasure and satisfaction. During this era, the young people mistakenly held the idea that happiness and pleasure could be achieved through irresponsibility and mindlessness. However, as it turned out, their romantic quest led to destruction. The second aim is the search for money and wealth. Fitzgerald’s depiction of Anthony Patch as lazy individual waiting to inherit a fortune from his grandparent shows that he was “familiar with the Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideals of material success” that were characteristic of the American youth during the post-war period (Milford 78). Fitzgerald shows how the assumption that material wealth could lead to success affected their views about the American dream.

Fitzgerald criticises the wealth-person mentality haboured by the youth and the ruinous attitude and obsession with eternal youthfulness. The novel centres on these the issues of eternal youth, glamour, and wealth, which were part of the American culture. Fitzgerald also criticises the obsession with beauty and material love. In the novel, Gloria agrees to marry Patch not out of love, but because of his wealth and extravagant lifestyle. This shows that the money influence people’s actions and behaviour during this period. In this view, Fitzgerald affirms the social and moral decline that characterised this period.

Fitzgerald uses imagery to reveal his attitude and disenchantment with the ‘lost’ generation. Through his description of the quest for happiness, Fitzgerald shows that though the experience was popular among young Americans, it led to disappointment and inevitable failure. In the novel, he shows that the attitudes, obsession with pleasure, and other behaviours of the post-war generation were trivial and immature. In other words, the conscious search for the American experience was largely motivated by the notion of hero. Thus, Flitzgerald’s central theme relates to the destructive behaviours and attitudes of the American youth during the Jazz Age.

References

Bloom, Harold. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Modern Critical Views. New York; Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Print.

Brooks, Cleanth, Richard, Warrington, and Robert, Warren. American literature: The makers and the making. Book D, 1914 to the present. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.

Bruccoli, Matthew. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Harcourt, 1991. Print.

Bruccoli, Matthew, Margaret, Duggan, and Susan, Walker. Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Random House, 1980. Print.

Donaldson, Scott. Critical essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The great Gatsby. New York: G.K. Hall, 1994. Print.

Fitzgerald, Scott. Beautiful and damned. New York: Scribner’s, 1992. Print.

James, Pearl. History and masculinity in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This side of paradise. Modern Fiction Studies 51.2 (2005), 1-33.

Milford, Nancy. Zelda: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970.

Mizener, Arthur. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A collection of critical essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963. Print.

Trilling, Lionel. The liberal imagination. New York: Viking Press, 2008. Print.

Birkerts, Sven. Serving the sentence. Raritan, 25.3 (2006) 1- 11.

Will, Barbara. The great Gatsby and the obscene word. College Literature 32.1 (2005), 125-146.

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