Short Stories of F Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”: Chasing Dreams
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” is the story of Dexter Green and his pursuit of Judy Jones. Dexter wants Judy to be untouched by time, and his dream is the dream of being with her. Fitzgerald, through his writing, endorses the idea of the dream, and of pursuing the dream, but he does not seem to fully believe in it. The illusions seen in dreams are needed to keep people, especially Dexter, going because they give something to believe in and look forward to. However, such dreams are also impossible because they can never be achieved in a definitive or satisfying manner.
In the story, Judy Jones is the dream Dexter Green is chasing, and although it is impossible, it is what keeps him flourishing. Judy Jones is described as nothing more than a something, instead of a someone. She is held at an unreachable standard, and she is made cold because of the way she is treated as a trophy of some sort. Dexter sees vitality in her. He sees something he wishes to possess. Dexter describes her, “The color in her cheeks…. And the mobility of her mouth gave a continual impression of flux, of intense life, of passionate vitality – balanced only partially by the sad luxury of her eyes” (968). Vitality is what gives continuity of living. Dexter sees vitality in her because she is his dream. The dream of her is what gives him something worth living for, since he already has so much. At one point in the story, Dexter has almost everything he could wish for; “Dexter was twenty-four and he found himself increasingly in a position to do as he wished…. He could have gone out socially as much as he liked – he was an eligible young man, now…” (974). Since Dexter has so much, he hangs on to something he can look forward to – Judy. He makes it clear that his aspirations are now focused solely around her: “His confessed devotion to Judy Jones had rather solidified his position…. He wanted to take Judy Jones with him. No disillusion as to the world in which she had grown up could cure his illusion as to her desirability” (974). No matter what, Dexter wanted Judy Jones. He did not care for anything else. Her being, and her being not with him, gave him something to reach for. Dexter’s dream of having Judy Jones is important because it keeps him looking forward to something. The pursuit of his dream creates vitality in him, and in what he sees in her, and that is why the dream is important.
Dexter’s pursuit of his dream is important, but the actually obtainment of it, or the end of it, causes his fantasy to fall apart, supporting the idea that dreams are impossible. Since the pursuit of the dream is where the vitality comes from, when the pursuit is over or disrupted, the vitality disappears. Dreams are impossible because they focus on what is in the past, and they never give room for reality to be seen. Dexter is living in his dream. He is chasing after Judy Jones for years, and he expects her to be the very same as when he first met her. He wants her to be untouched by time. Dexter’s dream, as long as he follows it, blinds him from the reality of things. Eighteen months after he had met Judy, Dexter is engaged to another woman. However, he ruins the engagement and the relationship because he cannot let go of the thing giving him vitality; “When autumn had come and gone again it occurred to him that he could not have Judy Jones. He had to beat this into his mind but he convinced himself at last…. Then he said to himself that he loved her…” (975). Even with his life being filled with money and a wife, he cannot let go of his impossible dream.
At the end of the story, years after Dexter’s first meeting with Judy, he learns that she is married with kids. He is told that she used to be a pretty girl, but that her beauty has faded. When Dexter learns that Judy is no longer attainable, no longer his vision of the past, and no longer something he can chase, his dream is crushed. The narrator says, “The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him…. Her eyes plaintive with melancholy and her freshness like new fine linen in the morning. Why these things were no longer in the world. They had existed and they existed no more” (980). Dexter’s dream was impossible, like most dreams are, because they grasp onto an image of the past and hope for it in the future. However, time moves along, and people, like Judy Jones, change. The grief of losing not Judy Jones but his dream, sends Dexter spiraling out of control. He says, “’Long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone. Now that thing is gone, that thing is gone. I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more’” (980). Dexter’s dream was keeping him going, giving him something to build his life off of, build his future on top of, and when his dream is ripped suddenly from him, his entire life crumbles around it. Dreams are impossible because although the pursuit of them provides vitality, they are hardly ever obtainable, and they usually end in chaos and devastation.
F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays both the importance and impossibility of dreams in his short story “Winter Dreams.” As represented through Dexter Green’s life, the pursuit of his dream of Judy Jones gives him vitality and gives him something to look forward to and build a fantasy around. However, like all dreams his is crushed by the truth of reality, and his entire life is turned into shambles. Fitzgerald gives the idea that humans need illusions in order to keep going. He writes of the dream, but never fully endorses it. By creating a story of a man following his biggest dream and then having the dream crushed at the end by a single sentence, “Winter Dreams” explains how dreams are both important and clearly impossible.
The New Woman of the 1920’s in ‘Winter Dreams’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the main ideas that pulses throughout “Winter Dreams” is the liberation of women, which, throughout history, has often been associated with the Roaring Twenties. Although the concept and title of The New Woman was first coined in the late nineteenth century, it truly began to spread nationwide and to all classes, in the 1920’s. In this age, women won the right to vote, wore lighter clothing, and partied with their male counterparts until late in the night. Old conventions were broken and gradually left behind, along with the morals and ethics which both men and women abandoned for the gain of individual freedom. It was an age of recklessness, of living to the fullest and relinquishing inhibitions. Fitzgerald illustrated the wildness and rebellion of women in particular in this story through the ever so beautiful, yet heartbreaking character of Judy Jones.
Judy Jones, daughter of the wealthy Mr. Mortimer Jones, is introduced as a “beautifully ugly” girl of eleven, who is “destined” to grow up “to be inexpressibly lovely and bring no end of misery to a great number of men”. Not surprisingly, the protagonist, Dexter Green, is destined to be one of these miserable men. The term “beautifully ugly” can be perceived in varying ways; however, one such opinion is that the term reflects the fashion or trend of the era. Judy’s attire may have given her the appearance of a rich girl, with her “five small new golf clubs in a white canvas bag”, the items which she is decidedly the one to use but has a nurse to carry for her. Also, the arrogance she demonstrates through her bad temper; demanding a caddy when there are none available, and attempt to beat her nurse with a golf club, only helps to justify her spoilt and rich temperament. It is possible that Judy’s obvious wealth is what causes her to seem “beautiful” despite the ugliness of her age and crude manners.
Moreover, Judy possesses a “radiant” but “blatantly artificial” smile – one which Dexter finds “preposterous” and “absurd”, yet strikes him as “convincing”. It appears as though he loathes it – the smile – but what he truly reprimands is the power it has over him. This smile is consistently mentioned throughout the story. Fitzgerald emphasizes on its affectation, thereby shedding light on the fact that Judy’s smile is also a result of fashion or trend, for she smiles in a way that “her lips twisted down at the corners” and later as a young woman this smile would be described as: “…less a smile than an invitation to kiss”. Perhaps it was the trend to smile this way, perhaps she had seen it somewhere, and imitated it. Judy does not smile because she truly wants to, but because it is what women were doing at the time – thus this particular smile of hers is often “insincere”.
Judy’s confidence is evidently the work of her wealthy upbringing. On top of that, she has grown up in an era of liberation for women. In the twenties, women were eagerly and successfully doing the things they were barred from doing in the past. They achieved a kind of independence, thus drastically shifting the role of The New Woman from one that was originally regarded as merely eligible to higher degrees of knowledge such as achieving a PhD, to a New Woman that could participate in various male-dominated activities. The era was significantly more sophisticated, and in this sophisticated age, Judy Jones grows up watching women live to their hearts’ content – especially the rich, as they indulge in extravagance.
When Dexter meets Judy years later at the same golf course, Lake Erminie, Judy’s presence is clearly uncanny, as it is a predominantly male site. Her indifference to this shows that she is, in her own way, an activist by going against gender related conventions. When she accidentally hits Mr. Hedrick with a golf ball in the stomach, Mr. Hedrick cries, “…they ought to put some of these crazy women off the course. It’s getting outrageous.” These words convey his disapproval of women intruding upon this otherwise all-male sport.
Despite her audacity to display no hint of remorse, Mr. Sandwood, a man just over thirty who was playing golf with Dexter and Mr. Hedrick, remarked: “Gosh! She’s good looking!” as though her beauty compensates for her distasteful behavior. Mr. Hedrick disparagingly argues that Judy is always “turning those big cow-eyes” in an attempt to seduce “every young calf in town”. This comparison expresses his prejudiced opinion that Judy, a woman, is like a grown cow that lures all the “young”, innocent men in town. His implication that all men maintained innocence and helplessness while she commits the shameless act of seduction proves his discrimination towards women.
Fitzgerald’s purpose of this scene, where Judy is introduced for the second time by hitting a golf ball into Mr. Hedrick’s abdomen, is to initiate the criticism which women of the time faced for going against social norms, by traditional people, like Mr. Hedrick, who is old and has lived most of his life before this era of freedom and abandoning of inhibitions. Furthermore, the twenties saw wildness in women which could not be tamed. Judy represents this, with her many beaus and ability to lure them into “playing her game and not their own”, as well as her brazenness to do whatever she wishes, such as driving a boat all by herself late at night. In the twenties, there were many women like Judy Jones; women who adopted a carelessness and smartness to outwit men – behavior which, prior to this time, was unacceptable theoretically and in actuality.
Overall, Fitzgerald’s focus on the behavior and characteristics of women in the 1920’s has made Winter Dreams a beautiful read. It has successfully depicted the extremity of women’s freedom and the consequences individuals face on the birth of The New Woman.
Negative Views on Memory in “Babylon Revisited”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited” and other works gave him a famous name in American literature. Fitzgerald was a prominent figure during the “Roaring Twenties” because of both his published works and his marriage to an Alabama woman by the name of Zelda Sayre. His writing brought the couple fortune and fame, and newspapers saw them as the perfect example of what America was supposed to be like during this prosperous time. However, despite their seemingly happy and wealthy lifestyle, the Fitzgeralds’ marriage failed due to the famous author’s alcohol addiction. Fitzgerald died from a heart attack in 1940, 30 years after his wife’s mental breakdown. Both his relationship with his wife and his alcoholic nature gave him a negative view on the roles played by memory and the past. While many famous writers claim that memory is a beautiful thing that brings cohesion and significance to people’s lives, Fitzgerald disagrees. He says that memories bring back sadness and dealing with things that have happened in the past can have a very undesirable effect on the human mind. It complicates life by making it extremely difficult to move on and start over when a mistake has been made. Fitzgerald’s short stories are often melancholy in this respect. In his short story “Babylon Revisited,” Fitzgerald shows his negative views of memory and the past by subjecting the protagonist, Charlie Wales, to an awakening of sobriety, harsh criticism, and finally, failure. “Babylon Revisited” begins in the streets of Paris during the early 1930’s. Charlie, newly sober, has come back to the town where all of his wrongdoings in the past took place, not to relive them, but to retrieve his daughter, Honoria, who is under the custody of Charlie’s brother and sister-in-law, Marion and Lincoln Peters. One day, Charlie takes his daughter to a vaudeville show and is forced to interact with two old friends. Fitzgerald says, “Sudden ghosts out of the past: Duncan Schaeffer, a friend from college. Lorraine Quarrles, a lovely, pale blonde of thirty; one of a crowd who had helped them make months into days in the lavish times of three years ago” (2206). Charlie is surprised yet happy to see the two, and he gives them Marion and Lincoln’s address in hopes of catching up with them later. However, as the conversation continues, Charlie realizes that his friends are still the same people that they were three years ago and that he has changed dramatically. His awakening becomes clear when Fitzgerald says, “As always, he [Charlie] felt Lorraine’s passionate, provocative attraction, but his own rhythm was different now.” Charlie’s awakening of sobriety from his irresponsible past has left him with a feeling of awkwardness around his old friends. He is to unwillingly forced to relive a memory from the past when Lorraine sends him a letter a few days later. Fitzgerald, in the words of Lorraine, says, “We did have such good times that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher’s tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you had the old derby rim and wire cane. Everybody seems so old lately, but I don’t feel old a bit” (2212). Charlie’s recollections of these acts, which Lorraine describes as “good times,” are no longer good to him. In fact, Charlie sees his past as a nightmare – a nightmare that he can’t seem to run away from. Throughout the story, Charlie is being criticized constantly about the behavior he exhibited before his awakening took place. This is done strictly by Marion, who blames Charlie for her sister’s, Charlie’s wife’s, death. She is resentful towards Charlie for treating her sister, Helen, poorly during their reckless lifestyle together and also for Charlie’s financial superiority over her and Lincoln. An example of Charlie’s harsh behavior that sticks out in Marion’s mind is the night that Helen showed up at the Peters’ doorstep, shivering from the cold. Charlie had locked Helen out of the house earlier that evening, Marion states to Charlie, “How much you were responsible for Helen’s death, I don’t know. It’s something you’ll have to square with your own conscience” (2210). Her opinion towards the old Charlie overshadows his determination and promises towards her in the present. Though Charlie wants nothing but to be able to be with his daughter again, Marion refuses to believe he has changed. She is blunt about her opinion of Charlie and very skeptical about his sobriety. During a sit-down one day, Charlie, Lincoln, and Marion begin discussing the custody arrangement for Honoria. Lincoln is interrupted quite suddenly by his wife when she looks Charlie straight in the eyes and asks him, “How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?” (2208). This direct blow against Charlie’s new life hurts him, and when he tries to defend himself, she brings back the memories of the past yet again, taunting him with the thoughts of his old life. The climax of this story takes place after Marion and Lincoln tentatively agree to give custody of Honoria back to Charlie. Charlie goes over to the Peters’ house and is brought face-to-face with his past in the form of Lorraine and Duncan. Fitzgerald says, “They were gay, they were hilarious, they were roaring with laughter” (2213). This is implying that the two are drunk, and this makes Charlie extremely nervous and angry. Duncan and Lorraine’s drunkenness is giving Marion and Lincoln the wrong impression about Charlie’s new life, and it worsens when Lorraine says to Charlie, “Come and dine. Sure your cousins won’ mine” (2214). This quote shows just how drunken Charlie’s old friends were. Marion and Lincoln are not Charlie’s cousins. Duncan and Lorraine’s inebriation is obvious to everyone in the room, and when Charlie sharply tells the two to leave, Lorraine retorts by saying, “All right, we’ll go. But I remember once when you hammered on my door at four a.m. I was enough of a good sport to give you a drink. Come on, Dunc” (2214). This remark breaks Marion’s already-fragile opinion about Charlie, and after Duncan and Lorraine leave, she takes back her blessing concerning Honoria. This devastates Charlie. The past has again defeated him, and at the end of the story, he is left alone in a bar at the Ritz, practically a broken man. Fitzgerald’s often-melancholy works sometimes suggest that memory is a living, breathing nightmare, and that the past is something terrible that cannot be changed and will stay with one forever. In the short story “Babylon Revisited,” Fitzgerald portrays the negative impacts of memory by causing Charlie Wales tremendous pain. Charlie’s drunken, reckless past brought him sadness even after he sobers up and turns his life around. His awakening may have matured him, but it shattered his dreams beyond repair. Memories and people of the past haunt his present day, and Marion Peters is unable to let go of her own memories to give Charlie another chance. During the climax of the story, Charlie’s old friends come back and ruin his chances of being reunited with his daughter, and he is forced to relive the nightmares of his past again and again. Fitzgerald’s personal woes created an unhappy alcoholic, twisting his opinion of memory’s impact on the human mind, a view that he entangled into his melancholy stories about life in the early 1900’s.
Luminosity In “Winter Dreams”: The Art and Elegance of Fitzgerald’s Prose
There’s no question that the anthology Fiction 100 does exactly what it sets out to do: highlight carefully curated short stories that represent each aspect of the craft, from short prose to anecdotes. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, “Winter Dreams,” fits in perfectly with this collection. A master of the short story, Fitzgerald made his mark in publications like Esquire and The Saturday Evening Post (Bruccoli 1). He regularly returned to themes that dominated his early adult years: success, love, reputation, and material gain, of which “Winter Dreams” is an excellent example. Taking the American “rags to riches” story and turning it on its head, this masterpiece maintains magic throughout with a strong sense of hope and possibility, rich scenes, a universally relatable theme, and strong dialogue – a combination which generates and maintains a special luminosity that has withstood time.
The first thing readers experience with “Winter Dreams” is fairly obvious, but must be said: the title alone hints at its haunting quality. By referencing “dreams,” we instinctively understand that some components may be dramatic, contradictory, fantastic, or unfulfilled. The title represents Dexter’s longing, and while it demonstrates the power of dreaming and the possibilities that may come from a sense of limitless possibility, it also hints at disappointments, because dreams don’t always come true. This sense of possibility infused in the first page of this story continues to carry over. In fact, it radiates off every page and is directly responsible for this story’s reputation as powerful and luminous. The first element is the possibility of financial success. In “Winter Dreams,” Dexter climbs the ladder, cleverly leveraging his education and shrewd business sense to invest in a laundry business, soon “making more money than any man my age in the Northwest” (Fitzgerald 4). Dexter’s innate understanding of the finer things in life helps him, and shows that, despite the fact that his mother “was a Bohemian of the peasant class and she had talked broken English until the end of her days,” he could reach the financial comfort of his peers (4). Fitzgerald then enhances the pervading sense of possibility with a wry recognition of what it takes to “make it.” Fitzgerald intimates that Dexter will succeed early on, not merely for his foresight in quitting his first position as a caddy, but his innate knowledge of his potential and its limitations. Fitzgerald gives us an opportunity to reflect on the cruel reality of those born to a lower station; Dexter knows that “carelessness was for his children” (4). Confidence pushes him forward, and he moves forward seemingly effortlessly. Fitzgerald makes no references to Dexter’s financial struggles, moments of doubt, or pitfalls, and this alone is like a dream.
The sense of possibility that shines through does so because Dexter chooses his future. He is, through his own hard work, merely one generation away from ultimate success (4). Fitzgerald indicates that Dexter, while being of peasant stock, is actually better than the counterparts he seeks to emulate. He is stronger; he is made to work hard, and if he does, he will succeed. This is a relatable characteristic to many readers then and now, and as Fitzgerald noted “He had seen that, in one sense, he was better than those men. He was newer and stronger” (4). Dexter admits that he may be trying to replicate their ways through careful study, but at the same time, his raw materials are actually of superior quality. He may be behind in opportunity in the beginning, but he is ahead in drive and in capability. As the narrator observes, “All about him rich men’s sons were peddling bonds precariously, or investing patrimonies precariously, or plodding through the two dozen volumes of the ‘George Washington Commercial Course’ (1). Dexter, of course, was not: he was making his first of many sensible investments.
Fitzgerald paints a picture that, with success, one can get anything one wants, from respect, to a love object, to a top job. Dexter meets Judy Green because he travels in the same circles; he has the opportunity to court her because he has money. We learn that he has been given this opportunity over Judy’s former beau, a fine but poor man about whom Judy laments “My interest in him wasn’t strong enough to survive the shock” (4). He remembers being a “proud, desirous little boy,” and we remind ourselves that his drive and willingness has already gotten him many things in life.
Environment adds a special quality to Fitzgerald’s work, adding to a sense of heightened drama. Early on, our main character, Dexter, is driven to make the most of himself, and the dead Midwestern winter is like a blank canvas, ready to serve as a backdrop to his hopes and goals. We feel Dexter’s dissatisfaction with his current situation, and we feel him chomping at the bit to change his circumstances and avoid the dreaded winter: “At these times the country gave him a feeling of profound melancholy – it offended him that the links should lie in enforced fallowness, haunted by ragged sparrows for the long season” (Fitzgerald 1). Later, when Dexter received the news that Judy’s beauty has faded, he “lay down on his lounge and looked out the window at the New York skyline into which the sun was sinking in dull lovely shades of pink and gold” (9). At many points in the story, our main character’s actions are set off by a sweeping description of his surroundings, as if the situation were seared into his memory (and ours). These scenes bookend the story, also appearing in the first paragraph: “It was dreary, too, that on the tees where the gay colors in summer fluttered in summer there were now only the desolate sand-boxes knee-deep in crusted ice” (1).
The theme of hope extends beyond our main character’s belief in himself, but his longing for someone he could not have. Judy may have broken off the engagement, but a small part of Dexter remembered the “deep happiness” that he had shared with her. Even happily married, he could still hold onto the illusion that Judy may give him another chance, lost in her beaus, courting, and frippery. While he changed, he expected her to stay, crystallized, and ever just out-of-reach.
Experts claim that not only is Fitzgerald’s work powerful on its own, but it served as the basis for Fitzgerald’s bestselling, iconic novel, The Great Gatsby. The themes and issues addressed in this story were so compelling that the author revisited them repeatedly (not only in Winter Dreams, but in All the Sad Young Men and The Beautiful and The Damned). He couldn’t shake the draw of material wealth, and the possible emptiness that still plagued some of America’s most golden of couples. “Winter Dreams” was the first exploration of this subject. As a Midwesterner, Fitzgerald was intimately acquainted with the deep freeze of winter, and he taps into the unhappy undertones of his protagonist’s life, his unrequited loves, and the general tone of the story. What also makes “Winter Dreams” so luminous, beyond style, is the parallel between Dexter Green and F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. Fitzgerald was a Midwesterner and was all too acquainted with the frigid temperatures that shaped his youth. More importantly, as a Princeton graduate, he was aware of the advantages of the upper class, but struggled to afford even the basics. He met Ginevra King, a socialite, and was inspired by her as a “just out of reach” woman who drove him to make something of himself (Bruccoli). Later, Fitzgerald courted Zelda Sayre, by all accounts charming, beautiful, and wealthy, but was unable to convince her to marry him while he struggled financially. This real-life inspiration added a poignancy and realness to it that sticks in our consciousness. “Winter Dreams” is also luminous because it takes an unusual bend at the end. It is highly memorable because it does not end in a positive manner. Instead, our protagonist fights to later feels like he settled, and then discovers that the woman he held up on a pedestal also settled. It’s haunting, and it’s also highly relatable to the average reader. Even Judy demonstrates that material possessions aren’t everything: she laments, in front of the “great white bulk” of her father’s home, “I’m more beautiful than anybody else. Why can’t I be happy?” (8). She may have everything, possession-wise, but she still feels that she is lacking.
“Winter Dreams” is a timeless, relatable short story. Dexter Green strives to achieve a woman just out of reach, and he knows that she is out of his league. She ends up marrying someone else, and he pines for her while still trying to settle down with a more suitable, albeit unexciting match. How many readers have learned the important, but painful, lessons of compromise, and for how many people will this be one of many experiences?
Bruccoli, Matthew J., editor. “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.” F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, Scribner, 2010, library.sc.edu/spcoll/fitzgerald/biography.html.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Winter Dreams.” ENG 494, public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/engl494/winterdreams.pdf.
Pickering, James H. Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction. Pearson, 2016.
Time Passes, and Much Else Changes: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Its Film Adaptation
In order to discuss the importance of context and changes made to the story in accordance to that context, I would like to take David Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as the case study for this topic. To emphasise the influence of the change of context in adaptation, I will discuss not only the contextual changes made to the original story but also the way in which the context behind the time period of the adaptation process as well as the context of the film-making process itself have shaped and enriched the changes in the plot. Furthermore, I would like to point out how these factors influenced the genre of the story, turning it from a social satire into a tragic contemporary fable tale about finding oneself. It may also be relevant to note that the reason why the contextual change does not seem out of place is because the main theme of the short story and its adaptation is time and time is itself something that both signifies a change but also something that is passing and cannot be framed.
Fitzgerald’s short story begins in 1860s Baltimore, Maryland and is defined heavily both by the context and by the mindset of the said context. The short story points out that the Buttons were ahead of their time in their decision to have the child at hospital rather than at home (Fitzgerald, 3) – interestingly, despite Benjamin’s birth taking place precisely when giving birth at hospitals started becoming popular in America, in the film he is born at home. This change in setting shows an interesting reversal of progress shown by the Buttons in the original text but may have been necessary in order to make the parallel with Caroline’s birth at home which Benjamin, like his father, has to ultimately abandon his child, albeit in different circumstances. The fact that the ‘Buttons held an enviable position, both socially and financially, in ante-bellum Baltimore’ and the fact that they have links to ‘This Family and That Family’ (3) is made clear early on in the short story. This defines the mood for the rest of the plot which is heavily concerned, albeit in a satirical tone, with the social position of an individual and the struggles of an individual outside of the established pattern to apply himself to this pattern at any costs. The change in the context in adaptation also changes the attitude towards the importance of social status and importance of a white American male’s status in a society that surrounds him. Roger Button is hoping for a boy because it is a convention and because it is a convention that in itself will continue the traditions that come with the convention: whether it be going to Yale University or inheriting the Wholesale Hardware company, it is something that has to be done and has nothing to do with individualchoice, despite certainly seeming like a more privileged set up. In the film, however, this is changed – not only through the change in the context of the film but from the perspective of the context in whichthe film was made. 1990s onwards, the notion of individuality, which had been in development since 1960s, has become more prominent and has superseded the value of the public opinion on one’sdefinition of “normal” and “abnormal”. This as a result meant that Fincher had to appeal to the audience not from the point of view of the traditional privilege, but from the point of view of a socialoutcast, without changing the protagonist’s race or gender in the process. To put it in the words of Ortolano, ‘the first version of Benjamin Button provides the fantasy of buying into a burgeoning culturethat can grant limitless opportunity, while the second offers viewer a hope that he or she can maintain his or her own sense of self in the face of the dominant socio – economic framework.’
With the satirical tone of the short story and the importance of social status in mind, a number of statements that take place seem to be bordering on both ridiculous and cruel. The doctor who assistsBenjamin’s birth and who has been his family’s doctor for generations refuses to have anything to do with the family any longer – he has no visible sympathy for the unfortunate parents or the child and ismore concerned with his personal status, stating: ‘Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation? One more would ruin me – ruin anybody.’ (4) The hospital stuff join him in thatconcern and insist on the “anomaly” being taken away from the hospital as soon as possible (6). Furthermore, as if to emphasise how engrained social norms were in Fitzgerald’s contemporaries, theshort story Benjamin begins talking within the first day of his birth, making poignant observations about the way he should be treated as in relation to his place in the society, for instance saying he does notwish to wear the clothes his father had bought for him because he doesn’t ‘want to be made a monkey of.’ (8) This can be linked to his father’s own observations about what is the right thing to do, e.g.‘babies always have blankets’ (7) or have to play with a rattle (10) – in other words, even though Benjamin’s father is older, his own observations come from derived conventions, not from his ownexperience with fatherhood.
By contrast, the unconditionally loving, naturally maternal Queenie in the film adaptation represents the kind of all-consuming acceptance that people who know what it’s like to be prejudiced against can offer in abundance, let alone since she had not at that moment in the plot been able to conceive herself. Taking the original setting and racist judgement passed by Benjamin’s father, who deems theembarrassment to the family as worse than having a child with a black slave as he walks past the house for the aged (6), Roth and Fincher turned the statement on its head, placing Benjamin in the care of ablack couple living in the house for the aged and ironically, the two do a greater job raising him in the film than Benjamin’s family do in the short story. Rather than Benjamin being raised in prejudice andsuperficial superiority that ends up making him unhappy in family life, the adaptation places him in a setting where he is able to see that he is not the only one who is odd and an outcast – he getsaccustomed to the fact that he is one of many, even if he is odd in a unique way. In a moment of doubt, Queenie insists that ‘everybody feels different about themselves, one way or the other. But we all goingthe same way, just taking different roads to get there, that’s all. You’re on your own road, Benjamin.’ (19:25 – 54). As Orlano states, ‘Benjamin’s difference is not negatively “other” then but simply unique’which goes hand in hand with the transformation of the American society throughout the 20th century in which Benjamin grows up, into a more accepting place for individuals diverging from the norm.
In the film, there are two timelines to follow: the story begins in the hospital, in 2005 with the news of the hurricane Katrina being announced on the television in the background but that is just a framing forthe main story, which begins with Benjamin Button’s birth in 1918 New Orleans, Louisiana. The first timeline is important because it draws in the contemporary viewer – the tragedy of the mostdevastating hurricane in American history had taken its toll on the citizens and was still a fresh wound that people were emotionally linked to; the second timeline as well as the location change are meant torelate back to the past of New Orleans and its previous traumas, including the first World War described in Mr Gateau’s loss of his son but also, perhaps more importantly to the story, Fincher and Roth thoughtNew Orleans to be a more appropriate, ‘an unbelievable melting-pot’ (Huddleston) environment. It is additionally insightful to learn that the film was originally meant to be set in Baltimore but because theplace had ironically changed so much that recreating it would have cost much more than looking for a new location, they had to decide against it (Weintraub). This is ironic since if anything this context of the film-making process re-affirms the idea of the film that a lot of things are destroyed with time. To elaborate more on the importance of the context of film-making having an influence on the context within the adaptation, I would like to first quote Hutcheon: ‘adaptation, like a work it adapts, is always framed in a context – a time and a place, a society and a culture; it does not exist in a vacuum.’ (142)With this logic in mind, the scriptwriter’s, Eric Roth’s and the director’s, David Fincher’s, personal circumstances during the pre-production process, namely the fact that they had both lost parentsaffected not only the contents of the story as a whole but even specific setting and scenes. For instance, the hospital scenes of the “present day” New Orleans were inspired by Roth’s own experience athospital with his parents before they passed away, and even some real life dialogues managed to make it into the film (Yamato), including his mother’s ‘I’m curious’ in response to him asking whether she isafraid. Despite having taken place outside of the context of filming, the word choice, ‘curious’ in this response works really well within the context of the film entitled “The Curious Case”, sending out afurther message about time challenging human ability to remain curious and accept curiosity. Setting the first timeline in the hospital at the time preceding the full devastating effect of hurricane Katrinawhile the audience is very well aware of it before the characters are sets the mood for a truism that runs as a leitmotif in the film – everything is ephemeral and is subjected to time’s cruel treatment.
Another way that is popularly accepted by the critics for interpreting the change in the context is the appeal to the baby boomer generation that would have watched the film as a way of reconnecting totheir youthful ambitions and pursuits in life. Kathryn Lee Seidel suggests that ‘the film appeals to the anxiety of aging baby boomers, focusing on the desire to be young again and the reality that “what welove, we will lose”’ and specifically that ‘the fact that Benjamin and Daisy are “not in synch” mirrors the Baby Boomer propensity to form relationships that do not last.’ (Seidal) This in return provides aninteresting contrast between Benjamin’s relationship with his wife Hildegarde in the short story and their onscreen alternatives. Hildegarde only appreciates Benjamin because of his age, or because ofwhat she assumes is his age, fifty, remarking that “Men of your age know how to appreciate women…You’re just the romantic age…fifty.” This alludes to the 1920s dynamic of a rich “daddy”, a slangterm which was indeed popularised throughout 1920s and the issues it raised were discussed by Fitzgerald in particular in his novel “Tender is the Night.” It is also safe to say that Benjamin is fascinatedby her youthfulness in return, hence his loss of interest once her beauty stars to fade, the ‘sight [which] depressed him.’ Their relationship is in no way healthy, or healthier than the Baby Boomer mould.Benjamin and Daisy, on the other hand, do not judge each other’s appearance based on age. When they reunite after Benjamin had abandoned Daisy and Caroline, Benjamin initiates the intimacy to whichDaisy weakly objects with, ‘Oh, but Benjamin, I’m an old woman now.’ (2:29:42) but they end up having an intercourse anyway because Benjamin’s feelings towards Daisy and vice versa had not been influenced by age in any aspect other than practical. In his film commentary, Fincher insists that while they might not be a definition of fated lovers, they ‘continue to sort of parallel one another throughout life.’ (Goldberg) However, in relation to the baby boomer statement, this model of relationship, where people have become disillusioned with finding one soul mate for life but rather enjoying a relationship while it lasts may indeed have influenced the accepting way in which the main couple progress through life with other relationships on the side.
The way in which the contextual changes shaped this particular text had changed many elements of the story. In responding to Fitzgerald’s text, the creators of the film version changed the main protagonist’s background, they changed his attitudetowards relationships, the way one views oneself outside of a normal society. However, what has remained at the core of either version was the transience of time and importance of appreciating itwhile it lasts.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Accessed May 06, 2018. http://english307formsofmodernshortstory.web.unc.edu/files/2014/01/Francis-Scott-Fitzgerald-The-Curious-Case-of-Benjamin-Button.pdf.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Directed by David Fincher. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Ceán Chaffin. By Eric Roth. Performed by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. United States: Paramount Pictures, 2008. DVD.
Goldberg, Matt. “‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’: The Films of David Fincher.” Collider. October 10, 2017. Accessed May 04, 2018. http://collider.com/the-curious-case-of-benjamin-button-review/. Huddleston, Tom. “David Fincher on ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’.” Time Out London, 2009. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.timeout.com/london/film/david-fincher-on-the-curious-case-ofbenjamin-button-1
Hutcheon, Linda, and Siobhan O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2012. Ortolano, Scott. “Changing Buttons: Mainstream Culture in Fitzgeralds “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the 2008 Film Adaptation.” The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 10, no. 1 (2012): 130-52. Accessed May 05, 2018.
Seidel, Kathryn Lee et al. “The Case Gets Curious: Debates On Benjamin Button, From Story to Screen.” The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 7, no. 1 (2009): 2-33. Accessed May 02, 2018.
Weintraub, Steve. “Screenwriter Eric Roth Exclusive Interview – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.” Collider. December 26, 2008. Accessed May 03, 2018. http://collider.com/screenwriter-ericroth-exclusive-interview-the-curious-case-of-benjamin-button/.
Yamato, Jen. “RT Interview: Eric Roth Calls Benjamin-button His Most Personal Film to Date.” Rotten Tomatoes. December 22, 2008. Accessed May 3, 2018. https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/article/rtinterview-eric-roth-calls-benjamin-button-his-most-personal-film-to-date/.
The Twilight World of Babylon Revisited
At first glance, “Babylon Revisited” seems to carry the same them as The Great Gatsby of the dangers of idealizing the past to the point of destroying the present. However, “Babylon Revisited” adds an extra layer of meaning by firmly placing the ambiguity between the hopes for the future and the sins of the past squarely in the realm of alcoholism. Through the characters, Fitzgerald depicts a drinking culture where the parties have lost their joy and the hangovers have become the de facto lifestyle. The characters of “Babylon Revisited” live in a twilight world of desperation and regret, too old to enjoy the drinking but incapable of truly changing their ways.
Charlie is the character that most resembles F. Scott Fitzgerald’s biography, a former expatriate who spent the 1920s in Paris, drinking and writing and dealing with an unhinged wife. There is an irony to the characterization since Charlie is a shell of a human being holding onto the past, whereas Fitzgerald’s writing had become much deeper and more mature in his post-Paris years. Charlie’s appearance is described as “He was thirty-five, and good to look at. The Irish mobility of his face was sobered by a deep wrinkle between his eyes. As he rang his brother-in-law’s bell in the Rue Palatine, the wrinkle deepened till it pulled down his brows; he felt a cramping sensation in his belly” (676). This physical description is from Charlie’s perspective where he admits that he’s old (wrinkles) but still maintains his illusion of youthful exuberance (Irish mobility). Even though Charlie’s stated intention is to take custody of his daughter, the story makes it obvious that he would prefer to relive the past when alcohol was fun and the party continued. Charlie is introduced asking about old friends only to discover that most of them are gone. Even before he visits his brother-in-law, he is making plans to see old drinking companions. Fitzgerald encapsulates Charlie’s sense of disorientation while talking about the Ritz bar. “It was not an American bar any more–he felt polite in it, and not as if he owned it. It had gone back into France.” (675) In that one sentence, Fitzgerald communicates Charlie’s history, his disorientation and his current life. Charlie feeling “polite” in a bar engenders a question of what he was like in the 1920s before the 1929 Crash. There are also several questions from that line. Does Charlie feeling polite mean that there’s a self-knowledge about his past where he was never polite? Or did the fact that he was an American in Paris living an expatriate life make him feel impolite when he was among other Americans? Charlie seems to have once carried the self-image of a loud and boisterous drunk and once that ends, he seems confused by the fact that he didn’t die young and must now carry on his drinking in polite repose. Charlie’s relationship to his past shifts between nostalgic and regretful, but it is more often nostalgic. His time at the Ritz bar is spent talking to Alix about the old crowd, but when he says that his main intention is his daughter, Alix is surprised that he has a daughter. Note that Alix is a character who has known Charlie for years.
After a disastrous visit with his in-laws and his daughter, he returns to the bars. In these scenes, he is a petulant child who does not get his own way, so he moves back into the familiar territory of dissipation, even though he admits repeatedly that there is no joy left in the activity. “All the catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale, and he suddenly realized the meaning of the word ‘dissipate’–to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something. In the little hours of the night every move from place to place was an enormous human jump, an increase of paying for the privilege of slower and slower motion.” (678)
As much as Charlie wants to be the respectable and mature father, he is a child upset that his playtime is over. Even when he is trying to convince his in-laws to allow him to take his daughter, he blatantly lies about his drinking. “I haven’t had more than a drink a day for over a year, and I take that drink deliberately, so that the idea of alcohol won’t get too big in my imagination.” (681) However, this deception is not merely for his in-laws; Charlie is just as much trying to convince himself that he’s sober. When Duncan and Lorraine meet him while he’s with his daughter, his assessment of the situation is blatantly false, but he’s only lying to himself: “They liked him because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength.” (680)
One of the most frustrating aspects of Charlie is his lack of insight. In the language of Alcoholic Anonymous and 12 Step Programs, Charlie is a man who is not willing to take that first step to admitting that he has a problem. Even though Charlie’s in-laws don’t let him have his daughter because they don’t trust him, he filters everything through his sense of entitlement. “They couldn’t make him pay forever,” (689) is what Charlie is feeling in place of naked honesty. He cannot admit that he’s a hazard to himself and his daughter. Instead, he is being made to pay for past mistakes by two unfeeling in-laws.
If Charlie is based on Fitzgerald, then Helen is based on Zelda, Fitzgerald’s mentally unstable wife who constantly fought with him and jealously denigrated his work. Hemingway famously blamed her for the limitations of Fitzgerald’s work. Charlie echoes this blame when he states that “I never did drink heavily until I gave up business and came over here with nothing to do. Then Helen and I began to run around” (681). His in-laws stop him from speaking against Helen, but as a dead character she has become part of his narrative. Since she is not around to defend herself, Charlie can blame all of his bad habits on her. She becomes another tool for his self-deception. Not only is he telling himself that he no longer drinks heavily, but he can put all the drinking solely on the shoulders of Helen. As the story says “The image of Helen haunted him. Helen whom he had loved so until they had senselessly begun to abuse each other’s love, tear it into shreds.” (683) In other words, Charlie maintains the memory that it’s nobody’s fault. The Couples
There are two couples that haunt Charlie – Marion & Lincoln as the responsible couple and Lorraine & Duncan as the old drinking couple. These couples seem diametric opposites at first and yet, they are all refusing to see any growth on the part of Charlie. Lorraine sums up the eternal childishness of the drinking couple when she writes to Charlie: “We did have such good times that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher’s tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you had the old derby rim and the wire cane. Everybody seems so old lately, but I don’t feel old a bit.” (684)
Even though Marion disapproves of Charlie, her assessment of him as a good time drunk without responsibility is very similar. “When you were throwing away money we were living along watching every ten francs. . . . I suppose you’ll start doing it again” (682). When these couples meet in the climactic scene, Charlie is put in the position of trying to fight the perceptions of four people who know him solely as an irresponsible drunk. Sadly, Charlie cannot dispute their image of him with anything but self-deception and acquiescence.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Babylon Revisited.” In Baym, Nina, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol D. 8th ed. New York: WW Norton, 2012. 675-689.
Heaven on Earth: Religious Allusions in “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”
In “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, Fitzgerald illustrates a metaphorical Heaven and Hell through the Washington estate and birthplace of John T. Unger. The ambiguous nature of these two important biblical concepts is distorted, yet apparent throughout the short story. The idea of inclusivity and exclusivity mirrors Fitzgerald’s description of the metaphorical Heaven and Hell in “Diamond as Big as the Ritz”. In contrast with the Bible, the Washington estate is highly exclusive while John’s hometown, Hades, is inclusive. The ambiguous nature of Fitzgerald’s metaphor provides an antithesis to well-known Christian concepts and how they might appear on Earth.
John T. Unger is from a small town in Mississippi named Hades. His parents send him away to the “most expensive” and “most exclusive” preparatory school in the world, St. Midas (183). Upon departure, John’s father ensures John that he will “keep the home fires burning” in his absence (183). The allusion to a biblical Hades is made stark by this line. Hades, or Hell, is akin to the underworld and is where all of the unbelievers go when they die. However, John and his family are alive and live in the earthly Hades. Though John comes from the underworld and is consequently used to being under heat, he disembarks to attend St. Midas. The school name is another allusion to a god who turned anything that he touched to gold. The idea of the most exclusive and expensive school closely aligns with this background. Those who attend are turned into gold. They graduate and receive an education that is the best and therefore, the graduates are the version of gold in society.
Nearing the end of the school year, John becomes friends with a “quiet, handsome” and “well dressed” boy who seemed “aloof from the other boys” at school (184). Percy Washington invites John to spend the summer at his home “in the West” and John accepts (184). Upon arrival in Montana, the boys stop at the “village of Fish” where there are “twelve men…gathered like ghosts” who are all “beyond religion” (185). These men are described as a “congregation who lifted up a prayer of dim, anaemic wonder” (185). To John, this sight is inhumane and confusing. These twelve men allude to the twelve disciples in the Bible who follow Jesus. However, there is one big difference. Whereas Jesus’s disciples follow and worship him while including others and accepting followers with open arms, these twelve men seem mysterious and scary. They seem to have no purpose in life and foreshadow later events in the short story.
Approximately 30 minutes later, a luxurious car arrives to pick up Percy and John. Percy apologizes to John for the long buggy ride saying that “it wouldn’t do for the people…in Fish to see this automobile” (186). This line provides insight into Percy’s worldview. He views himself above all others and deems the people of Fish below him and therefore, they are excluded from his world and possessions. After a scary car ride involving being dangled between cliffs and navigating the mountain, the boys arrive on the grounds of the Washington estate located on “the only five square miles of land in the country that’s never been surveyed” (187). This information prompts a conversation which reveals the “one thing in the world” which frightens Mr. Washington: “Aeroplanes” (188).
Finally, the boys enter the estate and Percy introduces John as “my friend…from Hades” (189). This distinction is important because the Washington family resides on a mountain, totally excluded from the outside world. In contrast, John is from the depths of the south where a “welcome sign” greets all who enter (183). John continues the narrative by describing the heavenly features of the estate. Its beauty “dazzled the eyes with a whiteness that could be compared only with itself, beyond human wish or dream” (189). Everything is pure and beyond all imagination, alluding to Heaven in the Bible. Though everything seems perfect, John becomes quite disoriented and tired. He falls asleep right after Percy mentions that the entire mountain that the chateau rests on is “solid diamond” (190).
Apparently, the Washingtons discovered the mountain generations ago and made a fortune selling small parts of the mountain to men all over the world. Percy’s father ended the business after converting some diamond into radium and then “[sealing] up the mine” (194). To protect the wealth, Percy and his family must protect the secret to avoid the mountain’s discovery and send “the world to utter poverty” (195). This is ironic because the Washingtons have no knowledge about poverty and obviously have no care about anyone but themselves. They refuse to be discovered and exclude everyone from their wealth. Mr. Washington is so exclusive that he sealed up his own diamond mine so that no one else could profit from its hold. After this story, John goes for a stroll and meets Kismine, Percy’s sister who is described in angelic imagery as “the incarnation of physical perfection” (196). In the Bible, Jesus is God made into man and consequently, the incarnation of perfection. Kismine, like Christ, is not prideful. She claims to be “innocent” and strives to live “in a wholesome way” (197).
One day, Mr. Washington brings John to “El Dorado”, a “cavity in the earth” where he keeps his prisoners. One of the prisoners yells at Mr. Washington and says, “you’re not a humanitarian…but you’re human” in an attempt to appeal to some emotion (200). Mr. Washington coolly responds, “Cruelty doesn’t exist where self-preservation is involved” (200). His worldview is one of exclusivity as well. The Washingtons, as well as their estate, begin to seem less heavenly by the day. Accordingly, John and Kismine fall in love and decide to “elope the following June” (203). In conversation, Kismine reveals that her father murders all of the children’s guests before they leave the estate. Instead of a mountain of diamond, this is a mountain of death. John becomes angry and paranoid, knowing that his death is approaching. Kismine reveals that she “can’t let such an inevitable thing as death stand in the way of enjoying life” and that she simply wants John to be happy (205). Scared for his life, John decides that he and Kismine must “depart the next night” (206).
After midnight, John is awakened by the “sharp noise” of airplanes (207). He jumps, finds Kismine and tells her to “dump the contents of [her] jewel box” into her pockets (209). John, Kismine and her sister Jasmine rest in the woods and John daydreams that the “dark and glittering right of the Washingtons would be over” (210). All of a sudden, Mr. Washington appears and offers “a bribe to God” (211). He offers God the “greatest diamond in the world” if matters would return “as they were yesterday at this hour” and that they “should so remain” (212). All of this is done “in pride” (212). Therefore, God “[refuses] to accept the bribe” (213). In angst, Mr. Washington grabs his remaining family and disappears into a trap door on the side of the mountain right before it exploded in “blue smoke” (214). After the explosion, “there was no fire” and there was no sound (214). As foreshadowed, Mr. Washington’s single fear emerges and results in not only his destruction, but his family’s. His selfishness, exclusivity and pride created his fortune, yet ultimately brought death. Mr. Washington believed that he was equal to God because of his earthly Heaven. His downfall reinstitutes the theme that humans cannot be God and that no one is the master of his or her fate.
After the estate is destroyed, John discovers that Kismine took the wrong jewels and that they are poor. The girls will have to go to Hades. Kismine remarks, “what a dream it was”, referring to her childhood (216). John responds, “It was a dream” (216). He continues saying, “there are only diamonds in the whole world, diamond and perhaps the shabby gift of disillusion” (216). If he could have the last diamond, he would “make the usual nothing of it” (216). John’s statement simply reinforces the theme throughout the short story that gold, diamonds and all the wealth in the world ultimately amount to nothing. There is no omniscient human being on the earth and all people eventually die. Ironically, the Washingtons’ ‘heaven on earth’ is abolished, leaving Hades as the alternative for a better life.
In “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, Fitzgerald alludes to the biblical concepts of Heaven and Hell through his portrayal of the Washington estate and John’s hometown, Hades. Though the estate is initially portrayed as ‘heaven on earth’, John quickly discovers that it and its residents have major flaws. The Washingtons’ exclusion of others, failure to share their wealth and prideful spirits result in their downfall. In contrast, John’s inclusion of others leads him to save his love, Kismine, and her sister, Jasmine. While Mr. Washington led the remainder of his family to death, the reader speculates that John led his friends to Hades, where a life of inclusion awaited.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Matthew Bruccoli. New York: Scribner, 1989.