The American Hero in Fitzgerald’s Novels

Paper Info
Page count 10
Word count 2911
Read time 10 min
Topic Literature
Type Dissertation
Language 🇬🇧 UK

Fitzgerald’s novels presented a new form of hero and/or antihero. The removal of the separation between the hero and the antihero presents a strong element of non-judgmental attitude of the author towards his protagonists. Fitzgerald’s heroes are predominantly romantic heroes who are initially charming, intelligent, and invariably are drawn towards the glitter of luxury and upper class society. The birth of the new America and the charm of the new society draw Fitzgerald’s heroes and they strive to be a part of it. Hence, his heroes are essentially vulnerable, complex and at times corrupt. Fitzgerald tactically places the heroes at the backdrop of the society that invariable judges and rebukes the functioning of his protagonist and invariably limits the possibility of a romantic hero in the classical sense.

Ideally, a romantic hero is God, with impeccable moral and idealistic character. The hero in literature is usually characterized as a white male belonging to the aristocracy. He begins his journey, performs a heroic deed, then he successfully returns or embraces death. He may have been born under unusual circumstances. He is usually altruistic in nature and shows a desire for personal glory and fame. The hero either embraces great victories or dies a terrible death. Fitzgerald created such an archetypical hero (or anti-hero) in his novels. However, Fitzgerald’s characters are typical American, who strives to create a place in the glittering new American society, against the backdrop of moralistic orders.

The evolution of the modern American hero through Fitzgerald’s pen is strategically important as Fitzgerald effectively humanized the characters in his novels to fit the cultural psyche. His characters were not painted in black or white, as was seen in early pre-modern novels. Instead, they were full of humane follies, ego, and desire. Some of them had a dark secret while others were neurotic. Fitzgerald broke the moralising nature of literary characters. Instead, his characters were sparkled with the vicissitudes of human oddities, self-centred, and individualistic. They are upright people who have succumbed to some kind of imprudence that smeared their whole existence. The dark episodes of the protagonist’s life dictate their whole existence. This darkness of their life creates the hero, or rather the anti-hero of Fitzgerald’s novel.

Protagonists of Fitzgerald’s novels, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender is the Night, The Great Gatsby, The Last Tycoon, and This Side of Paradise, dwell on the dark side of human folly. In The Beautiful and Damned Fitzgerald sketches the doom of the hero, while in The Great Gatsby he creates the universal paradox implicit in the man’s desire, the suffocating trap of man’s dream of himself with what he is. In his earlier novel, This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s strong damnation of his protagonist has not matured completely. However, in Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald presents the doom of the romantic hero with greater inevitability. This essay studies the rise and the fall of the hero in the above mentioned five novels by Fitzgerald with main attention on The Beautiful and Damned. The paper will first discuss the character of the protagonist Anthony Patch from The Beautiful and then demonstrate the areas of similarities and differences with the protagonists of the other four novels.

Anthony in Beautiful and Damned

Anthony Patch, the protagonist of the novel, The Beautiful and Damned, is one of those heroes of Fitzgerald who are bright and handsome, intelligent, with an insatiable desire to attain the stars. He is ready to embrace his destiny, but not prepared to go beyond the rarefied atmosphere of his world that constraints his growth (Pelzer 53). Hence, Anthony waits for his destiny to come to him. Instead, he waits, ironically judging the world, unwilling to exert himself into it to do something as he sees the effort as ineffectual and is unable to do anything as he lacks the courage to take the next step. Anthony does not do anything because he feels that the act of doing will become an overt acceptance of the limitations of the world. Hence, in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald indulges in an exploration of the emptiness of life and the decay of the character of man because of such futility.

The novel is set in the post war period. It encompasses the life of the protagonist/hero Anthony Patch though the rise and fall of the falling hero and his crumbling marriage. The story relates the tale of the fall of the hero because of floundered talents and reckless yearning for freedom. Anthony, a Harvard educated aspiring aesthete, squanders his youth and inherited fortune in order to live a life that befits his status. He finds a like-minded partner in Gloria Gilbert and they get married. Their marriage begins in a glorious glitz of a dream of a wonderful future but disintegrates in an alcoholic nightmare. Throughout their unattained dreams, both Anthony and Gloria are trapped inside their illusion. Both of them are unable to let go of their dream and so, they spiral even more downward into a life of squandering beauty and moral recklessness.

The main character in the novel is Anthony. Anthony was brought up in an atmosphere attuned for success. He was heir to the fortunes of his grandfather, who was one of the wealthiest men in America. Anthony grew up expecting to receive his inheritance, and thus secure his future of flamboyance and over-abundance. His innate intelligence received good nurturing through his Harvard education and European travels. Fitzgerald explained Anthony’s character as “cheerful, pleasant, and very attractive to intelligent men and to all women” (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 9). Fitzgerald points out that the expectation of Anthony to grow one the glittering new American society is evident: “one way to accomplish some quiet subtle thing that the elect would deem worthy” (Beautiful and Damned 9). The insatiable expectation and ambition of Anthony is key to understanding Anthony’s character and his charm and talent makes him yet another romantic and egoistic heroes of Fitzgerald. Thus, in Anthony we find the egotistic hero who squanders his life to disintegrate his life into nothingness.

Anthony’s Relation with His Wife Gloria

The relationship between Gloria and Anthony projects the theme of The Beautiful and Damned. The narrative regains back its focus as the first breach in the marriage of Anthony and Gloria take shape. In many ways, they seem similar to the premonition of marriage:

With Eric Merriam, Anthony had been sitting over a decanter of Scotch all the hot summer afternoon, while Gloria and Constance Merriam swam and sunned themselves at the Beach Club, the latter under a striped parasol-awning, Gloria stretched sensuously upon the soft hot sand, tanning her inevitable legs. (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 139)

Gloria and Anthony leave when former insists on leaving, the latter is already drunk. When they reach the station, Anthony insists determinately to visit another friend and express his supposed power and chauvinism over his wife whom he perceives to be extremely selfish. This is followed by an ugly scene, which is ruthlessly described by Fitzgerald in graphic brutality. This relation completely transforms the couple’s relationship. To Anthony, Gloria seems “a pathetic little thing … broken and dispirited” (Beautiful and Damned 143) while Anthony’s behavior and action has “killed any love” or “respect” (Beautiful and Damned 142) Gloria had for him.

Gloria herself is not perfect. She is lazy (which she admits) and has temper tantrums. During their honeymoon, Anthony finds all her soiled lingerie littered on the floor and Gloria simply cannot get herself to call the house cleaner. All Gloria likes doing is talk about herself and remain the center of the world. Gloria describes herself fittingly:

I want to just be lazy and I want some of the people around me doing things, because that makes me feel comfortable and safe – and I want some of them doing nothing at all, because they can be graceful and companionable for me. But I never want to change people or get excited over them. (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 51)

Her tantrums run wild and she resists like an intractable child complaining about food and other things. The only thing that changes about her throughout their marriage is Gloria’s beauty. Her character remains unaltered throughout the novel. She is so self-absorbed that she decides to abort her pregnancy, as childbearing is too tangible for her wraithlike beauty. Gloria feels neglected and abused because they could not afford a fur coat that was the fashion of the season due to their unstable and dwindling financial condition (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 258-268).

In the beginning of their married life, Gloria discovers Anthony’s weakness of nerve and imagination. One night, she encounters her husband, terrified by his own fear. In a terrified state calling the house detective of the hotel where they were staying, instructing him to investigate a sound he had heard in the hotel window of a “sheer fall” from fifty feet above into the street (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 115). Gloria is instantly ashamed of his cowardice but even more so because of the fabrication of a lie to explain his act of pusillanimity. As a year passes off, Anthony’s lack of courage and imagination intensifies as he drifts into solvency and dissolution. Anthony repeatedly says, “What am I going to do” (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 149) as he becomes unable to find a way out of the problem he has sunk himself in.

The married life of the Patch’s marriage is a rollercoaster. Both the couple, absorbed in self-love and extravagance, forgets the simple bliss of togetherness. Both are unreal in their thinking and ideas. Gloria pledges never to be dominated and in any sign of intolerance becomes an abuse for her while Anthony is engrossed in his perception of the ideal. The best part is both of them are aware that they cannot change themselves and if they do change, their whole existence will crumble into a meaningless mass.

How both Anthony in The Beautiful and Damned and Buchanan in Gatsby are abusive of their wives

Doomed marriage is described in similar tone in case of Anthony and Gloria in Beautiful and Damned and in case of Tom Buchanan and Daisy in Gatsby. Anthony’s love for Gloria stemmed from his fierce desire to posses her. He wanted to be in complete dominance of his wife and he was obsessed in a mad desire to posses her: “He was not so much in love with Gloria, but mad for her” (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 85). Anthony is driven mad with jealousy when he finds that another man was courting Gloria. However, Anthony wins Gloria’s hand in marriage. However, after their marriage, their relationship spirals down. Once the brightness of youthful marriage faded, appeared the ugly scenes of self-absorbed married couples. Fitzgerald described it as fading of the light from Gloria: “Later in June horror leered out … slowly it faded out, faded back into that impenetrable darkness whence it had come” (Beautiful and Damned 139). The incident that stuck out as at a party with their friends, which Gloria wanted, to leave and Anthony did not. In the end, though they left, but the latter was in a state of drunkenness and they argued relentlessly. This creates an irreparable fissure in their relationship. Though, Anthony feels “that Gloria was being selfish” (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 140) and he insisted on visiting some other friend, and pulled Gloria to follow him in public, it broke Gloria who shouted, “I hate you” (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 141). However, Anthony, in his masculine arrogance thought that Gloria would succumb to his dominance and be happy to remain subjugated: “Ah, she might hate him now, but afterward she would admire him for his dominance” (Fitzgerald, “Beautiful and Damned”, 141). With this incident, Gloria and Anthony’s relationship entered a phase of descent.

Similarly, Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s married life was unstable. The couples from Gatsby and Beautiful and Damned have their similarities. Both belong to a wealthy, elite class, where they both want to live a life of comfort and security. Daisy’s self-absorbedness and her desire to live a comfortable life are reflected through her choice of spouse. She did not marry Gatsby, initially, because Tom could give her a more comfortable life. Tom and Daisy were similar creatures and both had similar desire for money. However, Tom was an autocrat, who believed in possessing his wife. Tom did not love Daisy, but he wanted to buy her emotions with expensive gifts. Tom abuses Daisy; he shouts at her. Tom’s abusive behavior towards Daisy is exposed when Daisy says, “Look!” she complained that she had hurt it and then accuses Tom, “You did it, Tom” and goes on to tell, “I know you didn’t mean to, but you did do it. That’s what I get for marrying a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen” (Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”, 17). Tom is abusive and has hatred towards their marriage. Tom brutality is expressed more fiercely when we see that he does not only hit his wife but also his mistress.

Abusive marriage and faithlessness are apparent in the lives of the two couples, Patch and Buchanan’s. Both Tom and Anthony are dominating, patriarchal, and authoritative husbands who believe their wives are for them to posses. The pride in their masculinity intensifies their abusive behavior, endangering their marriage even further.

Similarity between Anthony with the heroes of Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, The Last Tycoon, and This Side of Paradise

The heroes of the novels of demonstrate the tension of contradiction. Their downfall comes from their attainment of the idealized, utopian dream of glitz and glamor. In Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, the hero Amory Blaine is armed with youth, good looks, and intelligence. Similarly, Anthony in Beautiful and Damned is young, rich and flamboyant with Harvard educated intelligence. Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby possesses good looks, power, and a lot of money that he earned through questionable means. Dick Driver in Tender is the Night is a doctor, charming character, and a wealthy wife. Finally, Love of the Last Tycoon demonstrates the rise to power and continued rivalry of Monroe Stahr (Fitzgerald, “The Last Tycoon”, 32). One similar underline in the background of all the five heroes of Fitzgerald is their love of the glitz and desire to attain the idealized dream. The common element of all the heroes is their youth, physical attractiveness, charm, wealth, and romantic involvements. The polar opposites set against these idealized heroes are old age, ugliness, poverty, and misused life. Fitzgerald juxtaposes the heroes’ background in two opposing worlds of extremity.

For instance, in This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine is a partial reflection of Fitzgerald’s own character and his love life and story of courtship is a semi-autobiographical account of that of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. However, in the end of the novel, Blaine attains a higher self-awareness and renounces all materialist pleasure to pursue socialism. His newly found self is evident when he yells to the whole world, “I know myself … but that is all” (Fitzgerald, “This Side of Paradise”, 155). The route of Blaine to attain self-attainment follows a meandering path of dread and blunders. Blaine’s mother, Beatrice, whom he addressed by her first name, instilled in him a reverence and respect for social status, recognition, and wealth. These qualities make Blaine a center of ridicule in the boarding school where he is sent to study. Later, Blaine turns out to be an extremely sophisticated person who cannot see beyond his egotism. Rosalind, who almost marries him but later on refuses because he lacks money and status to support her lifestyle, rejects Blaine, like Jay Gatsby in Gatsby. Money becomes a paramount issue in success of love and marriage and lack of it inevitably leads to its failure. Daisy initially rejected Gatsby’s love because he could not support her, and instead married Tom Buchanan who was wealthier. However, after five long years of separation Daisy renews her love for Jay but only when she finds him a wealthy man. This happened in case of Anthony and Gloria’s relationship in Beautiful and Damned and in case Dick and Nicole Driver in Tender is the Night. Hence, the importance of money in the success of love is repeatedly expressed in Fitzgerald’s novel.

Dick Driver in Tender is the Night is a student of psychiatry who then gets emotionally involved with a psychologically unstable patient, Nicole. They get married and their initial years of marriage are happy, as Nicole was a wealthy heir (Fitzgerald, “Tender is the Night”, 121). However, soon the fault lines in their marriage become evident. Dick rises from a relatively low social background into a life of elite socialites of New York society through marriage. However, in the end, Nicole who becomes more mentally stable while Dick drowns in emotional bankruptcy.

The similarities between The Beautiful and Damned and This Side of Paradise are apparent. However, the similarities in theme and narrative technique between the other three novels The Great Gatsby, Tender are the Night, and Last Tycoon are evident. However, the similarity of all the five novels lies in their importance of money in the lives of the protagonists. The heroes are in lust of money dictate their love married life. The novels follow similar pattern of evolution and then a crisis that breaks the heroes into dissolution.

References

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

—. Tender is the Night. New York: Penguin , 2001. Print.

—. The Great Gatsby. New York: Broadview Press, 2007. Print.

—. The Last Tycoon. New York: Penguin, 2001. Print.

—. This Side of Paradise. London: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.

Pelzer, Linda Claycomb. Student Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. Print.

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EssaysInCollege. "The American Hero in Fitzgerald’s Novels." May 23, 2022. https://essaysincollege.com/the-american-hero-in-fitzgeralds-novels/.