The Temptress: Feminine Prototypes In Tender Is The Night Essay Sample
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- Category: fitzgerald
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The Temptress: Feminine Prototypes In Tender Is The Night Essay Sample
- Scott Fitzgerald is widely regarded as one of the greatest American authors in history. Even his name (taken from ancestor Francis Scott Key) harkens images of success and stability. The celebrated writer seemingly possessed every advantage: a jet-setting lifestyle, literary fame, and a beautiful wife. Yet as Fitzgerald himself knew, appearances can be deceiving. Reality refused to conform to the ideal, and this young author’s troubles began with one source, spirited and demanding wife Zelda Sayre (Barks, F. Scott Fitzgerald). How did Fitzgerald truly view the most complex relationship of his chaotic life, and how might this view have generalized to women as a whole? To answer this question, one need only examine F. Scott’s passion, his written works. In one of his most renowned novels, Fitzgerald utilizes his title—Tender is the Night—as an ironic paradox in describing the deceptive, illusory nature of the female race.
Fitzgerald’s male protagonist, Dick Diver, places the women in his life on a pedestal. From the opening scenes, Dick’s attractions are quite clear. He desires youth and vitality (“Tender is the Night,” ENotes), which is a large reason why he and wife Nicole spend so much time vacationing in areas such as the Riviera. When he first meets Rosemary on a trip, he views her in childlike terms: “Her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood” (4)….“something blooming” (22). In addition, Rosemary displays an innocent naivete which also makes a strong impression in Dick. One can see in the young actress’ idealistic interactions with her mother (where she waxes poetic about falling in ‘love at first sight’ with Dick) that Rosemary is truly “embodying all the immaturity of her race” (68).
However, what a reader might easily identify as immaturity strikes Dick as charming and captivating. He transforms into a lustful teenager himself as Rosemary pursues him (with stolen kisses and breathless proclamations of love), recapturing some of the lost fervor of his youth. In many respects, Dick’s infatuation with Rosemary parallels his early relationship with Nicole. Like Rosemary, Nicole entered into Dick’s life as an innocent ingénue, flashing a “childish smile that was like all the lost youth in the world” (134). In both cases (and as the reader will see in Dick’s continued fascination with young girls), Dick does not fall in love with a real women, but rather into romance with the ideal woman. Dick is forever in search of his madonna, perhaps due to his religious background.
However, the characteristics which Dick explicitly discovers in his women are quite a departure from the implicit characteristics which Fitzgerald instills in these women. Dick may be searching for a madonna, but what he inevitably finds in each case is a seductress (or the whore of the madonna/whore complex). Both Rosemary and Nicole are revealed as temptresses in their own ways. As for young Rosemary, her seductive ways derive out of a more obvious physicality. When the reader is first introduced to the actress, she is seeking the favor of two groups of people, the McKiscos and Dick’s “nice”r group. Disappointed that she did not initially attract the attention of her more desirable target, Rosemary begins a flirtation with Earl Brady. She even invites the filmmaker to accompany her to Hollywood and encourages his interest, but simply discards the man as “faintly gross” (29) when she recaptures the attention of Dick.
As soon as she feels secure in Dick’s renewed interest, Rosemary begins to instigate circumstances which will draw the married man closer. At a party, she retreats to the terrace, knowing that Dick will follow her. She also begins drinking champagne (as Dick does), and lets it “slip” that her eighteenth birthday recently passed. And when Dick kisses her for the first time, she is well aware of his imaginings of her as “such a lovely child” (65). The reader may wonder if “the innocence of her kiss” that “chilled” Dick was a calculated maneuver to further crystallize his idealized view of her. Rosemary’s identification with a certain tree as “a lovely person in an undignified position yet confident none the less of being lovely” (79) seemingly indicates that Rosemary knows—and revels—in the effect she has on Dick.
While Rosemary’s seductions are overt, Nicole captivates her husband in a more psychological and subtle manner. On the surface, Nicole “illustrated very simple principles” (21), which is what Rosemary strives to imitate. Yet the younger woman fails to see that Nicole’s “simplicity” and innocence is only a part of the attraction for Dick. The wealthy young heiress is deeply troubled, and a young Dick (striving to be “the best psychologist in the world”) sees himself as a savior.
All of Nicole’s mental breakdowns—from her incest-induced schizophrenia as a sixteen-year-old to her bathroom ramblings following a murder to her near-case of vehicular manslaughter—only serve to bind her tighter to Dick The garden which Nicole tends and walks symbolizes the lonely, beckoning figure which nurtures it (“Tender is the Night,” ENotes). Dick has dedicated his marriage and his life to protecting Nicole and stepping into that father figure role which Nicole’s own father corrupted. Once again, one must wonder exactly where truth ends and deception begins with Nicole. Were the fifty letters—half “of marked pathological turn” (121) and half normal)—which began the couple’s relationship truly a manipulation by Nicole that perfectly targeted Dick’s vulnerabilities? The ‘crazy’ woman’s own revelation that she understands Dick’s reasons for marrying her (her sickness)—as well as her pleasure in Tommy Barban’s love—indicates an acute awareness of her own captivating powers. Nicole is a force which easily “belittle(s) [Dick’s] megaphone” (27).
Dick eventually concludes that “the dualism in his views of her—that of the husband, that of the psychiatrist” (170) are destroying his life, but his realizations arrives too late. Dick’s drinking increases exponentially, culminating in an embarrassing public display at a restaurant. His home becomes a constant reminder of the lost independence of his youth (“Tender is the Night,” ENotes). And he strives to recapture this youth by eyeing every young girl he meets, including his own daughter. By novel’s end, Dick has been jailed, beaten, discredited at work, mourned the loss of his fellow drunkard best friend, and humiliated time and again. Diver’s pathetic nature is perfectly encapsulated in his failed attempt to perform a simple water trick. While the women in his life enjoy a successful movie career and a promising future with a dashing military man, respectively, Dick fades into obscurity. Once a Rhodes Scholar full of “heroism” and hope, Dick becomes little more than a “Black Death” to himself and others.
Rosemary and Nicole are hardly the only female figures portrayed in an unflattering light.
Nicole’s sister, Baby Warren, receives little characterization other than as an opportunist prowling for the chance to foist her unstable sister onto a rich doctor. Violet McKisco is an obnoxious counterpoint to her husband’s ambition and social rise. Kindly Mary North is revealed to be a deviant who also likes to take advantage of young girls. Maria Wallis turns murderer in an instant. But arguably the greatest parallel for Dick’s two temptresses lies in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own life of turmoil. Wife Zelda Sayre was a force of nature, refusing to even consider the possibility of marrying Fitzgerald until he was wealthy. Once Zelda had drained her husband financially, she began to drain him emotionally. Just like Nicole, Zelda underwent treatment for schizophrenia. And just like Dick, the tortured Fitzgerald turned to drink and emotional desolation to escape his woes. F. Scott, like his protagonist, ended his life in isolation and obscurity, passing quietly away of a heart attack (Barks, F. Scott Fitzgerald). Only Fitzgerald’s works survive, a timeless diary of a man in deep emotional combat (and perhaps even hate) with the fairer sex.
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays; (Keats, ll. 31-37); (“Tender is the Night,” ENotes)
Barks, Cathy W. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society. Accessed October 12, 2006. Available
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. New York: Wordsworth Classics, 1999.
“Tender is the Night.” ENotes. Accessed October 12, 2006. Available http://www.enotes.com/