Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties

by Ronald Berman
Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties

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Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties by Ronald Berman

A noted scholar offers fresh ways of looking at two legendary American authors.

Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway came into their own in the 1920s and did some of their best writing during that decade. In a series of interrelated essays, Ronald Berman considers an array of novels and short stories by both authors within the context of the decade's popular culture, philosophy, and intellectual history. As Berman shows, the thought of Fitzgerald and Hemingway went considerably past the limits of such labels as the Jazz Age or the Lost Generation.

Both Fitzgerald and Hemingway were avid readers, alive to the intellectual currents of their day, especially the contradictions and clashes of ideas and ideologies. Both writers, for example, were very much concerned with the problem of untenable belief—and also with the need to believe. In this light, Berman offers fresh readings of such works as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," and "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" and Hemingway's "The Killers," A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises. Berman invokes the thinking of a wide range of writers in his considerations of these texts, including William James, Alfred North Whitehead, Walter Lippman, and Edmund Wilson.

Berman's essays are driven and connected by a focused line of inquiry into Fitzgerald's and Hemingway's concerns with dogma both religious and secular, with new and old ideas of selfhood,and, particularly in the case of Hemingway, with the way we understand, explain, and transmit experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817312558
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 11/28/2002
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ronald Berman is Professor of English at the University of California at San Diego and past chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is author of six books, including The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald's World of Ideas and Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience.

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Chapter One

Cultural Drift:
A Context for Fiction

                                The Great Gatsby depends upon what William James had earlier called "the buzzing and jigging and vibration of small interests and excitements that form the tissue of our ordinary consciousness." Fitzgerald's text alludes often to its surrounding world of things and ideas, demanding from the reader a sense of placement and allusion: he will particularize certain ideas about American national character. One of these ideas, developed over the first quarter of the century, concerns moral, emotional, and cognitive apathy. For example, The Great Gatsby systematically describes character and thought in terms ranging from indolence and inertia to withdrawal and paralysis. Daisy Fay Buchanan's languor is moral as well as stylistic; Jordan seems not only situationally "bored" but also existentially; background figures are sick or silent or "lethargic" or paralytically drunk—while the deadly heat of the book's last chapters refers itself to the dull unconsciousness of mind without will that had been stamped upon the historical moment by Eliot in 1922. There are witty reasons for so many of the characters of this novel and of The Sun Also Rises being exhausted, unthinking, or horizontal.

    Nowhere is this kind of statement more referential than in Fitzgerald's use of the idea ofpersonal—and national—"drift." The Public Philosophy of William James had formulated in that metaphor its sense of American failure. Tom and Daisy Buchanan are figures of fiction but also of American philosophy, a generation literally and figuratively at sea: "Why they came east I don't know. They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it—I had no sight into Daisy's heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game" (8-9). To a contemporary reader, come of literary age as Fitzgerald did in the first quarter of the century, the conception was familiar. The Buchanans lead American lives of no moral or existential significance. They remind us of characters we have seen before in political and philosophical discourse who refuse to make choices or even to recognize the necessity for doing so. And yet, in the age of Theodore Roosevelt and William James, the active life opposed inert social complacency. The passage cited connotes unwilled compliance—its life rhythm is that of a tidal cycle, and we feel the organic rhythm of something less than human. The passage implies important unstated questions that will not be answered. Above all, there is the sense of psychological inertia. Lives may well be perceived in terms of an accidental course, with an accidental burden.

    When Fitzgerald invokes languor, passivity, and the longing for unconsciousness, he refers himself to Eliot and also to the context upon which Eliot was dependent. There is a remark by Jacques Barzun on the fiction of Henry James, whose characters "work evil and cause harm ... not because of what they desire but because of their heedless way of gaining it.... Even in his wonderful gallery of characters who are not evil but weak and shady, Henry shows that their need to deceive is a lack of power to feel the idea of decency." Corresponding to this, formulated in a more systematic and I think more important way in the work of William James, are characters of philosophical dialogue. They are inert, as Barzun describes them, "adrift in experience."

    In the first quarter of the century James and other public philosophers had much to say about American issues. In his first series of Prejudices (1919) H. L. Mencken stated that James had in fact become the official conscience of the public, appearing "in every one of those American Spectators and Saturday Reviews at least once a week, and often a dozen times." The sense of his moral leadership was, according to Civilization in the United States, "unanimous" because he "succeeded in deeply affecting the cultural life of a whole generation." John Dewey, who succeeded James as national arbiter, was later described by Henry Steele Commager as "the guide, the mentor, and the conscience of the American people." Commager added that "it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for a generation no issue was clarified until Dewey had spoken." In addition to James and Dewey, others like Lippmann provided a context for fiction—and often invoked both poetry and novels.

    James himself wrote that "the spontaneous drift of thought" habitually defeated moral purpose. Men and women were naturally attracted to indifference, self-defensively imperceptive. But moral awareness had to be attained through concentrated consciousness, by an effort of focused attention that was "the essential phenomenon of will." The function of human effort should be "to keep affirming and adopting a thought which, if left to itself, would slip away. It may be cold and flat when the spontaneous mental drift is towards excitement, or great and arduous when the spontaneous drift is towards repose." The natural tendency to evade decision must continually be fought by the conscious play of mind. An entire creed is involved: first to concentrate upon the issue before us; then to deter the natural inconsistency of the mind; to adopt a reasonable conception of action and of self; and finally to translate decision into meaningful act. Above all was the display of "energy."

    "Drift" denotes the moral unconsciousness of Americans at the turn of century. As James perceived the issue in the 1890s, the attractions of weakness were almost irresistible. He defined the idea of the heroic precisely by its opposition to intellectual and social inertia. Heroism was not simply high-mindedness or risk-taking (although both of these mattered) but the willingness to make choices and commit actions. It was rational and intellectual, dependent on a prior state of achieved consciousness: "the mind is at every stage a theatre of simultaneous possibilities. Consciousness consists in the comparison of these with each other, the selection of some, and the suppression of the rest." Under mass democracy, however, it was altogether safer to go along with the herd, to claim the rights of individuality without ever validating them. A number of analogues in fiction will suggest themselves.

    The idea of "drift" or the avoidance of consciousness and decision was used by Eliot, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. In the background was continuous philosophical and psychological argument about our national character. Lippmann, for example, developed one particular idea about that national character in Drift and Mastery (1914). Like much of the Public Philosophy, this argument frames itself in small narratives, trying to account for the way that individual American characters are shaped. We read scripts for novels about failed American lives, about characters like those of Wharton subject to "power, position, pull, custom, weakness, oversupply, the class monopoly of higher education, inheritance, accident, the strategy of industrial war"; about lives out of Dreiser in "dingy little butcher-shops, little retail businesses with the family living in the back room, the odor of cooking to greet you as you enter the door, fly-specks on the goods—walk through any city." From James through Lippmann to Dewey, there was insistence on the connection between philosophy, poetry, and fiction.

    We ought, Lippmann writes, to choose design over accident, navigation over drift—but that becomes increasingly difficult in a mass democracy. The theme of current American life is passivity and even exhaustion: "Effort wells up, beats bravely against reality, and in weariness simmers down into routine or fantasy." Here is Lippmann on the contemporary American self: "This abandonment of effort is due, I imagine, to the fact that the conscious mastery of experience is, comparatively speaking, a new turn in human culture. The old absolutisms of caste and church and state made more modest demands than democracy does: life was settled and fantasy was organized into ritual and riveted by authority. But the modern world swings wide and loose, it has thrown men upon their own responsibility. And for that gigantic task they lack experience, they are fettered and bound and finally broken.... No wonder then that those who win freedom are often unable to use it; no wonder that liberty brings its despair."

    At some length Lippmann reconsidered James's ideas about the attractions of apathy. It might be noted that when James framed his issues, moral responsibility rested with individuals; but when Lippmann developed his own argument, it rested upon things, conditions, historical circumstances, which made his argument, to a certain extent, more useful to novelists and much more useful to political theory.

    In Drift and Mastery Lippmann brought political theory up to date and provided for the literature of the twenties a useful set of encoded ideas. He observed first that we are "a nation of uncritical drifters." The context for American character is American history: "those who went before inherited a conservatism and overthrew it; we inherit freedom, and have to use it. The sanctity of property, the patriarchal family, hereditary caste, the dogma of sin, obedience to authority,—the rock of ages, in brief has been blasted for us. Those who are young to-day are born into a world in which the foundations of the older order survive only as habits or by default." This statement might serve as a lucid commentary on the social thought of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Its main themes infiltrate their work and appear in their lives.

    Lippmann argues that Americans do not want to think for themselves or govern themselves. They fear independent lives and want only "to be taken in charge." It is a script in waiting for Daisy Fay Buchanan, who acts without passion because she "wanted her life shaped ... by some force" (118). She may be a goddess, but she is also a representative American figure. Lippmann gives us the sense of an inevitable ending for that kind of figure: without an act of will, "all weakness comes to the surface" of American minds. In short, he provided for the subsequent generation of writers a set of ideas about the looseness of American social organization, its severance from the old order, the pathetic incompetence of the new order as evinced in politics and social movements, and the reliance of American character upon its own limitations. It is a recipe for failure, and the fiction of the twenties is rich in the depiction of Americans unmade. The particular vein is the unwilling relationship of the individual to regnant social and ethical ideas.

    Lippmann was widely available to writers through journals like the New Republic. A bridge to his ideas also existed in the work of Van Wyck Brooks, whose America's Coming-of-Age (1915) and Letters and Leadership (1918) criticized the arguments of James and Lippmann and brought them directly to the generation of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Edmund Wilson. In Letters and Leadership Brooks examined the idea of "drift," which he took to be "the general aimlessness of our life." He traced the analysis of this condition, correctly, to William James and Lippmann, describing the "pulp-like, inelastic state in which we find ourselves today." But Brooks was suspicious of pragmatism and of the Public Philosophy. After all, William James was influenced by an essentially late-Victorian set of literary models, and although it was useful to read James, Lippmann, and Dewey on art, they were ultimately prosaic. According to Brooks, their analysis of our intellectual flaws was hopelessly behind the times. Culture is the responsibility of writers with more complex and inclusive tastes than William James or (to name another lover of late-Victorian poetry) Josiah Royce. Pragmatic intelligence was, Brooks wrote, simply not enough for literary understanding: it might lead eventually only to the mysticism of James, the civic religiosity of Dewey, and the bewilderment of everyone else.

    Using a familiar figurative language, Brooks described America when the twenties began as: "becalmed ... on a rolling sea, flapping and fluttering, hesitating and veering about, oppressed with a faint nausea." The idea of "drift" extends itself into metaphor, prepares the ground for the meaningless voyaging and failed navigation of The Waste Land and The Great Gatsby. It also extends into metaphor the meanderings by automobile (Brooks sees Americans, themselves part of machinery-in-life, "driving about the country in Ford cars, on Sundays, ... with their mouths open") that play so large a part in the symbolic realism of Sinclair Lewis. When Babbitt and Kennicott set forth in their minutely described and passionately possessed cars, they often go nowhere. Lewis demands more symbolic reading than he usually gets.

    In 1921 Fitzgerald tried to give some account of the suspicions of "the younger generation" about the Victorian past. The phrase was much in use: Brooks had in 1918 combined it with the by-now intensely developed idea of cultural drift. He used a figurative language that conflicted with mainstream self-imaging. I think that he was quite aware that his choice of terminology contradicted—and rebuked—the understanding of American history to be found in Harper's or the Saturday Evening Post. Against a national mythos of frontier mastery, of imposing American logos upon nature, we suddenly find ourselves in a labyrinth as mysterious as Dante's. We are lost in historical time as well as in space:

We of the younger generation ... find ourselves in a grave predicament .... The acquisitive life has lost the sanction of necessity which the age of pioneering gave it. A new age has begun, an age of intensive cultivation, and it is the creative life that the nation calls for now. But for that how ill-equipped we are! Our literature has prepared no pathways for us, our leaders are themselves lost. We are like explorers who, in the morning of their lives, have deserted the hearthstone of the human tradition and have set out for a distant treasure that has turned to dust in their hands; but, having on their way neglected to mark their track, they no longer know in which direction their home lies, nor how to reach it, and so they wander in the wilderness, consumed with a double consciousness of waste and impotence.

I think this fairly describes the frame of mind of a vast number of Americans of the younger generation.... [who] drift almost inevitably into a state of internal anarchism.

The passage frames its message in a sequence of historical and biblical metaphors. But one particular idiom matters a great deal, referring itself to nineteenth-century American history. In school texts, best-sellers, and newsstand publications, the pioneer experience had until recently been sacred. It was one of the great models for national life; we think of Babbitt, at one with Nature on his sleeping porch, comfortable in the assurance that civilization has not softened him. But this passage suggests that interior space is trackless. It is calculated to offend a nation of Pathfinders. It is also calculated to show what Brooks has been doing with the sources of his arguments: In 1911, Josiah Royce had asked, "What are the principles that can show us the course to follow in the often pathless wilderness of the new democracy? It frequently seems as if ... we needed somebody to tell us both our dream and the interpretation." One of the problems for modern readers is that they expect the American Dream of the first quarter of the century to be defined and accessible, but it is often described as unknowable.

    The literature of the next decade, which featured so extensive a vocabulary of loss, drift, and unconsciousness, followed the example of Brooks, Lippmann, James, and others. There is a national context for lines like these from The Great Gatsby: "What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon ... and the day after that, and the next thirty years?" (92). At the same time that these lines appeared in print, John Dewey was lecturing on the "impotent drifting" that now pervaded American life and gave us a childish national character. In The Great Gatsby we are not only intended to see the psychological state or moral metabolism of Daisy Fay Buchanan but also to be guided, by the language of description, to an idea about a new generation in America. Insistently, the novelists imply dimness of perception, unsteadiness of choice, absence of will, and a kind of "drift" of the imagination. We are intended to see at least part of the unity of writing in the first quarter of the century; the interdependence of language and idea among philosophers, poets, and novelists. To drift, in the literature just before and just after the Great War is to share unwillingly the experience of a generation that has nothing to rely on but itself. Drift means unanchored distance—to be at the mercy of currents like those that sweep so insistently through The Waste Land.

* * *

    A pointed encounter between ideas occurs near the end of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. In this novel so preeminently about the passivity of American will, the greatest of all adversaries to that state of mind appears within the text. Teddy Roosevelt's presence in The Age of Innocence (it is as if Eliot had introduced Sir James Frazer as a character into The Waste Land) may be realistic, but his inclusion is even more symbolic. The prophet of the active life suddenly shares the same page with the most hesitant, passive, and withdrawn figure in the fiction of the early twenties, Newland Archer:

It was in that library that the Governor of New York, coming down from Albany one evening to dine and spend the night, had turned to his host, and said, banging his clenched fist on the table and gnashing his eye-glasses: "Hang the professional politician! You're the kind of man the country wants, Archer. If the stable's ever to be cleaned out, men like you have got to lend a hand in the cleaning."

"Men like you—" how Archer had glowed at the phrase! How eagerly he had risen up at the call! It was an echo of Ned Winsett's old appeal to roll his sleeves up and get down into the muck; but spoken by a man who set the example of the gesture, and whose summons to follow him was irresistible.

Archer, as he looked back, was not sure that men like himself were what his country needed....

We are intended, I think, to refer ourselves to another passage through which this one may be read, from Roosevelt's famous speech at the Sorbonne on the active life: "it is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ..., who spends himself in a worthy cause." The peroration has a long literary history: "his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

    The Age of Innocence, celebrated for its realistic mastery of the social life of the past, is also a novel of the twenties that, along with, say, Main Street, refers itself to issues of the kind I have described. Wharton's novel, like any other literary work, is both about the time in which it is set and the time in which it is written. There are good and practical reasons for understanding it as a picture of Victorian America, but one might prepare for it by reading texts from Pragmatism to "Prufrock." Clearly, Newland Archer has been disarmed by gentility, and like certain characters of Henry James, he seems not to have the option of psychological change. He leads a conventional life because conventions matter so powerfully for him. But Archer, who appears as the twenties begin, has some of the characteristics of the cultural moment.

    Archer has a great deal of trouble awakening and it might be suggested that Brooks's essay on "Our Awakeners" (1918) has some application. In this essay Brooks asks, "What, in fact, is the note of our society today?" His conclusion is that American life manifests "a universal tepidity," is morally a kind of vestige of Puritanism disarmed by sallow conscience, and "makes perhaps a majority of our kindly fellow-countrymen seem quite incapable of living, loving, thinking, dreaming or hoping with any degree of passion or intensity."

    There are two particular issues involved. Newland (if that is a place, he too is lost in it) Archer withdraws from the world of reforms and movements and fads and fetishes and frivolities but only into another kind of imitation of action. His own vita activa is designed to keep from living, loving, thinking, dreaming. The ending of The Age of Innocence is about the drift or inertia that characterizes American lives and also about self-imposed realities. Indeed the words "real" and "reality" direct us toward certain meanings in that ending. Archer withdraws (and withdraws once more into himself), protesting that it would be "more real" to stay away from Madame Olenska than it would be to enact his desires. He fears that "reality should lose its edge" if he undertook to qualify his sense of meaning by acting upon it. This will echo in Eliot's later line about humankind being unable to bear much reality. But the idea explored by Wharton and polished by Eliot began its modern journey in William James, who wrote that "the sense of reality," baffled by uncertainty, can only be asserted by a conscious act of "effort." Without that, we would drift from any supposed reality to any other. Brooks's essay of 1918 uses the same terminology: "observe the condition in which we now are: sultry, flaccid, hesitant, not knowing what we want and incapable of wanting anything very much, certainly not in love with our life, certainly not at home in this field of reality." It seems to be a script not for Victorian America, which had its certitudes, but for America on the verge of the twenties. Impulses and passions matter enormously: perhaps the main reason why Roosevelt is invoked by Wharton is that they have political, national counterparts. At any rate, Brooks clearly identifies the issues: the good American life is only possible if it proceeds from one's own "feelings and desires." That is why Gatsby is so large a figure and Newland Archer so small.

    By far the longest of Walter Lippmann's studies of Public Persons in America is that on Sinclair Lewis. Lewis was an ideal subject because the Public Philosophy was tuned to realism: there could be few modes superior for depicting and solving social issues. Main Street and Babbitt deploy themes familiar to the pragmatic critics of American "civilization." Belles lettres may be interested in other things, but the Public Philosophy was principally intent on the conflict between the active will of the individual and the inertia of the social mass. This is not to say that Lippmann was without a critical sense; he found a lot to dislike in Lewis.

    The novels of Lewis follow lines of argument drawn in the previous decade. Lippmann, writing about Lewis in 1927, sounds very much like Van Wyck Brooks writing about American culture in 1918:

The America of Mr. Lewis is dominated by the prosperous descendants of the Puritan pioneers. He has fixed them at a moment when they have lost the civilized traditions their ancestors brought from Europe, and are groping to find new ways of life. Carol is the daughter of a New Englander who went west taking with him an English culture. In Carol that culture is little more than a dim memory of a more fastidious society; it merely confuses her when she tries to live by it in Gopher Prairie. Babbitt is the descendant of a pioneer; he is completely stripped of all association with an ordered and civilized life. He has no manners, no coherent code of morals, no religion, no piety, no patriotism, no knowledge of truth and no love of beauty. He is almost completely decivilized, if by civilization you mean an understanding of what is good, better and best in the satisfaction of desire.

In some respects, this is Brooks redivivus, with the original stating in 1918 that Americans have lost their pioneer inheritance but no longer possess "any other meaning." The younger generation in particular are without "a living culture, a complicated scheme of ideal objectives, upheld by society at large, enabling them to submerge their liberties in their loyalties and to unite in the task of building up a civilization." A contemporary reader of Lewis would recognize some well-defined issues, among them the debate over civilization, the loss of authenticity of the pioneer tradition (to be expected in the age of Veblen and Beard), the failure of national American will locally exemplified, and everywhere in the texts a metaphorical sense of blindness, unconsciousness, "groping," dimness, and drift.

    At exactly the same time, 1920, two women appear in American fiction, both condemned by their authors to live in Minnesota: Carol Kennicott of Main Street and Sally Carrol Happer of "The Ice Palace." Their lives have a plot, that of the active individual will against the inert social mass. Carol Kennicott is a version of the Progressive political will who "wanted, just now, to have a cell in a settlement-house, like a nun without the bother of a black robe, and be kind, and read Bernard Shaw, and enormously improve a horde of grateful poor." If one model is Shaw, the other is Jane Addams of whom Lippmann made an important distinction: "She was not only good but great." According to Lippmann, she exemplified democracy at its best and should be compared not to figures of charity but to those of American politics; in fact, he adduces Lincoln. Jane Addams had a considerable importance for American Public Philosophy as a symbol of the vita activa, and she figures in the ideas of John Dewey.

    Some of the changes proposed by Carol Kennicott are merely cultural and hence enjoy a kind of amiable, female unimportance. But some have to do with social and public issues, which register bigger waves on the American seismograph. It is bad enough to be, like the other women in town, "twice as progressive as the men"; but it is worse to argue about school bonds or a farmers' co-operative; and it is impossible to state actually political opinions about land use or any issue not on the Republican ticket. The active will becomes deflected into the lesser business of mind and art, into the deliberations of the Thanatopsis Club and the infantilism of "The Girl from Kankakee"—a play chosen to exorcise the influence of GBS over Carol's overheated mind.

    Carol Kennicott and Sally Carrol Happer are prototypical figures of "the younger generation" at war with American society and mind. The latter reminds us (William James in Tarleton, Georgia) that she has "a sort of energy ..., that may be useful somewhere" (51). Nevertheless, the two women may become, if they do not will otherwise, figures of drift, silence, and withdrawal. For Lewis, the idiom in use for the past two decades is still current. For example, Guy Pollock, a relic of Gopher Prairie, with sympathy drawn from his own experience, tells Carol about the advisability of retreating from action into much safer "dullness and contentment." He has himself learned silence and divested himself of personality, which reduces social conflict and allows him to make quite a good living without actually competing for it. Perhaps the best thing that Carol can do is imitate him, learn to be "satisfied to be—nothing." The penalty for this kind of life, however, is occasional if private clarity: Pollock understands that his life is in effect "the biography of a living dead man." It is an important dialogue: As James had noted, the advice that Pollock gives about loss of self has its comfort, even its profit. At a later point Carol does experience this prudential, willed unconsciousness:

She felt old and detached through high-school commencement week, which is the fete of youth in Gopher Prairie; through baccalaureate sermon, senior parade, junior entertainment, commencement address by an Iowa clergyman who asserted that he believed in the virtue of virtuousness.... Her head ached in an aimless way.

In the prairie heat she trudged along unchanging ways, talked about nothing to tepid people, and reflected that she might never escape from them.

She was startled to find that she was using the word "escape."

Then, for three years which passed like one curt paragraph, she ceased to find anything interesting save the Bjornstams and her baby.

For those "three years of exile from herself," Carol, like Newland Archer, gives up on the issue of reality.

    Fitzgerald's Sally Carrol resists that fate, refuses "to be frozen, heart, body, and soul." The South may be "enervating," but the particular hell of the upper middle class ("she felt things creeping, damp souls that haunted this palace, this town, this North" [68]) is where the active life—another form of tedium diagnosed by William James—masquerades as real life. For both Fitzgerald and Lewis, the frozen North is a metaphor that extends the boundaries of realism.

    Fitzgerald used and adapted the idiom of the cultural moment, but he was more complex than Lewis and more complex than Mencken really wanted novelists to be. Perhaps one reason why Mencken approved of Sinclair Lewis but had reservations about Fitzgerald, is that Lewis got his marching orders right, producing straightforward satire; Fitzgerald persisted in ambiguities. He was ready to think about the South as if it did have some form of moral "energy" to go along with its civilized failures. That idea is denied furiously by Harry Bellamy, who is full of prejudices from Prejudices about Southern culture and its clear inferiority to the North: "They're sort of—sort of degenerates—not at all like the old Southerners. They've lived so long down there with all the colored people that they've gotten lazy and shiftless.... of all the hangdog, ill-dressed, slovenly lot I ever saw, a bunch of small-town Southerners are the worst!" (62-63).


A Story of Northern and Southern Life



Copyright © 2000 The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Cultural Drift: A Context for Fiction11
"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" and the Rules28
"The Diamond" and the Declining West40
The Great Gatsby and the Good American Life52
"The Killers" or the Way Things Really Are65
Protestant, Catholic, Jew: The Sun Also Rises82
Order and Will in A Farewell to Arms99
Hemingway and Experience116
Hemingway's Questions132
Select Bibliography167

What People are Saying About This

Jackson Bryer

Ronald Berman has done it again. He has found fresh ways to read the works of writers we might have considered already the subject of too much previous criticism. Here he focuses his impressive command of the philosophical, psychological, literary, and cultural landscape of the 20th century on the fiction of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The result is a series of suggestive and helpful readings that provide fascinating new ways of reading familiar works by both writers.
—(Jackson Bryer University of Maryland)

Scott Donaldson

Berman is masterful at connecting these writers with their times.
—(Scott Donaldson College of William and Mary)

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