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Scott Fitzgerald's novels depict women as the survivors of the post Great War world. Essentially women, to Fitzgerald, seem to be the ones emerging from the moral emptiness of the First World War into positions of increasing power; however, it does not seem that Fitzgerald, in general, approves of this trend. Largely this is because he believes that the growing levels of power and autonomy that women are being afforded are being accompanied with decadence and moral depravity. So overall, women seem to be able to fit themselves back into society following the war, while men have more difficulty both because of their new perspectives and because women are usurping their roles. Accordingly, "Whether his materials demanded male or female characters, Fitzgerald felt that the postwar world he was writing about was really a woman's world." (Stern, 41). The result of this point-of-view is that within Tender is the Night the fundamental breakdown of sexual identities results in the ruin of moral identities. And this, to Fitzgerald, represents one of the most powerful indicators of the imminent ruin of American society.
Obviously, one of the key themes within Tender is the Night is that the decay of American civilization is not merely limited to the structuring of society, but it is centrally the consequence of individual losses of identity. This notion goes hand in hand with Fitzgerald's recurring literary thesis: the death of the "American Dream." The American dream essentially signifies the notion that hard and consistent work can eventually provide anyone with what they desire socially. America is one of the first places in the history of civilization in which the concept that everyone can make something of themselves has been prevalent -- that an individual can start with nothing, and end up with everything. In other words, for the American Dream to be real there must be social mobility. Fitzgerald, in both stories, seems to accept the characteristic of America that social class can be somewhat altered through personal achievement; however, the Dream itself is what the upper classes have acted to crush by demeaning those who pull themselves up through diligence and luck by pursuing idealistic dreams.
Within this broad framework, Fitzgerald seems highly critical of American women in Tender is the Night. One of the main struggles seems to be between American women and their men's strives to achieve intellectual maturity; the voice of the author offers the most disparaging point-of-view regarding women. Dick, for example, is described in Book II as a man who stands on the brink of some great destiny; yet there remains some underlying drawback to his position, which suggests an elemental weakness in his character: "The illusions of eternal strength and health, and of the essential goodness of people; illusions of a nation, the lies of generations of frontier mothers who had to croon falsely, that there were no wolves outside the cabin door." (Fitzgerald II, 132). Fitzgerald is trying to explain to the reader that the dangerous fault that exists within Dick -- and many other American men -- is that they have been babied by women into taking naive approaches to the rigors of the outside world. This implies that the female outlook is intrinsically an inaccurate one; as well as detrimental. It is detrimental both in the influence it has upon men, and because women are beginning to assert themselves in the social and political spheres.
Still, Fitzgerald suggests that this crooning facet of the American female have been intrinsic to the history of the United States. However, this is not obviously the case. It could be argued that during the frontier years the actions of the independent male were valued far above that of the dependent female. Largely, this was a result of the already paternally hegemonic European society, which demanded that men be the only ones to physically tame the subjugated lands both with work and through economic influences. Also, "These men were drawn from the more segregated occupations and milieu in the metropole, and it is likely that the men drawn to colonization tended to be the more rootless." (Connell, 47). In other words, overly-masculinized men came to the colonies, these men were the ones who undermined local power structures, and these men organized to claim the resources that could be found. Sexual exploitation was common among the colonizers, and their positions of power seemed to justify this sexual divide to many of those who were native to the occupied lands. Accordingly, it would seem that Fitzgerald's vision of the babying mother played only a small role in the building of the American social structure.
Nevertheless, the violent events of the frontier quest gave way to the frontier settlement. This meant that, "A shift back towards the family patterns of the metropole was likely." (Connell, 47). As this occurred institutions like the Christian church and corporations began to strengthen the established gender roles of Western Europe. Perhaps the most significant influence was the division of labor that mirrored that of the west. With this came the notion that the men were masculine only if they entered into the economy and provided for those who depended upon them in the domestic sphere. Men worked in European-owned mines, factories, and on their farmlands. Another major influence was the introduction of the European style military, which was almost wholly dominated by men. These became the ideals to which men were to strive in order to assume their masculine roles. Yet, the side-effect, as Fitzgerald sees it, is that as more women populated the formerly male sphere, their natural predisposition to nurture softened the political and moral stances of the men they influenced.
It is also significant that the natural state of womanhood, in Tender is the Night, is equated to motherhood and nursing; this results in clear conflicts when the natural state is applied to the political realm. This idea is almost explicitly stated by the author when Baby Warren arouses and browbeats the American Consul until Dick is released: "The American Woman, aroused, stood over him; the clean-sweeping irrational temper that had broken the moral back of race and made a nursery out of a continent, was too much for him. He rang for the vice-consul -- Baby has won." (Fitzgerald II, 253). In other words, Fitzgerald believes that the moral position of the "American Woman" is nothing more than the public application of motherly virtues; this notion, to him, makes them irrational and out of place.
According to Fitzgerald, the women in the novel have tended to take their motherly roles and applied them to the power structure of the United States; meanwhile, men's traditional roles are being perverted as a consequence. So although Fitzgerald is certainly anti-sexist in the way that he abstractly approves of the freeing of women from the centuries of oppression that they have been subjected to; the difficulty is that "the world into which they were breaking out was nothing but moral chaos in which there were no real functions, identities, or values except social transmogrifications of the wrongs that always existed." (Stern, 40). Even though it may be morally right for women to be freed of the social constraints traditionally applied to them by men, Fitzgerald contends, that their responsibilities have been confused because of the moral anarchy into which they have emerged; this is the root of materialism and capitalism run amuck in the 1920s.
The horror of the Great War left an entire generation of humans searching for something to which they could assign their faith, their trust, and their allegiance. Many saw the ancient forms of religion and philosophy as antiquated in the face of such absolute destruction and torturous death. It would seem that in the post war age, the only thing that remains…[continue]
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