Winter Dreams" of F. Scott Fitzgerald and "Flowering Judas of Katherine Anne Porter"
Cool. Dispassionate. Masters of the art of literary artifice, lies, and characters who wear masks rather than their true selves. Although one author deploys an almost newspaper-like dispassionate style, and the other is more poetic in her use of the language, both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Katherine Anne Porter have been called by these appellations because of the ideological complexity of their characters, and the distanced literary ways in which the authors view these characters. Despite the fact that one might assume Dexter Green of "Winter Dreams" is autobiographical, Fitzgerald narrates his character's striving for social success in America with a tone of cool objectivity. Although she herself traveled to Mexico, Katherine Anne Porter views her protagonist Laura's attempt to embrace a new ideology in Mexico with an equally skeptical eye.
In W.J. Reeves essay, "Lies and Literature: Lying used as a literary device," Reeves identifies F. Scott Fitzgerald as a great American author who used the American love of lies and liars as the ideological cornerstone of his major works such as his novel The Great Gatsby as well as a more minor take such as "Winter Dreams." Winter Dreams" first appeared in Metropolitan Magazine in December 1922. It was written while Fitzgerald was planning, The Great Gatsby. It also examines a boy whose ambitions become identified with a selfish rich girl from a young and impressionable age in his development.
Dexter Green is a social liar, a poor boy who feigns good manners and good breeding. And by doing this, Reeves suggests, Green is another quintessential American Fitzgerald boy who makes good in the 'American' way, a way that is ultimately hollow and empty of real satisfaction and success. Reeves cites at the beginning of his essay a conservative educational text called The Book of Virtues by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett who "describes lying as an 'easy tool' of concealment which can harden into a malignant vice," and states that "most Americans "share a respect for certain fundamental traits such as honesty, compassion, and courage." But Reeves uses Fizgerald's short story as an esample that "Bennett has it wrong. As the millennium approaches, Americans, from power brokers to the lower classes, believe in lying and prove so every day by indulging in its practice," in social, vocational, and personal contexts -- and literature, as a reflection and a shaper of human life, reflects this mendacity. (Reeves, 1998, p.1)
Social lies in Fitzgerald, Reeves adds, are the way one engages in social promotion, and thus social lies are at the heart of the American experiment. "Liars seem to have been naturally selected for survival based on their ability to shift the focus from" the liares themselves to "either those who are accusing them of untruth or someone else who can be blamed for whatever the liar is lying about." (Reeves, 1998, p.1) This skill means that liars are uniquely eqippied to thrive and flouish in an America, capitalist society. America covertly approves of liars because it is the only way to succeed in America, by 'faking it,' until one 'makes it.'
It is interesting to note in support of Reeves thesis' about the popular support of American liars in fiction and life, and contrary to William Benett's assertion, F. Scott Firzgerald wrote his short story "Winter Dreams" for a popular magazine, not a literary trade publication -- hence its cool almost advertising like style and quality of flat, direct, prose. Fitzgerald's style as well as his approval of lying was accessible to the masses, as was his subject, the commonality of lies in social mores, even though, "Fitzgerald detailed a harrowing example of how lying for self-protection can be deadly," to the soul in the long-term given the angst the protagonist experiences at the end of the work. (Reeves, 1998, p.1) The four closing paragraphs of this story illustrates Dexter's sense of emptiness as the protagonist essentially grieves for the loss of his capacity to grieve and his inner emptiness.
In contrast, Katherine Anne Porter's short story "Flowering Judas" is highly poetic in nature, with layer upon layer of subtext and symbol, as Will Brantley notes in his 1995 essay "Katherine Anne Porter's Artistic Development: Primitivism, Traditionalism, and Totalitarianism." Brantley notes, citing the scholar Robert Brinkmeyer the strong influence of anti-Catholicism in "Flowering Judas." When applying different interpretive strategies to Porter's fiction, Brantley arues that Laura in "Flowering Judas" "cultivates an asceticism instead of bringing her Irish Catholic background and revolutionary activities into a real and "constructive dialogue," with other ideologies such as feminism.
Rather than grappling with a uniquely American struggle, however, unlike Fitzgerald's consistent and viseral attack upon the lies behind the empty American dream of success, Porter deploys "primitivism, traditionalism, and totalitarianism" as her three points of reference in her development of Laura's character. Laura is locked in a primitive environment in Mexico, becomes involved in a traditional relationship with a man that spans cultures and contexts, and the totalitairian ideology of the government and of her own ideas create a world that locks her in, rahter than liberates her.
"In dialogue," with other characters, writes Brantley, Laura's sense of herself "continually remakes and redefines itself in response to the ever-changing world and self's context within it," then "in monologue, the self hardens into stone, isolated from the world and unchallenged by it." Larua thus is both seemingly supremely affected by the development and attitudes of others, while she still becomes calcified within her own ideas and doctrines. She engages in dialogue with those around her, but seeks in that dialogue merely to reaffirm her own prejudices of what a woman should become and be in relationship to a man.
Thus, Porter's short story is highly metaphorical in its langauge, and continually alternates between interior monologues and external dialogues that propel the story forward as a narrative. However, in his prose quality, Fitzgerald lays his protagonist's struggle flat out in short sentences -- the main characracter is poor, but not so poor, and of the aspiring middle-class in an upper class society. This is clear from the first sentence of the tale. "Some of the caddies were poor as sin and lived in one-room houses with a neurasthenic cow in the front yard, but Dexter Green's father owned the second best grocery-store in Black Bear -- the best one was 'The Hub,' patronized by the wealthy people from Sherry Island -- and Dexter caddied only for pocket-money."
Dexter is the son of a second best, but evidently wealthy grocer and must earn his own pocket money -- but at a relatively luxurious local, that of a golf course. When the young Dexter quits it is said he is "The best-- -- caddy I ever saw," shouted Mr. Mortimer Jones over a drink that afternoon. "Never lost a ball! Willing! Intelligent! Quiet! Honest! Grateful!" Dexter is able to go to a prestigious university in the East, but "he wanted not association with glittering things and glittering people -- he wanted the glittering things themselves."
Porter, like Dexter, becomes enchanted with an outside figure that seems to represent everything she is attempting to escape; in her case her Irish Catholic American roots. Only twenty-two when the story begins, she comes to Mexico to work for the Mexican Marxist revolution for Braggioni, the revolutionary leader. She listens to his playing the guitar and singing with courtesy because she does not dare to offend him and often internally feels betrayed by the gulf between her ideals of how these revolutionaries and she ought to be living and how things really are. Porter conveys this sense of disillusionment, however, by using rather sparse dialogue contrasted with very florid internal monologues heavy with metaphorical…