Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, one of the most outstanding
American writers of the lost generation, was born in St. Paul,
Minnesota, in the family of unsuccessful businessman. Yet the
money, inherited from Fitzgerald’s grandfarther, a wealthy gro-
cer, enabled him to attend Princeton, a university for well – to
do Americans. The cult of success, popular at Princeton, lies at
the basis of Fitzgerald dual attitude to the rich. Influenced by the spirit of competition ruling at the University, he tried to join the most fashionable and respectable students’ clubs, enjoying their carefree, aristocratic, idle atmosphere. He was fascinated by the independence, privileges and elegance that money gave. Money gave style and ease and beauty. Poverty was mean, gray and narrow. It is much later that he found out the falseness of his belief.
Fitzgerald left Princeton without a degree because of illness
and poor grades. However, his literary career started at the University. He wrote pieces for the “The Tiger”, the university
magazine, and contributed texts to several campus variety shows.
In 1917, he joined the army as a second lieutenant. All his
life he regretted the fact that he spent his time in service in American training camps and was never sent to the war in Europe.
His major novels appeared from 1920 to 1934: “This side of Paradise” (1920), “The Beautiful and Damned” (1922), “The Great Gatsby” (1925) and “ Tender is the Night” (1934). Fitzgerald’s best stories have been collected in four volumes:
“ Flappers and Philosophers “ (1920), “Tales of Jazz Age” (1922),
“All the Sad Young Men” (1926) and “Taps at Reveille” (1925).
The main theme of almost all Fitzgerald’s fiction is the attraction and the corrupting force of money. Once he said to
Hemingway, “The very rich are different from you and me”. And when Hemingway made a remark, ”Yes, they have more money “, he did not understand the joke. He thought that they were a special glamorous race and only gradually, moving from one painful revelation to another, as his work progressed, he found out their corruption, inhumanity, spiritual emptiness and futility. He found it out together with his heroes who are largely autobiographical.
Fitzgerald is the first American author to portray the lost generation, a generation, for whom “all the battles have been
fought“ and “all the gods were dead”. The young generation has
no ideals to uphold against the corruption of the rich. They are empty people afraid of poverty and idolizing richness, trying to fill their spiritual void with all kinds of wild entertainments.
”The Great Gatsby”
Fitzgerald’s best work “The Great Gatsby” tells the life story of Jay Gatsby, the son of poor farmer, who falls in love with a rich and beautiful girl Daisy Fay who answers his love while his uniform conceals for a time his poverty. When the war is over, she marries the rich and elegant Tom Buchanan. Gatsby devotes his whole life to obtaining money and social position to make himself worthy of Daisy, though the only road open to him is bootlegging and dealing in dubious stocks.
When later he meets Daisy again, she is impressed by rumours of his incredibly large fortune, his mysterious origin, his rich mansion and his gorgeous and fashionable parties and makes him believe she would leave Tom. Yet once, driving Jay back from New –York to Long Island in his car, she runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson, her husband’s vulgar mistress. Myrtle’s husband, whom Tom has persuaded that Gatsby was driving the car, follows Jay and shoots him. Daisy, having learned about Gatsby’s dubious source of income, deserts him even before his death, notwithstan-
ding the fact that Gatsby gallantly takes the blame of Myrtle’s death upon himself.
Gatsby’s fanatic attempt to reach his dreams is contrasted to the disillusioned drifting life of the cynical members of upper society who do not know what to do “this afternoon, the day after that and the next thirty years ”, and whose existence with wild parties and vulgar merriment is compared to the terrible grey “ valley of ashes ” with the sordid eyes of an oculist’s advertising sign watching the gaudy show. Fitzgerald stresses that Gatsby’s romantic dreams of the vast possibilities for happiness on “ the fresh green breast of the New World ” no longer correspond to reality.
The device of the intelligent and sympathetic observer at the center of the novel allowed the author gradually to expose the moral corruption behind the false structure of upper of Gatsby class respectability and splendour, at the same time the stature of Gatsby gradually growing and achieving almost poetic elevation. Satire in the portrayal of the empty pleasures of the rich is combined with lyrical atmosphere enveloping Gatsby’s romantic dream.
Thus, if Dreiser was the scientist dissecting vast cross- sections of American society with his social observations, Fitzgerald was the chronicler of its moral atmosphere.
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Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945)
Theodore Dreiser was an old man when he joined the communist Party of America. It was in July 1945. His whole life had been a preparation for that step and a hard life it had been, too !
He was born in the family of a strict Catholic, narrow — minded and despotic. It was because of his farther that he hated religion to the end of his days. His parents were not rich. When 16 years of age, he left home to earn his living in Chicago, which at that time was growing into a big city. All seemed wonderful to the young lad. He managed to get a job, but it paid only five dollars a week, besides it was not what he wanted. He was eager to study. At last he was admitted to the University. Yet a year later he left it because of financial difficulties. It was in those days that he began
to write for newspapers. But it was not so easy to become a newsman. He had to call at the offices many times before he got some work .
In 1900 his first novel “ Sister Carrie ” appeared and was immediately withdrawn from print by the publisher. The author was severly attacked by critics. The novel was pronounced “immoral”.
Dreiser could not long get over the failure of his first literary attempt. Only after a lapse of nearly 10 years in 1911 he published his “ Jennie Gerhardt ”, also the life story of girl. This book likewise received a hostile reception due to alleged immorality. Dreiser was boycotted by publishers.
Three of his works, ” The Financier “ (1912), “ The Titan ” (1914) and “ The Stoic ” ( which was published only after the wri ters death in 1947 ), give the whole life story of an American
capitalist, showing the ways in which the wealth of big capitalists is made. “ The Genius ” (1915) tells of the fate of an artist in the bourgeois world.
He described his visit to the USSR in “ Dreiser Looks at Russia ” (1928) .
Besides the works mentioned above, Dreiser also published several collections of short stories.
Dreiser literary work occupies an important place in American critical realism. His novels and short stories give a true picture of American society and its influence upon the life of the people.
“ The Financier ”, “ The Titan ”, and “ The Stoic ” compose “ The Trilogy of Desire ”. Its purpose was to show the ways and practices of American big business at the turn of the 20-th century .
Frank Cowperwood — a chief character of all the three
novels is a representative of a big business. “ The Financier ” gives a broad panorama of American social life. Cowperwood begins his career by titling against the ruling clique in Philadelphia. He suffers a defeat and is thrust into jail. Having served his term he continues his struggle and using a chance becomes a millionaire again, goes to Chicago and looks for a greater field of financial activity. There is no problem of moral or conscience for him when there is a chance to get money.
“ The Titan ” portrays Cowperwood as a businessman with a perfect knowledge of all ins and outs of financial world. He artfully bribes all high officials and becomes owner of the Chicago tramway. Cowperwood rolls in wealth but his appetites are insatiate.
Cowperwood s life story is brought to an end in the third part of the trilogy — “ The Stoic ”. The novel remained unfinished. The action is laid in London where Cowperwood
is engaged in the construction of a subway. Here he is different: in the previous
two novels the writer sympathized with his hero, portraying him as a man of wide — ranging enterprise. In the “ Stoic ”, Cowperwood is a typical shark of capitalism. He is an unprincipled in business dealings as he is immoral in love affaires. In the last years of his life the bitter truth grows upon him that the chase for money and big business to which he has devoted all his life are empty things. His disillusion in life soon brings him to death.
“ An American Tragedy ” is Dreiser”s masterpiece. It marks a new step in Dreiser”s work.
The novel speaks of the fate of a common American, Clyde Griffiths. His parent”s are failures in life and make their living in the streets of Kansas City, singing psalms. Clyde is tormented by the poverty and his fantasy is set astir by the luxury. Sincerely believing that wealth alone makes people happy he determines to pave his way to fortune. He detests hard work, prefers to make money in an easy manner and begins his life as a bellboy in a luxurious hotel. His way of life and of making money lead him to a crime. Clyde is arrested and put to death on the electric chair.
Clyde Griffiths” fate is characteristic of the world in which he was brought up. Spiritually backward, with no ideals but a longing to get success in the world that surrounds him for he sees that by honest labour he would never become rich enough to enter the world of pleasure and luxury. He sees that when a man becomes rich nobody dares to find out the source of his riches.
He sincerely hopes that his marriage to Sondra would solve all his problems and cover up his past. The ammoralizing effect of the environment leads Clyde to a tragedy, which is not his personal tragedy, but the one of an average American. Due to the great artistic power with which Dreiser presented this typical case, “An American Tragedy ” is in full justice regarded as one of the best books in American literature.