Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night

(Before I get complaints about the format of this blog, this particular essay was for my English class, but it was also a book I read on my leisure time and not a standardized book for class, so I think it deserves a good spot on this blog as well. Just try to ignore the horrid format.)

Author: F. Scott. Fitzgerald

Title: Tender is the Night

Edition: First published in 1933 by Charles Scribner’s Sons

First Scribner trade paperback edition 2003

Setting: The novel takes place mostly in Europe between 1924 to 1929. Many references are made to Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, as well as brief references to World War I, J.D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and the Gilded Age of America. A majority of the action occurs in the French Riviera and Paris.

Principle Characters: There are arguably three principal characters within this book:

Dick Diver: Described as a handsome, brilliant doctor in his thirties. He is known to have an unrivaled charm and is easily liked among many people. He was doctor to Nicole Warren for many years before making her Nicole Diver and starting a family with her. Later, he begins a romantic affair with Rosemary Hoyt.

Nicole Diver: A diagnosed schizoid and younger sister to Baby Warren, Nicole was born into a rich, family, but her condition took away much of her adolescence. She instantly fell in love with Dick and eventually married him. She’s described as a fair blond whose beauty grows with age.

Rosemary Hoyt: A young actress whose life was mostly dictated by her Mother, whom of which she is very fond of. Naive in the ways of the world, she is known to fall in love terribly easy until she meets Dick Diver, to whom she holds the highest regard. She thinks of the Divers as the nicest people she’s ever met and is very fond of the both of them, Dick being one of only two people she’s put on such a high pedestal; the other is her mother.

Summary of the Plot: The story starts off with Rosemary and her mother on vacation in France. One the beach, Rosemary meets the Divers and thus begins the adventure to Paris. Rosemary quickly falls in love with Dick and provokes him into a romantic affair behind Nicole’s back. Their stay in Paris ends abruptly when a black man Abe North was associated with is found dead in a hotel room. The story then describes Dick’s upbringing and how he met Nicole through an associate of his that was treating her for schizophrenia. Dick and Nicole’s interactions are described until they get married and the the story picks up where the first part left off. Tension grows between Nicole and Dick as she knows of his relationship with Rosemary and holds it against him even years after it had ended. Dick begins to lose control of everything and turns to excessive drinking, eventually causing him to lose his job at his own clinic. As Nicole grows healthier and more independent she begins relying less and less on Dick and turns to her own romantic affair with Tommy Burban. Not long afterward, the Divers finally get a divorce; Nicole begins her life with Tommy, while Dick returns to America to lead his practices.

Major Themes: I think a major theme is that of the human condition, specifically regarding love. The novel goes into detail of how easily the characters either fall in or out of love, so what I think the theme is trying to get across is that love can be a very tragic, intoxicating thing that is sometimes experienced for the wrong reasons. Another theme may be about how people destroy themselves and their own demise is usually brought upon by their own cause or nature.

Method of Narration: The method of narration is consistently a third person point of view. However, the book is split up into three parts, and I noticed that each part focuses more around a certain character. First Rosemary, then Dick, and finally Nicole. It was for this reason that I considered Rosemary one of the primary characters despite how small her role is during the second and third parts. During each part, the narrator tells more about the corresponding characters internal feelings than the of the other characters; not to say that there isn’t insight of the other characters thoughts and feelings, it’s just that more focus to shown toward the relative character to each part.

Structural Devices: The book is split into three parts, each about one hundred pages long, while each part is split into several chapters that range from two to fifteen pages.

Stylistic Features: As expected from Fitzgerald, the book contains a lot of prose and poetic imagery within the story while at the same time keeping the pacing cool and comfortable, downplaying the action. There’s even a scene when Dick and Nicole get in a car accident, and it was summed up in one sentence that I first mistook for a metaphor until the affect was seen afterward. The dialogue is kept to a minimum, only used when it is necessary for the plot or development, which is a lot, but not as much as could have been. I probably missed a ton of motifs and symbols throughout the entire story, and if I had more time to read it over I could be probably spy a few of them.

Personal Evaluation as of this Date: Although I don’t hold it in as high of a regard as The Great Gatsby, I quite enjoyed this book and it reestablished Fitzgerald as one of my favorite authors of all time. My only problem with it is that it seemed to drag on toward the end; certain parts began to lose my interest quickly because of how irrelevant the some of the plot points seemed to be. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the importance of each of these scenes, but when he spends fifteen pages talking about a misunderstanding over dirty soap suds in a bath at a friends house to another fifteen pages talking about getting arrested for getting into a fight with a taxi driver my interest begins to wan. Despite this, I still found it to be an excellent book with great characters and I loved it.

Preview: When I first heard of this book from my teacher she described it as a romantic tragedy involving a psychiatrist and his sick wife, and how the doctor’s needs are failed to be met by his wife so he begins a romantic affair with another woman, but feels extremely guilty about it. Since it was Fitzgerald and I enjoyed The Great Gatsby so much, I figured I’d check it out.

Predict: Due to the fact that it was described as a tragedy, I predicted that things would start off nicely, and get worse and worse until somebody died. This was completely wrong, yet at the same time right on the mark. People did die, but it wasn’t part of the tragedy, and things did start off good before getting progressively worse. I didn’t view the ending as a tragedy, though, since it didn’t become an emotional break at the end, things just sort of happened and people were okay with it.

Visualize: While Fitzgerald kept his descriptions far from concrete, and usually completely metaphorical, it was hard to automatically visualize everything he was writing about; however, there were a few parts. When Dick is in Italy and is beaten by the police it later describes his facial wounds, including a busted eye, which stood out visually in my mind (probably because I watch too many horror movies.) Another thing that stood out was toward the end when Dick, Rosemary and Nicole are together on a boat with a few other people; Dick attempts to show off by jumping off the diving board while somebody was on his shoulders, like he had done for Nicole two years prior. However, this time he couldn’t lift up a man that weighed less than what he did two years prior, and it describes his failure in attempting to do the trick three times.

Connect: While I could not connect to the characters as far as their actions went because I haven’t been in situations like they have been, I can connect to some of their internal feelings and struggles with and amongst themselves. I’ve known people in my life that have acted like some of the people in the novel, and I’ve had to deal with them in situations not completely dissimilar to that also portrayed in the novel.

Observe/Question: I think this book is considered a classic because of how accurately Fitzgerald portrays the times, the characters, and the conditions throughout the entire novel and is among the many well-written books by him. I believe it is still a classic because it relates to the times now as much as it did back then; it recognizes human flaws and the flaws in human interaction that are still ever so present in today’s world that many readers may be able to identify with, like I have. And not just that, it’s a good read!

Clarify: I had a lot of difficulty making a connection between some of the later events of the story and the actual plot. They seemed quite random to me, and, while I know they were supposed to express Dick Diver’s coming-apart, as well as Nicole’s growing independence and Rosemary’s coming-of-age, I could not find solid connections in most of them, and the true meaning behind them seemed to elude me. This may be because I didn’t have time to thoroughly read, analyze each part of the text and refer back to the beginning over and over again so I just missed key points. I also sometimes had trouble remember which character was who unless they were primary characters and otherwise important to the plot consistently, but this was an easy problem to fix when I tried attaching faces to each name.

Evaluate: I believe this a great book for the same reasons that I put why it is a classic: it’s relative to both its time and our time and I can relate to the characters and the interactions. It’s really well-written and I love Fitzgerald’s writing style; it’s flowing, poetic, and keeps my attention while not feeding me all the information like other writers tend to do. The plot and characters were intriguing and it was fascinating to see how Dick Diver, the man who had everything, lost everything.

Reflect: I usually view content with indifference, and emotions aren’t really drawn out of me from novels; I enjoy them whether or not bad things happen to the characters, and, for the most part, I agree with the direction the author took. I always find enough truth within a story to understand it, even if I don’t agree with it, and when I view something I view it as a clean slate with no other prejudices and enjoy the book for what it is, not by looking at it through a lens of my biases.

Each of the three primary characters can be made to have their own villains. For Nicole, I believe her enemy was both her sickness and Dick; when she recovered from her illness, she became less controlled and more independent from Dick and eventually became her own woman by the end of the story. For Dick, I believe his enemies were lack of control and alcohol; he was most comfortable when things were going his way, and he could manipulate it how he saw fit; however, when alcohol began playing a major part in his life, he began losing control, and his bad side was shown to the world, which became his downfall. For Rosemary, I believe her enemy to be the standard she put Dick is; Dick became her precedent for the perfect man and all other man were unable to live up to his name, therefore she couldn’t fall in love with anything less than Dick Diver. This is resolved, however, as she sees Dick’s downfall, finding that he was not as perfect as she once thought.

If I were to create a new ending, I’d have it involve Dick having a tragic death somehow. Like, perhaps after having divorcing Nicole (or maybe even when it’s first announced), he begins drinking and tries driving, only to crash into something and die in the process. Another ending that would be fun would to be that Nicole’s paranoia and schizophrenia lead to her overreacting (like she normally does) and murdering Dick in a raged passion. Wow, I sound like a bad person now.

I think the message that Fitzgerald was trying to get across was quite simple: humans are flawed and interaction with them can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Love usually ends in tragedy; friendship ends in disappointed; and that people will never get everything to go exactly how they want it to go. But I may just be pessimistic here. Another message could be that people eventually break free of their restrictions and become free to act on their own; Nicole became independent of Dick; Dick became free of Nicole’s restrictions; and Rosemary became free of the precedent she had made Dick into.