Fitzgerald contrast Americans and Europeans

Fitzgerald contrast Americans and Europeans.

The characters and the development of events in Tender is the Night are strongly influenced by the historic period the author along with the whole world were going through. Fitzgerald’s own experience of living in Europe after the First World War along with his concerns and the problems he encountered as an expat find their echo in the novel.

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The relationship between the Americans and the Europeans had changed for good once the U.S. entered WWI. The American troops poring in by the hundreds of thousands, joining in the fights on the side of the Allies, had sealed the fate of the war. It was Europe’s turn to experience an American “exploration” naturally followed by various forms of “settlement.” In the pages of his novel, Fitzgerald often renders some of his deepest thoughts concerning the cultural issues Americans as well as Europeans dealt with when they came in contact after the war and how relationships between the two peoples changed or not the way they thought of each other.

The first encounter with the European natives in the novel is that with “three British nannies who sat knitting the slow pattern of Victorian England.” The arms of the clock suddenly move counterclockwise and the time is set for an era before the war, an era in the previous century. The old ways of the respectable English society with its strict class delineations are casually introduced into the narration, hinting at further class borders of a different sort, between the so called “old money” and the “new.” The clash between the old and the new world is the mantra in Fitzgerald’s novel. The old Europe against the newer America, the pre-war world against the after war world, the new American rich vs. The old American “nobility,” these contrasts join in the main contrast in the backdrop: that between two cultures.

Then, it is the turn of humans vs. land: the encounter with the European land is presented as a deceptively neutral attempt to tackle the relationship between Europe and North America. In chapter four, the author intentionally creates the illusion of the American settler: it looks like the Americans have landed on a deserted island where they have created a world of their own. When the eighteen-year-old Rosemary Hoyt, the self-made woman working as an actress for Hollywood, is asking the Divers about their opinion on the place on the French Riviera where she encountered them, their friend, Abe North, is answering for them: “They have to like it,” “They invented it.”

The Divers are presented in the light of the mighty God, the God that creates worlds. This time only nature is held responsible for the American exodus towards the French Riviera: “The theory is,” said Dick, […]”that all the northern places, like Deauville, were picked out by Russians and English who don’t mind the cold, while half of us Americans come from tropical climates — that’s why we’re beginning to come here.”

Driving the point to a hotter topic, money, Dana Brand points out another pioneering trait in the Divers, as well: that of “pioneer consumers” (F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives, 134). She presents them in correlation with their role as tourists on the backdrop of old Europe: “The power of their money gives American tourists an apparently unlimited access to Europe. At the same time, it insulates them” (idem). This insulation from the rest of the world they penetrated, that of the Europeans, is what the McKisco’s are trying to warn young Rosemary Hoyt about: “Well then you probably know that if you want to enjoy yourself here the thing is to get to know some real French families.” Then Mrs. McKisco continues her attack at the address of the other group of Americans present on the beach, the one the Divers are part of: “What do these people get out of it?[…] They just stick around with each other in little cliques.” She sounds like she is trying very hard to prove her cosmopolitanism, by contrasting it with the intentional “isolation” of her other fellow Americans. American class struggle echoes older similar relationships between various society layers in the old world.

As a fine connoisseur of human nature, Fitzgerald never limits himself at placing the Americans in contrasting positions with the Europeans just to make a point in this cultural contrast. The human weaknesses and errors he illustrates through his characters are always backed up with the general human limitations that are tributary to prejudices as well as to the basic human need to be part of a “clique”(as he calls it) in order to get validated. In this respect, David Reynolds makes an interesting observation when he points out Dick Divers words referring to World War I: “See that little stream, […] we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a whole month to walk to it- a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs[…]No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation”(The Long Shadow: the Legacies of the great War in the Twentieth Century, XVIII). With the hindsight one has today, Dick Diver’s words echo the state of denial the whole world was in just before WWII broke out. The Americans happened to feel like outsiders then, only to find themselves drawn into second world conflagration.

With a steady hand and a sharp eye, Fitzgerald skillfully draws sketch after sketch using countless sheets that unfold with increased speed in order to render a cartoon like impression: the American presence in Paris, of all cities, is presented as a false metamorphosis that could only fool the eye from a distance: “Standing in the station, with Paris in back of them, it seemed as if they were vicariously leaning a little over the ocean, already undergoing a sea-change, a shifting about of atoms to form the essential molecule of a new people.” It is about a superficial transformation for the sake of appearances, shallow, vain and useless. There is no transfer of energies, no one is benefitting from it.

However, there is a subtler “transformation” involved when it comes to some Americans coming to live in Europe. The scene between Dick Diver and Franz Gregorovius reveals something deeper than just the striking visual differences between the new coming loud, bold and naive filthy rich American hoards and the traditional background of conservative Europe. When Franz asks Dick about his career plans, the latter answers without hesitation, with the confidence of a young heart: “I’ve only got one, Franz, and that’s to be a good psychologist — maybe to be the greatest one that ever lived.” Franz’ answer is the most illuminating in this American vs. European culture match and interestingly enough, this does not necessarily show the mocking tone of superiority a European gets from the millennia of history one can find at every corner in the old empires: “That’s very good — and very American,” […]” It’s more difficult for us.” […]”I stand here and I see Zurich — there is the steeple of the Gross-Munster. In its vault my grandfather is buried. Across the bridge from it lies my ancestor Lavater, who would not be buried in any church. Nearby is the statue of another ancestor, Heinrich Pestalozzi, and one of Doctor Alfred Escher. And over everything there is always Zwingli — I am continually confronted with a pantheon of heroes.” This is a discussion between two beautiful minds, one, the American, completely free to have the greatest aspirations, the other one, the European, feeling small at the feet of “a pantheon of heroes.” The pioneering spirit of the explorer comes out in this daring young American, opposite the “sudden contracting of horizons to which Franz seemed so reconciled.”

Regardless of the outcome, the start is praise worthy: this young American wanted to infuse old Europe with his free spirit and come out victorious in a win-win situation. Fitzgerald insists here on the contrast between two cultures that have initially been in a relationship of causality, but that have grown more and more separated as the centuries past. The initial European settlers found a vast land they finally conquered. There was a high tall to pay for it on all fronts: from the high numbers of settlers that lost their lives in the harsh environment, to the way they handled their encounter with the natives, to the American Revolution, slavery and the Civil War, to name a few, the Americans had a short but a very dense and dramatic history. The American nation is the result. Europe was only marginally aware of it. The trade between the two continents had never ceased, on the contrary, but the cultural exchange was still in its incipient stages. Chapter by chapter, Fitzgerald masterfully creates scenes and dialogues between all sorts of people, each with their own crisis inside their own culture as well as opposite another.

The conversations between two minds that should think alike, but are greatly influenced in opposite direction because of different cultures, continue in a different register when Dick is considering investing in a clinic with his fellow psychiatrist, Franz. The driving force of many episodes in the book, the cause of despair, humiliation and misery, when it lacks, money, comes under the suspicion to be the only reason Europeans actually do involve in a relationship with Americans: “have you found that when a European wants to see an American very pressingly it is invariably something concerned with money?,” Dick asks his sister in law, Baby Warren. In this conversation it feels as if Dick, the American, turned into a European, dependent on his rich wife’s family money, the American in this relationship. The differences between the rich and the poor come down from the iner-national level to the individual level.

This is another deep revealing discussion in regards to what might have contributed to the two initially common cultures growing strange from each other over the past centuries since the discovery of the New World. Dick brings into discussion the hot topic of “good manners,” complaining of the inflation of it in Europe, thus accusing one of the qualities Europeans thought they possessed as opposed to their fellow Americans of being a source of backwardness. “There’s too much good manners,,” Dick sais, and an old Englishman, trying to return the “compliment,” replies: “I think Americans take their manners rather seriously,” said the elder Englishman.” The charming socialite, Dick, accuses the very manners that have always made him so pleasant to his companions, of being an obstacle on the way to progress.

To support his statement, he uses the example of his father, one of the few fundamentally “good” characters in the book: “I guess so,” said Dick. “My father had the kind of manners he inherited from the days when you shot first and apologized afterward. Men armed — why, you Europeans haven’t carried arms in civil life since the beginning of the eighteenth century — .”

There is a constant clash between two cultures in a newly emerged world, two cultures that needed each other more than they ever realized, but were still trying to find common grounds. In this sense, the book shows Fitzgerald’s own deep concern and his careful considerations over the years of how human nature in the context of the aftermath of the first World War and cultural differences influenced his own life and those of the others involved in the process of living in a strange land.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. 1933. A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook. 2003. On Nov. 12th, 2014, at:

Bryer, Jackson R. Margolies, Alan Prigozy, Ruth. F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives. University of Georgia Press, Mar 15, 2012

Brand, Dana. “Tourism and Modernity in Tender is the Night”

Reynolds, David. The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century W.W. Norton & Company, May 12, 2014

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