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MonkeyNotes-Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Themes

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in all of his writing, portrays how wealth usually destroys happiness. In Tender Is the Night, wealth definitely contributes to Dick Diver’s demise. He marries Nicole largely because of her money and then begins a life of extreme self-indulgence, toying with his career, chasing women, and becoming involved with a teenage movie star. When he realizes his life has no meaning, he drowns his misery in drink, totally destroying his career and his marriage. But it is not just Dick who is wealthy and self-indulgent. In Book One, all the visitors to the French Riviera are rich and irresponsible, causing destruction to themselves and others. Also it is learned that Nicole’s wealthy father sexually abused her and then brought her to Swiss psychiatric clinic to be “fixed”. Without the wealth, none of them, including Dick, would have the time or money to play their games.

Capitalism in Europe between the wars is another theme of the novel. Eager to rebuild their economy, the Europeans welcomed the Americans, in spite of their brash ways. The book seems to suggest that Americans in the 20’s arrived in Europe and immediately began to ruin it; their money and uncouthness was like some awful disease. Capitalistic desire, however, made the superior Europeans overly tolerant of the visitors. In the process everyone's humanity seemed to be compromised, as the Americans took what they wanted and bought whatever they desired.


Fitzgerald also criticizes the state of psychiatry in the novel. Because of his experiences with Zelda, he had lots of first-hand knowledge of the psychoanalytical field. He saw European "clinics" as havens for twisted rich people who were looking for some miracle cure to fix all their problems. Throughout the book, Franz reminds Dick that their clients are wealthy patients who must be pampered, coddled, and often told what they want to hear. As a result, psychiatry begins to look like a control game or a pack of lies. Even though Dick sees the possibilities for the profession, he succumbs to the realities of its actual practice. Before long, he has no clear picture of what psychiatry should really be. By the time he starts his second book, his thinking has become so garbled that the title of the treatise does not even make sense to him.

Family relationships are also questioned in the novel. No one in the book seems to have a very satisfying family background. Nicole is sexually abused by her father and controlled by her domineering sister. Dick never mentions his mother and has a distant relationship with his father; even though he goes home to handle the arrangements for his funeral, he never made an attempt to visit the man when he was sick and dying. In fact, he is so cut off from family that Dick says that he never plans to return to the United States after burying his dad. (Ironically, at the end of the novel, he goes back to America to try and find some meaning in life, but fails to do so.) Obviously the Diver children, Lanier and Topsy, are not being given sound family roots as Nicole and Dick float about Europe and have affairs.

Finally, the book remains today an excellent example of our twentieth century pre-occupation with addictive behavior. Alcohol is a clear antagonist in this book. Every few paragraphs, someone reaches for a drink, trying to entertain themselves or drown their problems. Dick, of course, is the worst one of all. By the end of the book, he has vanished into alcoholic oblivion. By the time that Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is the Night, he knew the devastating affects of too much drink and too much partying, but he was unable to stop the self-indulgent behavior, just as Dick Diver was unable to stop.

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