“Tender is the Night” is a novel about the corruption of idealism by self-indulgence and materialism. The idealism refers to Dick Diver and the morals he learnt from his father. The self-indulgence and materialism refers to post war America, and the failure to understand the process of change from the old American values and the new American values as the definition of success has changed over time. Dick Diver tries to marry these two ideals and that is where he fails. These are the main themes in the novel and these are shown through Dick Diver’s downfall.
Many readers believe that Dick Diver himself is the only person to blame for his own downfall and that he is not the embodiment of American ideals but other readers believe that there are many other factors that contribute to Dick’s downfall; the most important of these could be Nicole as she is an embodiment of the corruption of these ideals. The world of America after the war provides the background for “Tender is the Night” – a decade described by Fitzgerald as the Jazz Age – an era that Fitzgerald was both fascinated and repelled by it.
Throughout the nineteen twenties America bore witness to a reshaping of their moral code into what Graham Greene sourly described as “the empty, sinless, chromium world (a world without values). ” The post war generation felt that they deserved happiness whereas the belief of the generation previous to the war was that it was their duty to other people that came before their own happiness. Self indulgence also refers to Dick Divers flaws and character weaknesses which are highlighted by the Warren family. Fitzgerald has written this book with a fairly symmetrical structure, which helps the reader understand Dick.
Book Two is almost entirely Dick’s insight, with his early optimisms while falling in love with Nicole. At this time when Dick is first beginning his career his ideals and focus is that of the American Dream. He wants to work hard, be successful and be the best he can be and he is very much an idealist. The reader can see here Dick’s true ideals of becoming a good psychologist when he is speaking to Franz: “I’ve only got one, Franz, and that’s to be a good psychologist – maybe to be the greatest one that ever lived. ” Franz replies: “That’s very good – and very American. ”
It is when Dick is falling in love with Nicole that we can see that it is not his career that is the most important factor in Dick’s life but love, happiness and ‘joie de vivre’ is at the heart of his ideals – he is a true Romantic. The reader is reminded of this on several occasions; the first being early in Book One. Brian Stephan describes him as “more artist than scientist, both forcing this world back into the past”. Dick is arguing with a young Russian intellectual when he was still at university when he was told “You’re not a romantic philosopher – you’re a scientist…
That’s going to be your trouble – judgment about yourself” Later, after Dick has met Nicole we see an even greater insight into Dick’s desire to become morally higher than he already is through his love and kindness for people: “… he wanted to be good, he wanted to be kind, he wanted to be brave and wise, but it was all pretty difficult. He wanted to be loved, too, if he could fit it in. ” Simply, Dick yearned to embody the ideals of the American Dream – however he encapsulates the contrast between the old America and the new one.
Dick’s father, an upstanding Reverend, represents old American values. As a religious, moral, good man he tried to pass all of his values onto Dick: “His father had done that from a good heart… who had raised him to believe that nothing could be superior to ‘good instincts,’ honor, courtesy, and courage. ” His father’s death symbolizes the passing of an age of “Old America”. Dick is on the cusp between the two ages. Dick has embraced the new values, as he admires and desires success, but simultaneously wishes he had adhered to his father’s values.
Dick has embraced the new values but he is unaware how corrupt it has become. It was indicated in Fitzgerald’s own memorandum to himself in 1932 that “The novel should do this: show a man who is a natural idealist, a spoiled priest, giving in for various reasons to the ideas of the haute bourgeoisie, and in his rise to the top of the social world losing his idealism, his talent, and turning to drink and dissipation” This description matches exactly with Dick Diver himself in the novel. Similarly, Abe North is another character who encompasses old American values.
While Reverend Diver illustrates Dick’s past, Abe North prefigures his decline. Fitzgerald presents Abe as a victim of the expectations of the new American dream, as a failed musician who turns to alcohol. Coupled with Dick’s marriage to Nicole is a marriage to corruption. Although Dick has been taught well he lacks the strength of character to abide by this moral code. The Warren’s money undermines Dick’s idealism, yet he does not realize this until it is too late. Nicole’s background contrasts drastically with that of Dick’s.
The Warren’s riches were not earned through hard work and industry, the old America way, but through crime, opportunism and exploitation. Even by her own admission, Nicole is a villain! Brian Stephan highlighted the contrast of Dick’s priorities: “His distaste for the domestic asceticism of Franz and Kaethe Gregorvious reminds him of his own ‘pretense’ of ‘rigid domesticity’, a pretense ‘from which he was drifting away. ‘ The Warren’s money is not earned traditionally, that of the American dreams ideals, through hard work, dedication and honesty.
Nicole even admits: “I suppose my grandfather was a crook and I’m a crook by heritage”. It could be said that it is due to Nicole’s father that she is an embodiment of the corruption of the American ideals. When we first meet Nicole the reader does not feel a sense of corruption or immorality within her, but we see an innocent young girl. Even when we find out about the incestuous relationship that was forced upon her by Mr. Warren we feel that he is to blame- not her for any further corruption.
At first we see that Nicole has a sense of values and knows that she cannot use money as a method of persuasion: “… she entertained an idea of telling him how rich she was….. But she survived the temptation to confuse all values. ” We can see that although she is brought up with her sister Baby Warren, who shows all characteristics of being entirely amoral; Nicole has a moral code yet understands Dick’s. We can see the contrast between the moral code of Baby warren and that of Dick Diver when she saves Dick from prison in Rome.
This could be seen as a reversal in the moral codes but when the reader that she only saves him to gain “moral superiority over him” it becomes apparent that they have not reversed. This is very ironic as by only doing this to gain moral superiority she looses it instantly. In the early years of Dick and Nicole’s marriage he is financially independent. He writes a scientific treatise entitled “Psychology for Psychiatrists” which is very commercially successful; his career is progressing very well, but as the marriage continues he relies on and is controlled by the Warren money.
After his first successful book he starts a second. This would have been seen as a great achievement under the ideals of the American Dream but soon his writing is put on hold but is never returned to. It could be said that Dick partly embodies the corrupted ideals of new America through his flaws. Dick indulges himself in pursuing young girls, excessive drinking as well as materialism which undermine his innate idealism. In the South of France Dick confesses to Mrs. Speers that he is in love with Rosemary: “‘I’m in love with Rosemary,’… ‘It’s a kind of self-indulgence saying that to you. ” He later ominously describes her as forms of poisons: “the blinding belladonna… the mandragora that imposes harmony. ” Fitzgerald’s use of sinister metaphors to describe Rosemary forewarns the reader of the part Rosemary is to play in Dick’s downfall. Dick starts to realize that she is epitomy of woman hood, of evil and full of dark omens. The word “all” implies that she has absolute power over him. Brian Stephan states that “It is Rosemary, after all, who is the catalyst that hastens the dissolution of the Divers’ dream world” and therefore also Dick’s world.
I partially agree with this statement but I also think that although Rosemary is the ‘catalyst’ I think that it could have been any young, beautiful girl to destroy this ‘dream world’. We begin to believe that Dick does embody the corrupt ideals of America: “But Dick’s necessity of behaving as he did was a projection of some submerged reality: he was compelled to walk there… ” This act is completely out of Dick’s character. The image of General Grant is employed by Fitzgerald as the perfect example of the American dream.
When he began his career he was a non-entity without any education, qualifications or career, but through the army succeeded in life to become an important figure in the American military service. He is linked with Dick as like him he was affected by a post war era. “… like Grant, lolling in his general store in Galena, is ready to be called to an intricate destiny. ” It is ironic that Dick is linked to General Grant as not only did he not fight in the war: “the war didn’t touch him at all” but also Dick is conveyed as the polar opposite of Tommy, who is a military man.
Tommy shows his amorality and his hardness when he ‘forgets’ to mention Abe’s death to Dick as he wants Dick to discover it himself. It is not until Dick’s father dies that we see any acts of violence from Dick at all. This happens in Rome where: “the passionate impatience…. leaped apon…. like a flash of violence”. Fitzgerald uses imagery taken from central Asia – a barbaric world: “Symbolically she lay across his saddle-bow as surely as if he had wolfed her away from Damascus and they had come out upon the Mongolian plain. ”
Tommy’s surname, “Barban”, is indicative of his barbarian nature, which is in great contrast to Dick’s gentlemanly civilized nature. Significantly, Nicole is not attracted by Dick’s civilization anymore; Tommy is her new ideal – the man of the age. He represents the up and coming decade and mood. The movies also play a great part in the changing of American values. The backdrop of the novel is provided by the ‘Raging Twenties’, golden cinematic era. At the time, controversy was rife over the developing sexual undertone in the movies: “they were risen to a position of prominence in a nation that for a decade had wanted only to be entertained. Rosemary was in a big movie called “Daddy’s Girl”. Dick organizes a private showing of this film for himself and Rosemary – this is the start of his destruction. Rosemary cannot distinguish between the reality and the movies. When seducing Dick she feels that she is playing her greatest role in a film: “Suddenly she knew that it was one of her greatest roles and she flung herself into it more passionately. ” The movies symbolize the unreality that clouds Rosemary’s judgment, but also, the new unreal world that the Americans were living in.
Even the Diver’s lifestyle was that of movie stars. Dick understood this unreal world that had developed after the war, understood the damage that it could do to his delicate wife, Nicole, so created another surreal that Nicole could live in with protection. We visit two film sets in the novel the second being very symbolic. Rosemary takes Dick along to the set with her and Fitzgerald makes it clear to the reader that had Dick not been there, Rosemary would have had a sexual affair with the director in order to receive a greater role in the film.
We can see the corruption of Hollywood and how the American Dream is failing. Through imagery and symbolism that is used in this novel some readers would take the view that Dick is the victim and the new world he is living in is corrupting him. Nicole is the main character that is corrupting Dick as he is in love with her and will do anything for her. She is compared to Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Like Dick, Hamlet is also betrayed by the woman he loved: “he had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. ”
This novel has been linked with a poem that John Keats wrote entitled “Isabella”: “For them the Ceylon Diver held his breath. And went all naked to the hungry shark. ” This poem is about a poor diver who searched the waters for pearls for the rich and died one time in a shark attack. It has been thought that Fitzgerald was a great admirer of Keats and his work so it could be assumed that this is where he got the surname for Dick from. Dick tried to do everything for Nicole but her family’s wealth corrupts them both leading to his decline and some critics might say her rise.
Richard Godden says that “Dick neither declines nor falls; he jumps, or more specifically, takes a dive. ” Dick takes a dive into the female element or Nicole’s life – water and his downfall occurs from then on. Dick Diver can also be associated with Jay Gatsby – a character in another of Fitzgerald’s novels: “The Great Gatsby”. These two characters can be compared through their corruption by the American Dream: yet contrasted by their different types of corruption. Jay Gatsby pursued shady deals because of his doomed love and obsession with Daisy Buchanan – he sought to impress.
Dick Diver did not strive to impress Nicole with wealth and it was only once he wais married to the love of his life – Nicole Warren that he becomes corrupt. Fitzgerald distills the essence of the Jazz Age, and probes to the empty heart of the American Dream through both Dick Diver and Jay Gatsby. Dick can be thought of as true to the American ideals. The original American dream was to gain success but soon this became linked with money. Dick once succeeded in the old American dream by producing a book that although was told was a lightweight, he knew that there was a great need for this type of book in his field and was very successful.
Nicole saps his energy and love of life from him. The Warren money strips Dick of all his values and also American ideals and abandons his ambition just like Abe North and turns to drink. Nicole is taking part in the changing process from Ole American values to new lavishly spending and having an adventure whereas Dick is on the cusp between the two. Still they purveyor in making people happy he is put in a different league to all of the other characters so instead of disliking Dick for his faults we sympathize and understand them.
Fitzgerald, when writing “Tender is the Night” wanted to show a man who is a natural idealist, a spoiled priest, giving in for various causes to the ideas of the haute Bargoise and to his rise to the top of the social world losing his idealism, his talent and turning to drink and dissipation. Fitzgerald says himself “The hero is a man like myself. ” A gentleman struggling to come to terms not only with his wife’s illness but also the new world that is developing with new morals around him and this is how I believe Dick is portrayed- an embodiment of American ideals corrupted by the people and world around him.