Analogy of Modernism in Short Stories
In Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, the main character is called Dexter. The background in which he was born is very humble although he gets a chance to interact with rich people by being a caddie. When offered a chance to be a rich golfer’s caddy, he refuses. Furthermore, he opts to quit in a bid not to be an 11 year old’s caddie. That 11 year old’s name is Judy. The view of modernism that emerges is that contrary to popular belief, Dexter does not kowtow to rich people. Whereas it is expected for ordinary people to want to be associated with the upper class in the society, he does not. He does what he wants and not what the wealthy influential people in the society want.
In addition, he decides to go to college and later on opens a line of laundry shops exclusively for the rich (Linforth 269). From this business, he becomes financially successful, and bumps into Judy who by now is all grown up and very beautiful. They are acquainted for some time, but he leaves her for another woman, Irene. One would thus expect him to marry Irene because he is educated, handsome and successful. On the contrary, he leaves her and reunites with Judy. Essentially, he goes against traditional norms and behavior since at his stage in life, he should have settled down and raised a family.
Unfortunately, their romance does not last long, so he decides to join the war effort. While it might seem that he is having the time of his life, in actual sense Dexter is lonely and feels abandoned. In fact, this feeling of isolation is amplified when he separates with Judy, never to see her again. Similarly, there is a subtle form of uncertainty because, at a quick glance, Dexter seems to be in control of his life. However, it emerges that he doubts if he will ever achieve his dream of marrying Judy. His heart is filled with “…webs of tangled emotion” (Linforth 273). His hope fades upon realizing that Judy had gotten married and was now old. The modernist perspective created is that despite being a hardworking and ambitious man who always got what he wanted, Dexter was unable to maintain a relationship with Judy. On her part, Judy’s treatment of men results in her losing them yet she too lost her own beauty. Dexter is negatively impacted by his loss of Judy that he ends up crying, but in a way, he is sympathizing with himself for not achieving that feat.
Likewise, in “Babylon Revisited”, Fitzgerald talks about a man called Charlie and his wife Helen at a time before the Great Depression. Helen died from a cold infection she got after being locked out by Charlie. Afterwards, his sister-in-law takes custody of Honoria, Charlie’s daughter. Therefore, he now wants to take her back. (Linforth 281). This is in stark contrast to two years ago in his earlier life where he was rich and loved the party lifestyle. As he attempts to regain custody of his child, he is, in a way, trying also to redeem his honor. Notably, he is overzealous to take back Honoria because he wants a boost in his self-esteem from the shame and guilt of his past.
The opening setting is in a bar full of luxury and Charlie is enjoying himself with a few of his friends. Nevertheless, the story ends with him going back to that same bar albeit full of sadness and sorrow. As the story unfolds from the beginning, conventional wisdom would think that Charlie and his friends would be more successful in life than the barman who serves them. Ironically, Paul the barman becomes highly successful. Getting his daughter back proves to be difficult and this shows that he is being alienated. There is no one to comfort him at his sad state, not even the friends he socialized with, as one would expect. Thus, he is deserted to deal with his own problems by the very people he trusted could help him at his time of need.
The conflict that arises due to his insistence to get Honoria back mirrors his internal struggle of shame and guilt. Even though he feels guilty for his wife’s death, his sister-in-law thinks he should be guilty of being rich too. Consequently, he says “…it wont happen again” in a bid to gain social acceptance (Linforth 288). Accordingly, there is a theme of loss and despair throughout the story. Charlie loses almost everything-his wife, money and daughter. The combination is heartbreaking while highlighting the consequences of living a carefree life of excesses.
Finally, in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, Bernice visits her cousin Marjorie, only to be shocked at how the latter lives a rural lifestyle. As a result, she decides to teach her how to have a social life especially dancing and making friends with boys. Gradually, Marjorie starts to follow some lessons although she tricks Bernice into bobbing her hair so that she can minimize her popularity. This forces Bernice to leave the town but not after exacting revenge by cutting two braids from Marjorie’s head (Fitzgerald 380). In this book, there is a clear comparison of a wealthy female, a country girl and their search for identity in the society.
It is apparent that there are certain cultural practices that existed. For example, there were certain activities that children could only perform after adolescence. This message is clarified when Marjorie tells her mother, “people over forty can seldom be convinced of anything”. It signals a clash between generations and the youth’s desire to rebel against anyone in authority. Furthermore, the manner in which Marjorie is determined to know how to socialize shows her unconscious effort to gain acceptance. Hence, these two girls believe that when they entertain men, they will automatically gain their favor. However, what they are really after is being loved. In addition, their contrasting values managed to be meshed. This is because Bernice believed in abstaining until marriage whereas she viewed Marjorie as one who loved casual dating.
The above analysis reveals Fitzgerald’s constant use of modernism in his works. It depicts different contemporary cultures and values, some of which are still applicable today. Consequently, it is possible to see the inner emotions of different characters in relation to their experiences at different stages of their lives. It is also relatively easy to imagine the settings of the various stories through the descriptions of the surroundings. All this provides the reader with a proper understanding of the events and their contexts within each story.
Fitzgerald, F S. Novels and Stories, 1920-1922: This Side of Paradise ; Flappers and Philosophers ; the Beautiful and Damned ; Tales of the Jazz Age. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2000. Print.
Linforth, Christopher. The Anthem Guide to Short Fiction. London: Anthem Press, 2011. Print.