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An Autobiographical Portrayal Of F Scott Fitzgerald

An Autobiographical Portrayal Of F. Scott Fitzgerald As Jay Gatsby, In The Great Gatsby Essay, Research Paper

Dreaming The Impossible Dream:

An autobiographical portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald as Jay Gatsby, in The

Great Gatsby

Frances Scott Key Fitzgerald, born September 24, 1896 in St. Paul,

Minnesota, is seen today as one of the true great American novelists.

Although he lived a life filled with alcoholism, despair, and lost-love, he

managed to create the ultimate love story and seemed to pinpoint the

American Dream in his classic novel, The Great Gatsby. In the novel, Jay

Gatsby is the epitome of the self-made man, in which he dedicates his

entire life to climbing the social ladder in order to gain wealth, to

ultimately win the love of a woman: something that proves to be

unattainable. As it turns out, Gatsby s excessive extravagance and love of

money, mixed with his obsession for a woman s love, is actually the

autobiographical portrayal of Fitzgerald.

While attending Princeton University, Fitzgerald struggled immensely with

his grades and spent most of his time catering to his social needs. He

became quite involved with the Princeton Triangle Club, an undergraduate

club which wrote and produced a lively musical comedy each fall, and

performed it during the Christmas vacation in a dozen major cities across

the country. Fitzgerald was also elected to Cottage, which was one of the

big four clubs at Princeton. Its lavish weekend parties in impressive

surroundings, which attracted girls from New York, Philadelphia and beyond,

may well have provided the first grain of inspiration for Fitzgerald s

portrayal of Jay Gatsby s fabulous parties on Long Island (Meyers, 27).

Although Fitzgerald was a social butterfly while at Princeton, he never

had any girlfriends. However, at a Christmas dance in St. Paul, MN during

his sophomore year, he met Ginevra King, a sophisticated sixteen-year-old

who was visiting her roommate, and immediately fell in love with her.

Although Scott loved Ginevra to the point of infatuation, she was too

self-absorbed to notice. Their one-sided romance persisted for the next two

years. Fitzgerald would send hundreds of letters, but Ginevra, who thought

them to be clever but unimportant, destroyed them in 1917. The following

year, Ginevra sent Scott a letter that announced her marriage to a naval

ensign. Just before Fitzgerald was to meet with Ginevra after a twenty-year



he proclaimed to his daughter, with mixed feelings of regret and nostalgia:

She was the first girl I ever loved and have faithfully avoided seeing her

up to this moment to keep the illusion perfect, because she ended up by

throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference (Meyers,

30). Although heartbroken at the time, Fitzgerald answered Yeats crucial

question– Does the imagination dwell the most / Upon a woman lost or a

woman won? — by using his lost love as imaginative inspiration. For in

his 1925 masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, he recreated the elusive,

unattainable Ginevra as the beautiful and elegant Daisy Fay Buchanan.

Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald described Daisy as an almost disembodied

voice which, Gatsby realized at the end, was full of money. Fitzgerald

wrote, her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes

and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that

men who had cared for her found difficult to forget (Fitzgerald, 14). It

should be noted that, Gatsby s ability, like Fitzgerald s, to keep that

illusion perfect sustains his self-deceptive and ultimately

self-destructive quest, with the help of his own fabulous money, to win

Daisy back from her husband (Meyers, 30).

Although Ginevra King was Fitzgerald s first true love, she certainly was

not his last. In July 1918, while stationed in Montgomery, Alabama with the

military, Scott met a gracious, soft-voiced girl named Zelda Sayre at a

country club dance. Scott recalled that night that, she let her long hair

hang down loose and wore a frilly dress that made her look younger than

eighteen. She came from a prominent though not wealthy family and had just

graduated from Sidney Lanier High School (Meyers, 42).

Despite Zelda s striking beauty and strong personality, she had numerous

flaws that were impossible to hide. She was often rude, selfish, sexually

promiscuous, and lacked restraint. As well, Zelda s family history of

mental illness and suicide would one day claim her. Fitzgerald was well

aware of of Zelda s character flaws, but found them


to be provocative and exciting, for she was, to Scott s delight, an

inspiring example of the postwar modern girl (Meyers, 44). Fitzgerald was

excited– and sometimes tormented –by other men s love for Zelda, which

enhanced her worth in his eyes. This precise uncanny feeling is felt by Jay

Gatsby towards Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald writes, It

excited (Jay) too, that many men had already loved Daisy–it increased her

value in his eyes (Fitzgerald, 141).

Fitzgerald was very surprised and hurt to realize, despite her sexual

responsiveness, that Zelda would not marry him before he had achieved

financial success. In The Great Gatsby, this is the same reason that Daisy

rejected Jay Gatsby (before he became an extremely wealthy man.) At that

time, women from the middle to wealthy classes simply did not marry men from

the lower-class. However, when Scott sold the movie rights for his first

novel for the vast sum of $2,500, he expressed his generosity and love

towards Zelda, and tried to convince her to marry him, by spending the money

on gifts for her. This proved to be the deciding factor for Zelda to marry


F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre were married on April 3, 1920. Over

the next four years, Scott and Zelda managed to maintain their unstable

marriage despite numerous problems. Scott completely succumbed to

alcoholism, and Zelda s odd behaviour often got her into trouble. She would

drink excessively, and then expose herself in public. After having their

first child, a girl named Scottie, Zelda went on to have three abortions.

Their lives in shambles, the Fitzgerald s took whatever money they had and

sailed off to France in May 1924, where Scott began to write The Great


During the summer of 1924, on the beach at St.-Raphael, Zelda met a

handsome French naval aviator named Edouard Jozan. He was dark, athletic,

and romantic, everything that Scott wasn t. As Scott worked intensely on

his novel, Zelda


became bored and restless, and fell completely in love with Jozan. Although

the affair

never lasted very long (as Jozan ended up fleeing), it had an extremely

negative effect on Scott, for while writing The Great Gatsby Scott learned

of (Zelda s) affair with Jozan, just as Tom learns of Daisy s love for and

affair with Gatsby. Tom reclaims Daisy from Gatsby just as Scott reclaimed

Zelda from Jozan (Meyers, 126). Fitzgerald had now managed to weave

Ginevra King s beauty as well as Zelda s corruption into his deceiving

portrait of Daisy Buchanan.

Great Neck, along the coast of Long Island, where Fitzgerald lived

between 1922-24, inspired the setting of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald s

biographer, Andrew Turnbull, noted that while Fitzgerald was living there,

his magic word was egg. People that Scott liked were referred to as good

eggs or colossal eggs, and people he did not like were considered bad

eggs or unspeakable eggs. Fitzgerald s favourite slang expressions were

converted in the novel into the more well-to-do East Egg (based on

Manhasset) where Tom and Daisy lived, and the generally more simple West Egg

(based on Great Neck) where Nick lived in a cottage on Gatsby s estate.

Even today, if you stand at night on King s Point on the tip of Great Neck

peninsula, and look across Manhasset Bay, you can still see– as Gatsby did

–the promising lights winking on the opposite shore (Meyers, 126).

While living in the Great Neck area, Fitzgerald s closest friend was the

aristocratic war hero and polo star, Tommy Hitchcock, whom he often saw

playing in championship matches on Long Island. Born into a wealthy,

upper-class family in 1900, Tommy went to war while still in his teens, and

after having his plane shot down in German territory, escaped to Switzerland

by jumping off a moving train. He earned numerous awards for his bravery.

After the war, Tommy attended Harvard and, like Jay Gatsby, spent a term or

two at Oxford. Fitzgerald idolized Tommy, who possessed many of the

qualities he himself desired. Tommy had the great wealth, social class


and fine breeding of Gerald Murphy (whom Scott would meet in 1925) combined


the good looks, athletic ability and heroic war record of Ernest Hemingway

(Meyers, 103). Fitzgerald held Tommy Hitchcock in such high regard, that he

inspired Scott s portrait of Tom Buchanan, Daisy s husband in The Great

Gatsby. Fitzgerald gives a tremendously visual portrait of Tom s physical

stature when he states that Buchanan s clothes could not hide the enormous

power of that body–he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he

strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting

when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of

enormous leverage–a cruel body (Fitzgerald, 12).

Jay Gatsby, like Fitzgerald, was fascinated by money and power, and

impressed by glamour and beauty. However, they both knew that they could

never fully belong to this prosperous and secure world, and that the goal of

joining this careless class was an illusion. Fitzgerald s novel, shows

what happens to people who pursue illusory American dreams, and how society

(which they have rejected) fails to sustain them in their desperate hour.

The Great Gatsby embodies the failure of romantic idealism. The hero

achieves a great deal, but he loses the individual qualities that defined

him at the beginning of the book and ends, as he lived, essentially alone

(Meyers, 343).

One of the dominant themes of The Great Gatsby was surely one of the

prevailing themes of Scott Fitzgerald s life. Jay Gatsby became

love-stricken and despite rejection, dedicated his entire life to winning

back that elusive love, disregarding everything along the way that was

moral, despite realizing at the end that reaching his goal was unachievable.

Scott Fitzgerald had the same dream as Gatsby, for he yearned to join the

ranks of the upper-class and accordingly obtain the love that had escaped

him. It was an unfortunate outcome, one of hopelessness and despair. In

reference to the theme, it is pointed out that, in all truth. . . The Great

Gatsby is about


something a long way removed from (Gatsby s) legend and popular reputation:

it is

about wanting better bread than can be made out of wheat and then finding

each loaf rotten with decay, about the corruption beneath the glittering

surface, about the soul of man in a society bent on dissolution (Priestly,


In Fitzgerald s description of Jay Gatsby, he has courageously explored and

revealed his own character, leaving us not a glamorous legend, but a vivid

record of self-examination. Fitzgerald s description of Gatsby s tenacious

character and lust for wealth and women was so real and graphic, that it

could only be expressed by someone who had actually endured such feelings.

For in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses fiction to tell his own story–

reflecting on the superior and brutal qualities of the rich and on the

impossibility of becoming one of them (Meyers, 123).


Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1970.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography. New York: Harper Collins

Publishers, 1994.

Priestly, J.B.. The Bodley Head Scott Fitzgerald. London: The Bodley Head

Ltd, 1958.