F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age. Themes and Strategies in his Short Stories

Diploma Thesis, 2015

40 Pages, Grade: 1




Paper Presentation

Chapter I: 20th Century American Short Fiction
1.1 Most popular American short story writers
1.1.1 Ernest Hemingway
1.1.2 F. Scott Fitzgerald
1.1.3 Stephen King
1.2 Short stories. From writing to reading
1.3 Tips and tricks on how to write short fiction

Chapter II: The Modern World as Reflected in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Stories
2.1 Living in the Jazz Age
2.2 “Tales of the Jazz Age” (1922)
2.2.1 “The Camel’s Back”
2.2.2May Day
2.3 “Flappers and Philosophers” (1920)
2.3.1Bernice Bobs Her Hair
2.4 “All the Sad Young Men” (1926)
2.4.1 “Winter Dreams”

Chapter III: Themes in and Critical views of Fitzgerald’s Most Popular Short Stories
3.1 Critical views
3.2 Themes
3.3 Critical chatting: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”




For her patience, encouragement, and assistance I am deeply grateful to Mrs Steluţa Stan, Associate Professor, Ph.D., for being by my side and supporting me to finish this dissertation. I am also thanking to all my professors in college who travelled with me from the great hero, Beowulf, to England’s national poet, William Shakespeare, and to the Jazz Age writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Thank you all for reminding me the pleasure of reading.


In my three years of study, I have read several short stories, by authors recommended by my professors in college, and even by my colleagues. Some of them I really enjoyed reading, but I cannot say the same thing for others which were hard to understand for me.

Mainly, when I read a short story, I focus on the action, on the main subject, because to be honest, I love fantasy, fiction, the unreal or anything that is away from any reality thread, as this gives me the feeling of being an explorer and makes me feel like Neil Armstrong when he stepped on the low gravity surface of the moon.

I chose Fitzgerald firstly because he is one of the few authors that lived in one of the most important periods in the history of the American society, the Jazz Age, and secondly because he is one of the few authors that managed to capture in his fiction the very essence of that period, the jazzy ingredient of America after the trauma it suffered when World War I ended.

I chose short stories and not The Great Gatsby, the great novel that launched Fitzgerald’s career into fame and success, because in stories like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1922) and Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1920), for example, I discovered that good things come in small packages. What could be more interesting than a man ageing in reverse, or a girl who comes to visit her relatives, and turns from being a pray for her capricious cousin, to a predator who manages to steal Marjorie’s beloved, and pay her back for all the bad things she endured from her. Nevertheless I enjoyed how each paragraph of the stories had a new thing to say, or how it described in detail the previous one, and how many of the stories have their own real places and actions based on real happenings.

All in all, the choice was made because these tales told in Fitzgerald’s short stories are like a small introduction to his great, more ample works.

Paper Presentation

The present paper tries to capture the very essence of the 20th century in Fitzgerald’s universe of fiction, mainly the short one.

The first chapter, “20th Century American Short Fiction”, picks up three of the best short story writers of the 20th century and their career as professional writers (subchapters 1.1.1-1.1.3). The aim was to reveal the way the relationship between the reader and the text establishes, how the text is received and what the reader brings to the reading.

The second chapter, “The Modern World as Reflected in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Stories”, introduces the rich context of the Jazz Age (a name Fitzgerald himself invented), a period of wild economic prosperity, cultural flowering and a shaking up of social mores. It was also the defining era of Fitzgerald’s life as a writer with jazz playing a significant part in wider cultural changes (2.1). Subsections 2.2 to 2.4 are dedicated to the best part of Fitzgerald’s career as a writer of most remarkable tales.

The final chapter, “Themes in and Critical Views of Fitzgerald’s Most Popular Short Stories”, closes the research with the analysis of the main themes and critical views about this category of Fitzgerald’s fiction, with a particular focus on my own vision on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in fact a paper that I presented at a round table named “Literature and life Critical Chatting: F. S. Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; H. Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener. A Story of Wall Street”, at the Students’ Scientific Session on 27 May 2015, organized by the Faculty of Letters.

Chapter I: 20th Century American Short Fiction

1.1 Most popular American short story writers

Short fiction is a hard to digest genre for some people, and hard to stop reading for some others; for the latter category it is like opening a bag of candies, taking one and eating it, and then another, and another, until you cannot stop and you eat the whole bag.

In our opinion, “The Few, the Proud”1 are The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1921) and his disturbed society, Big Two-Hearted River by Ernest Hemingway (1925) with his post-war inspired short story, and, of course, The Return of Timmy Baterman by the Stephen King (1983). The three authors mentioned above are in many critics’ and readers’ opinion the most representative short story writers.

1.1.1 Ernest Hemingway

Like Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway was a very good short fiction writer. He even had a greater succes on publishing them then Scott Fitzgerald in his decadence period, when his wife was diagnosed with a mental illness.

He wrote more than sixty short stories and several books. His style of writing novels and short stories was mainly influenced by his early journalistic training. By the time Hemingway starts publishing his short stories and sketches, other American writers influenced British mannerisms. Adverbs and adjectives where thrown on top of one another, and the excess of the semicolons sometimes caused readers to quit reading a book or a newspaper. When he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction2 in 1953 and the next year the biggest award of his career, The Nobel Prize in Literature3, his writing style was given to readers as his leading achievement. It was then when he was called by everyone “master of dialogue”: “This is the way that thes e characters would really talk.” 4 . This is what most of the critics and readers would say but if we make a close analysis of his dialogue, we see that this is rarely the case. This effect of massive dialogue is rather accomplished by the perfect reoccurrence and significance that bring us back to memory what was previously said.

1.1.2 F. Scott Fitzgerald

Some of you may ask themselves why F. Scott Fitzgerald is in this category. Well, beside the fact that he is one of the masters of the 20th century short fiction, the way how he focuses in his short stories around one main event or character, and how he mocks the society with it, makes him suitable for the podium. Good example being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and its resemblance between a new-born child and a man at the age of kicking the bucket: “My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the text, and schoolmasters of ever afterward.” (Fitzgerald, The Author’s Apology, 1920, Available at < http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/side/side-apol.html> Accessed on 24 July 2015).

Even from his own words, we can clearly see that throught his short stories Fitzgerald managed to capture the very essence of the American society, of his age, from the youth, the parties, the pleasure of boys from the lower class flirting with girls from the upper classes, to the struggle with alcoholism and the fight with time itself.

In his career Fitzgerald published over 160 short stories in different collections such as Flappers and Philosophers (1921) with great stories like The Off-Shore Pirate and The Ice Palac e, or Tales of the Jazz Age (1922) with a great short story that I enjoyed reading “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in which a great perspective between the two polar ends of life is presented, and eight other collections.

Banul nu mai are miros, e un nou organ, rod al adaptării omului la destinul său, fiind o aripă care -l aproprie de divinitate, care- l sustrage gravitaţiei, care anulează păcatul originar. (Le Vot 1979 in trad. Soroiu 1983: 12)

[Money does not have any smell anylonger, it is a new organ, it is a result of the human adapting to his own destiny, being a wing which takes him closer to the divine, which brakes the law of gravity, which cancels the ancestral sin. - translation mine]

Despite the fact that he was considered the greatest author of the 20th century, and he was aware of this, many of his hand writings that he sent to his literary agent Harold Ober, were censored and mutilated by the publisher in the idea they should not offend the middle- class readership, thus removing any passage from his work that could relate to any sexual innuendo, any racial or ethnic discrimination and any alcohol or drugs related actions.

Some will think that this is the consequence of a new born American society who was just leaving her shell, it was the time of the American Dream, they were finally leaving history behind. They did not knew what a war might cause to someone, or what influence it had over Fitgerald’s young mind. They were just not ready for the, sometimes satirical, fiction of Fitzgerald’s short stories that he published in the decades of the two World Wars.

By the end of the 1930’s Fitzgerald’s great career had turn from luxury and fame, into a struggle with alcoholism and debpt. Suffering from 3 heart atacks he dies in 1940 from a 4th heart stroke.

1.1.3 Stephen King

Finally, but not last is Stephen King, for whom we have a great respect, not only for his books, but for the fact that many of his writings end up in a good movie. Great stories of S. King that are about “the living dead” were a great source of inspiration for many TV shows producers, movie producers. For example, Sometimes They Come Back (first published in March 1974, in the Cavallier magazine, and adapted to a movie with the same title in 1991).

Everyone knows short stories are meant to be pure fiction, clean facts of the unreal, maybe even human fears and emotions bringed to life, or better to say “to words”. Fear of death, fear of the world beyond, this is what S. King uses when he creates his short fiction in which he is describing well too good the “undead world”, the living dead that are coming to “feed upon the living”. Being one of many 21st century teenagers, favorite type of fiction, this great unknown from the world after death simply fascinated everyone, and in King’s fiction a small univers could be seen, in which his short stories were meant to be the planets of that univers.

“A short story is a different thing all together - a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” (King Stephen, Skeleton Crew, 1985, Introduction) This is how many of us felt at their first reading of a short story written by Stephen King, No one knows why this happened, maybe because he’s a contemporary author or maybe the fact that he is the one, he and Scott Fitzgerald are the ones who have changed the way how lots of students are reading a book, they have shown to us the path of reading between the lines to see the hidden reality of the fiction.

Until now, Stephen Edwin King wrote about two houndred short stories, in which he merge the elements of psichological, horror, paranormal and science fiction themes. To all these we add the fact that he is using real time places in hisstories to emphasize the magical effect of his short fiction.

1.2 Short stories. From writing to reading

A certain relationship between the reader and the text had to be established, this relationship being more than the fact that you enjoyed reading it or not. When someone writes a short story, they write to uncover what Ernest Hemingway referred to as “the measure of what you brought to the reading” .5

Mainly a short story is a brief fiction of narrative prose, which is smaller in dimension than a novel, and it always has in focus only a small number of characters. The short fiction is mainly built around a single idea that is written within one ore few major episodes or scenes. The pattern supports the economy of setting, the compact narrative technique, and the prohibition of a complex plot.

Throughout the decades, little critical attention has been given to the short story, and in the 19th century, two words were associated with this type of fiction, sketch and tale, these two allowed critics to have a way of looking at the genre. Many have considered the short story to be an apprenticeship form preceding more lengthy writings, their authors describing their works as a part of the form, resisting categorization by genre and fixed formation.

Gone were the ideal love stories and the fragments so grounded in Victorian ideals, when the Lost Generation6 laid a new foundation of form and content with a break from the past, clearly changing the writing tone and mood.

The cynicism about life could now be sensed by the reader, basically the writer created a world that lacked the basic form of a family life or religious faith. The past had some ideal “setup”, it was meant to be perfect, everyone was happy, but the present was a space that was lacking tradition and religion, the identity in this new world questioned by the characters themselves.

American writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured with their novels and short stories the discontented mood in the 1920s and along Ernest Hemingway managed to make the postwar period to be a prosper one for the short fiction.

Through the 20th century, students, normal people, newspapers and many magazines have paid the authors good money (many of them making fortunes), to get to read or publish their short stories, those tiny glimpses of magical reality captured in a few pages or chapters. For example in the late 1920’s a novel or a collection of short stories, could have been sold for a price varying from four hundred American dollars to an amazing four thousand U.S. dollars.

Nowadays pupils and some of the students are passing through high school and college with only one thought: that they will read a book or an article because the teacher told them to do so, or because they need to get a good grade. This is the missed conception of reading good literature, the pleasure of reading will be replaced by disgust, and the late hours spent under the blanket with a flashlight trying to read without disturbing anyone in the room, will be replaced by reading one page summaries or watching the movie that was adapted after the book.

This book to movie adaptation is wrong because when someone like Fitzgerald, who lived the Jazz Age 7, writes a story, the described setting or characters or any other thing will not be 100% shown in the movie. A movie is made to please the public; it is made mainly according to the allocated budget by the ones financing the Director of the specific movie.

Many writers advised their readers, when they read a book for the first time, to look at the story between the lines to search for the hidden mystery that any book (fiction or not) keeps in its small universe.

After many of the great writers of the short fiction died and many of them were badly reviewed, critics paid better attention to the short fiction. They have finally notice the hidden stories within the lines. They start paying great respects to writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and his magical Jazz Age.

A short story has, in general, a foundation based on recording every thought and observation in notebooks or any other written form. Fitzgerald for example organized his notes into groups like “Feelings and Emotions”, “Conversations and things overheard” and Descriptions of girls”. When can clearly see his habits before writing a story in the letters in which he was advising his mistress, Sheilah Graham, to do like him: “You must begin by making notes. You may have to make notes for years…. When you think of something, when you recall something, put it where it belongs. Put it down when you think of it. You may never recapture it quite as vividly the second time.” (Graham Sheilah, Beloved Infidel, 1940, Available at <http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/seven_tips_from_f_scott_fitzgerald _on_how_to_write_fiction.html accessed on 15 August 2015>, Accessed on 21 August 2015)

1.3 Tips and tricks on how to write short fiction

Some will say that Fitzgerald was a natural-born writer mainly because he starts writing from his adolescence, even his friend Ernest Hemingway says that “His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.”

In his career as a writer, he had been corresponding with different writers, editors and other that were interested in his tales or in his other great collection of short stories. On purpose or not, in these letters he was inserting small advices or tips on how he writes a short story, or how a short story should be written. When his daughter asked him on what is he working now he wrote back to her: “I think it’s a pretty good rule not to tell what a thing is about until it’s finished. If you do you always seem to lose some of it. It never quite belongs to you so much again .8

Famous for his representative characters, he once admit it that it was accidental: “I had no idea of originating an American flapper when I first began to write , I simply took girls who I knew very well and, because they interested me as unique human beings, I used them for my heroines.” (Fitzgerald, interview for Metropolitan magazine, 1923, Available at https://prezi.com/sgtbott8kxkz/copy-of-f-scott-fitzgerald/ on 29 August 2015) The Rich Boy short story opens with a great explication of this elemental concept: “Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created-nothing. (Fitzgerald, The Rich Boy, 1926, available at https://www.goodreads.com/ebooks/download/553741?doc=2046 on 29 August 2015)

In a letter that he sent to his fellow writer John Peale Bishop, in 1929, he is telling him that if he would have to use some eloquent words in his stories, firstly he would “have to search for it to express a delicate shade-where in effect you have recreated it. This is a damn good prose rule I think…. Exceptions: need to avoid repetition need of rhythm etc.”9

Another problem for Fitzgerald was the excesive use of adjectives in the tales and articles of the time, mainly because he wanted that his stories could keep “moving” through time and space, so that everyone could see in his tales, a piece of the 1920s American society. He explains to his daughter in a letter that he had sent her in 1938 that:

All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’ Eve of Saint Agnes. A line like The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass, is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement-the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your own eyes.

(Fitzgerald, Letter to his daughter Scottie, 1938, available at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5152256.Aaron_D_Gansky/blog , on 22 August 2015)

Nevertheless an author of the short fiction needed to be cruel, with no remorse of what he might say in his stories, and that no writer should get to sentimental with what he is writing. He relates all these adivices in 1933, publishing the article One houndred False Starts in the Saturday Evening post:

I am alone in the privacy of my faded blue room with my sick cat, the bare February branches waving at the window, an ironic paper weight that says Business is Good[…] Shall I run it out? Or shall I turn back?

Shall I say: I know I had something to prove, and it may develop farther along in the story?


This is just bullheadedness. Better throw it away and start over.

The latter is one of the most difficult decisions that an author must make. To make it philosophically, before he has exhausted himself in a hundred-hour effort to resuscitate a corpse or disentangle innumerable wet snarls, is a test of whether or not he is really a professional. There are often occasions when such a decision is doubly difficult. In the last stages of a novel, for instance, where there is no question of junking the whole, but


1 US Military Marine Slogan

2 The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes that are annually awarded for Letters, Drama, and Music. Source <

3 Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction" source < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Prize_in_Literature > Accessed on 25 August 2015

4 Roberts, James L. (2000) Cliffs Notes on Hemingway’s Short Stories, Nebraska: Cliff Notes, p. 91 7

5 Interviews, Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21, Interviewed by George Plimpton

6 The "Lost Generation" generation that came of age during World War I Source 10

7 The Jazz Age was a post-World War I movement in the 1920's, from which jazz music and dance emerged. 11

8 Fitzgerald, Letter to his daughter Scottie, published on December, 7, 1940, available at https://books.google.ro/books?id=TRZGCgAAQBAJ&pg=PT1&lpg=PT1&dq=Collected+Letters+of+F.+Scott+ Fitzgerald:+From+the+author+of+The+Great&source=bl&ots=jalUTRMhpy&sig=emz8XQhybfteAnegsy_USb Y72Wo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CD0Q6AEwB2oVChMI0NyW2urOxwIVBRYsCh2a5wjA#v=onepage&q=Colle cted%20Letters%20of%20F.%20Scott%20Fitzgerald%3A%20From%20the%20author%20of%20The%20Great &f=false (accessed on 29 August 2015)

9 F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Life in Letters, available at https://books.google.ro/books?id=RISmLrJROEgC&pg=PT259&lpg=PT259&dq=You+ought+never+to+use+an +unfamiliar+word+unless+you%E2%80%99ve+had+to+search+for+it+to+express+a+delicate+shade%E2%80%93where+in+effect+you+have+created+it.+This+is+a+damn+good+prose+rule+I+think%E2%80%A6.&sourc e=bl&ots=rioDE2NbXb&sig=Nz_VdznPR8BV_ldpcDu0ZgkirqQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAmoVCh MI9-DJvoHPxwIVQgYsCh1Z4wqx#v=onepage&q=You%20ought%20never&f=false (accessed on 29 August 2015)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age. Themes and Strategies in his Short Stories
20th Century Literature
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Scott Fitzgerald, Short Stories, Jazz Age, Themes, Benjamin Button
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Danaila Costin (Author), 2015, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age. Themes and Strategies in his Short Stories, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/323386


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