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This essay is dedicated to the analysis and discussion of the key features and the role of madness in Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the first part, the background of the novel is outlined in two main directions: general information about this work of literature and the key aspects of madness of Nicole Diver.
In the second part, Tender is the Night is investigated in the light of the madness of Nicole’s character and the intensions of the author are also analyzed in the light of the social life of that period, its norms and standards.
Madness is defined as a derangement of emotions, senses and mind. Mental illness has always attracted minds and many samples of popular culture were inspired by it. Mental problems are often described in poetry and drama, art and music. Madness has been very popular topic for many novelists for centuries, but it became highly recognized by the public only in the age of Z.Freud’ s theories. Virgina Wolf in her Mrs Dalloway (1925) and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Tender is the Night ( 1933) have discovered new, romantic, side of madness. They demonstrated that derangement of mind can be seen as a journey into inner world of the human. Insane person can discover new heights and depths simply by symptoms of the illness. On the other hand, madness of the book character mirrors the society problems and , thus, functions as a greater sanity. Madness of the main character was later described in numerous novels. V. Nabokov’s Lolita, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are probably the most successful samples.
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Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, was hospitalized in 1932 with mental decease and the family problem most likely influenced the choice of the topic for the novel. F. Scott Fitzgerald was probably writing in an atmosphere similar to the one we find ourselves in today. During the Great Depression, just like it happens today, many were frustrated with the insane cycles of the system that is spinning us around and never cars for anything. Thus, Nicole’s madness is a metaphor of the society.
Tender is the Night was first published in 1933, when public wanted to return to the glory and luxury of the '20s. And Nicole Diver became that very character, a woman, who mirrored the insanity of the system. Women like her always exist in the real world. Her only purpose is to continue to consume exponentially. It all lasts until her breakdown, then she is isolated and released again after the treatment, but all the same mistakes are repeated over and over again. The book is so fascinating thanks to its sudden shift into the first person point of view of Nicole Diver.
Nicole is mentally ill and her health problem influences the whole family. Her fragile world was broken when she was still very young, just a teenager. Her mother had died early, and her beloved father, Devereux Warren, raped her. Nicole is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her father, Mr Warren and her sister, Baby, claimed there was no history of schizophrenia in their family. Thus, it becomes obvious that her illness was caused by the rape.
Nicole is the center of the events in the novel. She is not the main character but she is given an opportunity to speak in the first person. Even before the novel comes to the section, where she can express her thoughts, Nicole was personally introduced in epistolary section. It is remarkable that readers are able to get the impression of her personality from the letters she wrote to Dick, but they never see any of Dick’s letters to her. However, this section is written based on Dick’s memory of her letters. It is still argued what meaning was given to this section by the writer. Anyway, Nicole is first presented by her letters. Readers get an impression of a very intelligent and highly educated person. But her world is not simple, she is constantly fighting her ghosts in the darkness and this battle is very painful. "But I was very busy being mad then, so I didn’t care what he said, when I am very busy being mad I don’t usually care what they say, not if I were a million girls" ( Fitzgerald, 52).
During the private watching of Daddy’s Girl screened for the Divers and their friends, the film starlet Rosemary Hoyt is definitely intending to attract Dick Diver. Nicole is definitely feeling uncomfortable. "Was it a ‘itty-bitty bravekins and did it suffer? Ooo-ooo-tweet, de tweetest thing, wasn’t she dest too tweet?" (Fitzgerald, ) It was a comment on Rosemary’s childish character in the film. But it reminds of Nicole’s words said to Dick in the Swiss Alps, during fabulous time they spent celebrating the holidays at a ski lodge:"Please be happy, Dick." […] "Why don’t you meet some of these ickle durls and dance with them in the afternoon?"
"What would I say to them?""Say: ‘Ickle durl, oo is de pwettiest sing.’"(Fitzgerald, )
The "baby-talk" is not met in the novel except for these two episodes. Probably, Nicole was feeling unsafe and her childish words demonstrated her memory of the sad events that happened to her.
Nicole feels threatened by Dick and Rosemary’s relationship (and Dick is just old enough to be Rosemary’s father), and if you take that together with the fact that Nicole was raped by her father, we can imagine Nicole’s discomfort at watching the woman who might be her husband’s lover playing the role of "perfect" daughter to the "perfect" father on the big screen. In this moment, perhaps the third-person narrator is no longer sufficient to express Nicole’s pain, which is probably the most important thing going on in the room. And it subtly prepares the readers for the shock of "hearing" Nicole’s voice, unmediated by the third-person narrator, for the first time, later in the book.
Nicole’s section begins in Book Two of the novel. This section follows the picture of Divers’ extravagant lifestyle on the Riviera. It is strikingly sad to learn of Nicole’s tragic past after glamorous image of Nicole in France. We learn how she and Dick met and what drove them together . Nicole’s part of the book is the most interesting in regards to her mental illness. This section can be categorized into twelve parts. Each part is different depending on the form the first person takes. It can be compared to some creative work, probably a diary but very different from regular every day notes. We are invited in Nicole’s mind, we can have a look at her memory, but the picture is somewhat distorted. The first of these twelve parts is narrated in the first-person. Here, Nicole is directly talking to her lawyer and her sister, Baby Warren. They are discussing the details of her marriage with Dick. Nicole is absolutely sane and she wants to know how much of her money, her inherited trust fund, she can use. The reader can only access the words she says to them, but none of their responses.
In many other parts Nicole directly speaks to Dick, in others her words are meant to the reader. In some parts Nicole seem to be talking to a person (or some people) she knew, but she never gives any names. Generally speaking, Nicole’s section gives readers some important information to understand her personality. Her words and thoughts direct the understanding of the novel generally. “Talk is men. When I talk I say to myself that I am probably Dick. Already I have even been my son, remembering how wise and slow he is. Sometimes I am Doctor Dohmler and one time I may even be an aspect of you, Tommy Barban" (Fitzgerald,10.34).The reader understands that Nicole pretends to be other people. But she is aware of her actions. Everything is done intentionally.
For example, this passage: "Yes, the little book is selling everywhere—they want it published in six languages. I was to do the French translation but I’m tired these days—I’m afraid of falling, I’m so heavy and clumsy—like a broken roly-poly that can’t stand up straight." (Fitzgerald,73)
Nicole is pregnant with her first baby and it is not obvious who she is talking to in this passage, but we learn something about her ambitions. This part also tells about Dick Diver’s success as a writer and publishing of his psychology books. Dick’s career is going well and Nicole feels she can to do something important, and a French translation is something meaningful to her. A few paragraphs later we find this passage. “ When I get well I want to be a fine person like you, Dick – I would study medicine except it’s too late. […] You’re bored with Zurich and you can’t find time for writing here and you say that it’s a confession of weakness for a scientist not to write. And I’ll look over the whole field of knowledge and pick out something and really know about it, so I’ll have it to hang on to if I go to pieces again.” (Fitzgerald, 75)
Nicole is making every effort to get better. She desperately wants to do something with her life, she is aware that something meaningful can keep her illness away. But her desire is not understood by her husband. Dick is confident that he knows better and goes that far that he thinks Nicole is trying to discourage him from his work. It might be that she is motivated by an instinct to "own" him, but it is not exactly so. This part emphasizes that Nicole is not completely understood. She even starts having doubts on the reliability of Dick. His perceptions regarding Nicole might be wrong. And the reader can choose to believe Dick, and then Nicole’s words do not sound reliable.
Some time later, Nicole Diver says, "[…] my principal interest in life is archeology. I am tired of knowing nothing and being reminded of it all the time." (Fitzgerald, 78) These three passages concerning Nicole’s ambition might make us feel sad for her when we read the passage that brings Nicole’s first person section back to the beginning of the book, on the beach, when Rosemary comes on the scene: "Everything is all right—if I can finish translating this damn recipe for chicken a la Maryland into French." (Fitzgerald, 1)
Instead of translating serious work, instead of pursuing her interest in archaeology, instead of finding something to study, Nicole is translating recipes. Like Dick, her potential is being squandered by the circumstances of their life.
Her first person section also gives us critical information regarding her mental illness. She says, "That was why he took me traveling but after my second child, my little girl, Topsy, was born everything got dark again." But why did she have such a hard time when Topsy was born? It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out that maybe she was afraid that what happened to her, might happen to her daughter – either at the hands of her own father (even though she has no contact with him), or maybe even at the hands of Dick, though there is no explicit statement of this kind in the novel.
A few paragraphs later, we get a confirmation of Doctor Dohmler’s diagnoses, that Nicole has "a divided personality": Talk is men. When I talk I say to myself that I am probably Dick. Already I have even been my son, remembering how wise and slow he is. Sometimes I am Doctor Dohmler and one time I may even be an aspect of you, Tommy Barban.
There is no doubt that Nicole was mentally ill, by most standards anyway, when we first see her on the beach, yet this gives us no indication of the really dark side of her illness, which we see when she tries to kill everybody in the car that day.
So, Nicole’s first person section is really important to understand her character and, in turn, to understand the novel. It counters the prevailing view that Nicole actively tries to keep Dick from working. It counters the view of someone like Kaethe Gregarovius who accuses Nicole of not really being mentally ill. It also illuminates, rather sadly, her potential and her ambition, which is wasting away, just like Dick’s.
And here’s one last point to consider. If we think about the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald was dealing with his wife’s mental illness when he was writing the novel, Nicole’s first-person section becomes problematic. You could see it as a cruel and presumptuous parody of madness. Alternatively, you can think of the first-person section as a brave and kind act, and attempt to give voice to a person who is constantly shut down from speaking, to allow Nicole to weigh in against all the other strong voices in the book. It could also, perhaps, be Fitzgerald's desperate attempt to understand his wife’s illness by becoming (at least while he was writing her first-person section) the fictional character upon whom she is largely based. What do you think?
Nicole Diver seems to be not fully developed personality, so the idea of her influence on the downfall of Dick is very doubtful. Readers are often aware that F. Scott Fitzgerald's female characters often reflect some traits of Zelda,his wife. On the other hand, it was not his intention to portray his wife precisely and in details.
Nicole Diver's character is introduced with the history of her childhood. Sad events that followed her mother's death resulted in incest. She was still a child in her marriage with Dick Diver mainly because Nicole transfered her childish emotions and a need of paternal authority to her husband. By the end of the novel Nicole managed to outgrow Dick, both physically and mentally. Her life follows the song, that she once plaid to Dick while she was still in the hospital. He future was determined even before Divers’ marriage, by the lyrics of the song: "Just like a silver dollar goes from hand to hand, a woman goes from man to man."
As it was mentioned earlier, Nicole Diver's illness is portrayed from Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, and true family history. Unfortunately, this fact makes this character weaker than it could be in many ways, because F.Scott Fitzgerald was not able to separate himself from his own life story. Nicole was first introduced by her letters to Dick, which demonstrated serious mental instability. Later the reader finds her confession that she desparately needs someone to love her. This is an important sign that her mind has improved, her previous hatred of men was very excepected from an incest victim. But now it is replaced with a very healthy desire of love.
Nicole is very unexperienced and even childish. When she was waiting all perfumed for Dick in the hospital, she was very nervous. In the pages that describe their life after Divers’ marriage, Nicole’s coherency comes and goes so often that it is hardly recognized as a sign of sane behavior. It is very difficult to see any serious growth in her personality. Her character developes slowly.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is not veryconvincing when he shows that Nicole was the main reason of Dick Diver's tragedy because Fitzgerald never allowed her to become really mature. Even her change to becoming an adult, goes too rapidly and unlogically. Nicole was able to demonstrate her husband some tenderness on the yacht that belonged to Golding but she refused to understand his desire to impress Rosemary Hoyt. The last chapters of Tender is the Night change Nicole dramatically, her actions are full of evil. Fitzgerald describes her eyes as "white crook's eyes" . New Nicole is no longer childish. She is wicked and bitter. The writer allows her new evil glance to be noticed by Tommy Barban. This way, F. Scott Fitzgerald demonstartes that it was Dick Diver, who could always bring out the best in her. And then, with Tommy Barban, Nicole suddenly releases her worst traits, her unrestrained evil self.
During her short love affair with Tommy Barban, Nicole changed dramatically. She knew too well that Dick’s indifference has grown and that a crisis is due. The affair releases her sexual energy, and she approaches Dick for a major confrontation. At this point in the novel, Fitzgerald describes Nicole as being filled with arrogance because of her wealth and a detestation of Dick's past attempts to minister to her; she has used Dick the physician, flaunting her wealth and beauty before him. What makes her character even more confusing is that after she has finally triumphed over Dick, she tries in the last Riviera scene to go back to him but is restrained by Tommy. Either she has not rejected Dick as completely as she thought she had or, what is more likely, she is an inveterate victim, a pawn of men who hand her, like a shining silver dollar, from one hand to the next.
There were several factors that have ruined Nicole and created her complex. First, Nicole became a victim of incest, and her trauma left her mind unstable. She became mentally ill. She married the psychiatrist, Dick Diver, to escape her gloomy reality. Dick Diver is often considered Fitzgerald's protagonist. But Divers’ marriage was not forced, they really fall in love and lived happily for some time. However, there were numerous difficulties in their relationship. Dick was sometimes too fond of his role as her doctor and hardly allowed her any freedom. She was helpless and too dependent on her husband, very similar as it used to be with her father. Nicole’s only autonomy was at home. She was free to choose parties, fashion style and family care. But Dick, on the other hand, had all the authority because he was in charge of her illness as her doctor.
It is hard to define the margin between the madness and sanity of Nicole’s character adequately because throughout the novel, a character remains a puzzle for the reader. In some cases, it is possible to assume that she is adequate in the particular life situations and environments, because sometimes Nicole makes decisions of ignoring the world and to following her aims, and at the same time, some of his actions cannot be considered as adequate.
As it has been noticed above, the level of social development may be measured on the basis of the following three factors: an attitude towards animals, old people and mad people. It is obvious that in both works of literature, the author represents mad heroes in order to evaluate the current social weakness and to prove the absolute truth for the mass.
The majority of people do not consider Nicole suffering seriously, since she is mentally diseased, but still it is possible to see that such core values of the human life as love, the interrelation between people and honor are proclaimed and popularized by her character. The core motivation for all her actions and thoughts implies good and positive intentions. Although she often acts in her own commercial interests, her actions are not aimed to harm other people.
Another important aspect of the novel is that, it is a product of its time, even while taking into account some problems, F. Scott Fitzgerald faced at that time, when he was writing the novel. Tender is the Night is the reflection of the writers’ own approach towards life and its values. The work of literature represents both social and political climate of the 20’s in America. At the same time, Nicole Diver does not follow the key norms of behavior and the requirements of social life standards.
While taking into account the historical interpretation of the madness in Tender is the Night, it is important to rely on the political, cultural, medical and philosophical attitude to madness. Mad people were often considered as wise, intelligent and those, who knew the limits of life in the world of art. The character of Nicole Diver brings the depiction of mad people as those, who had a reasonable and unique approach towards life and its core values. Although Nicole is definitely mentally ill, her character is
F. Scott Fitzgerald did not actually reject the fact of psychiatric disorders existence, as some readers thought; he dedicated the book to the exploration of the interrelation between madness and real life values.
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