Scott Fitzgerald died a sad man. Disappointed in his career, and in himself by extension, he suffered a heart attack that put a sudden, yet expected, end to his tragic life. It is said about him that, by the time of his death, he had come to consider himself a failure. But if he were to peek into our world today, he would surely be surprised at the literary giant status which his works have earned him over the years. And, if the success of The Great Gatsby and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was made possible by their adaptation in cinema, it only hides other masterpieces such as The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, which stands as a monument to Fitzgerald’s immense imagination, or Tender is the Night, a wonderful record of observations as to human nature, money, social class, aging, and love.
He was more than a writer. He was also a thinker and a philosopher. A thorough reading of The Great Gatsby would help one understand today’s society, through Fitzgerald’s analysis of America in the 1920’s. His observations and his views with regard to materialism, greed, and moral superficiality are as clear-cut and deep as his style is crisp and elegant. But our man had another talent that helped him achieve his literary greatness: empathy. In a writer, empathy can make the difference between writing yet another story and writing one that will add to human civilization. He felt for his characters and he was able to sketch their stories and perceive their feelings, their emotions, and their motives in a profoundly realistic manner.
“You’re always born on one side to the barrier or another,” once said my French language teacher in high school, while looking at our class with a smirk on his face. His smirk reflected how he must have felt regarding the nature of the mix that was sitting before his eyes. The class was like a novel or a short story written by Scott Fitzgerald. It was a peculiar mix of social classes. It included students from the upper layers of the middle class, others from rather lower layers, and others who belonged to wealthier families. In it, you had children of diplomats, accountants, CEO’s, lawyers, surgeons, doctor’s assistants, secretaries, and businesspeople. I remember being struck by these words coming from a figure of adulthood and authority. I remember my shock and my disgust at his sarcastic smirk that was probably directed at the least fortunate among us, and generally, at those who had lost the birth game. Years later, Fitzgerald’s work would remind me of that moment, of the anxiety which results from being born into a class as unstable and at risk as the upper middle class, one which finds itself standing on the most dangerous step of the social ladder. Born into the upper middle class, you’re a poor man’s rich person, and rich man’s poor one. To the rich you’re an unworthy competitor, until you prove your worth; while the poor see you as lucky.