Fitzgerald's Guide to Finding Yourself and Gaining an Identity
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The overall purpose of the Fitzgerald Guide to Finding Yourself & Gaining an Identity is to show all of the things that Fitzgerald did (or perhaps believed, in the end, that he should have done) in order to find his own identity. Fitzgerald apparently created the characters of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway as visions of himself in different lights, so we chose to expand on Fitzgerald’s struggle to find his own identity by having him give advice on the topic. We organized this in a 12-step program to mirror Alcoholics Anonymous, and to refer to Fitzgerald’s alcoholism.
The first step, letting go of one’s failed marriage, serves to explain Fitzgerald’s true beliefs on his marriage to Zelda Sayre. He may have loved her when they married because she was beautiful and rich and unattainable, but in the end, their marriage was rocky, bitter, and difficult with Zelda in and out of mental hospitals and Fitzgerald living on the other side of the country. Fitzgerald, therefore, is suggesting to all men that if they see similar problems in their own marriages, they should end them, keeping in mind Tom Buchanan as an example of a man in an uncomfortable marriage that begins to cheat on his wife. Fitzgerald does not seem to agree with cheating through his portrayal of the careless affairs in the novel, or, at the very least, believes that it is much more difficult, complicated, and hurtful than divorce. He therefore recommends divorce as a better solution.
The second step, finding delight in public service, reflects Fitzgerald’s involvement in the army. Being a soldier like Gatsby, Fitzgerald clearly saw the merit in fighting for one’s country. This also reflects Fitzgerald’s national pride and belief in the American dream. Fitzgerald perhaps used his military service as another way of defining himself. As he once said, “Action is character,” so therefore, military action shows a character of hard work. (BrainyQuote.com)
The third step, finding friends that match one’s interests, reflects Fitzgerald’s interest in associating with the writers of the “Lost Generation,” upper-class Princeton families, and other generally wealthy and well-known people. Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, wanted prestige, and therefore surrounded himself with those he wished to be like in order to find his own identity amongst them.
The fourth step, engaging in meaningful conversation, reflect’s Fitzgerald’s association with the expatriate community of American writers living in Paris during the 1920s. He lived with writers like Gertrude Stein, and found inspiration from them as they used their associations with each other as an open forum for ideas. Fitzgerald also was good friends (and rivals) with fellow author Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald, therefore, saw great value in discussing one’s ideas in order to find himself.
The fifth step, marrying the beautiful and the rich, shows Fitzgerald’s obsession with Zelda Sayre, and his infatuation with her as he courted her. He wanted to be the ideal husband to her and to live the ideal life that he saw her living, and therefore suggests to others that they do the same. This way, he believes that they will find themselves living in their vision of the ideal.
The sixth step, expressing one’s thoughts on paper, shows Fitzgerald’s value of writing as an escape and a medium of his ideas. The man had some incredible insight into the problems with society in the 1920s, and he used his books to reveal to the world all of these sources of corruption. Fitzgerald found his own identity best in this way, and got to know what he truly believed. Therefore, he suggests to the reader that they also try to use writing as a medium to express oneself and to show others that they have found their identities and beliefs as well. Fitzgerald once said, “You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say,” (BrainyQuotes.com). He knew that writing helped to capture one’s ideas the best, and that in order to write, one must have a clear belief, and be willing to show others how confident they can be. The seventh step, letting loose with the help of booze, reflects Fitzgerald’s alcoholism. The writer was a serious alcoholic throughout a good portion of his life, and explains to the reader that although alcohol may seem corrupting, it actually helps one to enjoy life even more, as he may have once believed it helped him. One of Fitzgerald’s chief contradictions between his writing and his real life was his alcoholism. He wrote about alcohol as a source of corruption and cheap escape, but he still drank heavily throughout his life. This further solidifies the point that Fitzgerald was always a man in transition. He was a troubled artist, trying to find a way for himself to live out his beliefs. It’s a common human struggle, and therefore we believe that Fitzgerald would have suggested that the reader let loose as he did in order to relax, since, for such a long portion of his life, he relied on alcohol to provide relief for himself. He once said “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes you,” (BrainyQuote.com). Therefore, once again, he understood the cause behind this corrupt lifestyle, and felt the desires that all of his contemporaries also felt.
The eighth step, giving into temptation, again expresses Fitzgerald’s contradictions between his life and the criticism of the Jazz Age expressed in his novels. He suggests giving in to temptation as he did in order to feel satisfaction and happiness. Fitzgerlad may express in his novels that this leads to empty, meaningless happiness, but nevertheless, he himself drank and gave into a fairly reckless lifestyle as he tried to find a meaning for his life and struggled with his own identity in his search for the American dream.
The ninth step, creating a character of oneself, shows that Fitzgerald truly did identify with his characters, as explained above. The brochure suggests that perhaps he found it easier to recognize his own flaws and find room for improvement when criticizing a character, and not directly criticizing himself. He truly depended on writing to find his own identity.
The tenth step, believing that you have money, shows Fitzgerald’s carefree ways with money, and his tendency to spend his money faster than he made it. He wanted so badly to believe that he had the lavish lifestyle that he had always dreamed of, so he dug himself into debt as he attempted to write his novels to make up for it. This again emphasizes Fitzgerald’s belief that if you believe that you are living an ideal life, then you are, and then you have gained an identity for yourself.
The eleventh step, finding your own way to be prestigious, emphasizes Fitzgerald’s obsession with his outward appearance and how he would be perceived by other high-society people that he wished to be a part of. Fitzgerald’s association with a prestigious institution like Princeton, as well as his high-class wife, show that he thought of prestige as a key factor in achieving his American dream and obtaining his ideal identity.
The twelfth step, chasing your dreams, provides a final emphasis on Fitzgerald’s and the novel’s obsession with the American dream. A reference to a green light is made as Fitzgerald provides parting words to the reader of his self-help guide, encouraging everyone wishing to find themselves to chase after the dreams that keep their lives full of meaning, and that gave Gatsby a purpose to continue living, and a value of character above the others. Fitzgerald chased his dream, and although fell into the corruption of the time period, still held on to the ideal that he had always envisioned, and was determined to make his dream a reality.
Brief Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald: http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/biography.html
Francis Scott and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: http://www.pbs.org/kteh/amstorytellers/bios.html
Fitzgerald quotes: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/f/f_scott_fitzgerald.html
By: Michele Rudolph