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Race and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Solomon continues his series of reviews of classic novels, the most recent of which was his take on The Outsider.

by Solomon Wakeling

Before World War II, before the Holocaust, before racism became a fatal flaw in an author, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote an unflattering portrait of Jewish New Yorkers, in his second novel, The Beautiful and Damned , first published in 1922. "Two young Jewish men passed him, talking in loud voices and craning their necks here and there in fatuous supercilious glances." writes Fitzgerald, "They were dressed in suits of the exaggerated tightness then semi-fashionable; their turned over collars were notched at the Adam's apple; they wore gray spats and carried gray gloves on their cane handles." Not to mention the negative portrayal of Jewish film vice-president, Joseph Bloeckman. Who would dare to write with such casual disregard to the sensitivities of Jewish people now? Sheila Graham, in The Real F.Scott Fitzgerald is careful about how she describes Scott's alleged anti-semitism. She says he was no anti-semite but that to him they were not the "beautiful people".

Well before the civil rights movement in America, Fitzgerald wrote, with complete lack of self-consciousness, a fantasy of a life of luxury, including the ownership of Negro slaves, in his short story The Diamond as big as the Ritz , 1922. Whilst Fitzgerald is billed as the voice of the "Jazz age", black musicians scarcely figure in any serious way in his work. A group of black jazz musicians in his short story The Offshore Pirate , 1920, are painted with an almost comic effect in mind. They are a novelty, part of the gallery, not centre-stage. Fitzgerald is less consciously racist than subconsciously so, accepting the conventions of his time uncritically.

Something happened to him between The Beautiful and Damned and his final novel The Last Tycoon which profoundly altered his consciousness. His two transition novels are The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night . Gatsby features a racist character, Tom Buchanan, sketched in an unsympathetic light. He tells the narrator, Nick Carraway, about a book he is reading, The Rise of the Colored Empires and about his belief that the white race needed to dominate the other races or be "utterly submerged". Rather than showing moral horror at this revelation, Carraway seems bored by it, as he is bored by many things. "There was something pathetic in his concentration," narrates Carraway,"as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more." He is saved from having to make a moral comment on Tom's statements by a ringing telephone; A convenient distraction. Gatsby is not totally free of racism, however, with constant references to the "nostrils" and "tiny eyes" of Jewish character, Mr. Wolfshiem. Fitzgerald also ridicules Wolfshiem for pronouncing "connection" as "gonnegtion".

In the 1934 novel, Tender is the Night , Fitzgerald wrote in all seriousness "No mature Aryan is able to profit from an humiliation; when he forgives it has become part of his life, he has identified himself with the thing which has humiliated him - an upshot that in this case was impossible." Aryan? What on earth is he doing with such a phrase? Constant references to race are made in the novel, not all of it negative. Negro characters have a special place in the novel. Marital usurper Tommy Barban is described as being tanned without achieving the "blue beauty" of Negroes. Alcoholic Abe North, is described as starting a "race riot" in Montmarte. Later on, a dead Negro is found in actress Rosemary Hoyt's bed. The protagonist, Dick Diver, vulgarly describes the dead body as "nigger scrap", when trying to calm his sensitive wife. He sees black people as of less worth than other people but there is every reason to believe Fitzgerald took a more sensitive view. He is conscious of racial segregation, noting that a black character is denied entrance to a bar, with the desolate phrase "I'm sorry. I can't allow it."

Then this, in 1940, from his short story Dearly Beloved : "O my Beauty Boy - reading Plato so do divine! O dark, oh fair, colored golf champion of Chicago..'" Fitzgerald wrote a short lullaby for a Negro golf champion, written prose that is more like poetry. By 1940 Scott was writing lovingly about black characters and Jews. Whilst Dearly Beloved uses the offensive phrase "boy" in regards to a black character, it comes across like a poetic refrain. In his last unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon , 1941, he paints a sympathetic portrait of Jews in Hollywood. The novel features an educated black character that the protagonist, Monroe Stahr, meets on the beach and who tells him that he doesn't see hollywood films because they are beneath him. Monroe is described at one point as having "worked so long with Jews so as not to believe legends that they were tight with money".

In judging Fitzgerald, it is necessary to look at his work in its entirety, acknowledging that his later virtues for the most part make up for his earlier vices. Racism may be wrong but racists are still people, complex and changeable. Some prejudices may be unclear to the casual observer, forming part of the common ethos of the time. Fitzgerald's work shows a late-blooming but rising awareness of race issues and the injustice perpetrated by racial stereotypes. If we are not judged by our most mature moments, by what should we be judged?

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hate, propaganda, inveritus vino myths, Mad Max 4

Looks like Australian Cricket commentator Jones is also in the sin bin for racist comments- "terrorist taken another wicket". 

People in the public eye should be very careful what they say and how it may hurt others,whether they themselves realise the sensitivity of such comments.

it is good that minority groups in Australia remind the majority ,who may have never felt that fear of vulenrability or threat due to one;s colour or religion or sexuality or disability,that this is a real issue and needs repeated reminding to be sensitive ,even if some may think it just a joke as having no empathy for such vulnerability.

Australia is leading the way with the commission against descrimination. End of cheers squad.

BTW, just what did Mel Gibson actually say? Does anyone have a reliable link? And was it hate speech-legally prosecutable and should be,or some rant or sayign people are nasty or what? I don't think people always are "in veritus vino" as i think it is more emotions that come out and they may be misdirected in the language used, you see drunk husbands say dreadful things and do dreadful things to wives they actually really love (in their sad way ) and actually treasure and love when sober.

It is the carerfully worded propaganda enticing people to hate and dehumanise that is the real evil in our community. We see the result of this in talkback radio rhetoric and guffaws made by sportsmen,just as in the 1930s .

BTW CParsons why do you repeatedly link the same items about Iran and Venezuela? And why did you not condemn the ISraeli actions against the Lebanese as you were so vocal incondemning the Sadam reactions against the Kurd who rose against him.


Mel Gibson

Hi Solomon. It seems pretty obvious by what has been reported that Mel Gibson is anti-semitic (in vino veritas - is that the right expression?).

But I think the whole affair should be turned into a positive. Let him apologise. Let him receive counselling and 'healing' from prominent Jewish leaders. Let him publicly realise and learn why his comments were wrong. Let him be an example of an anti semite who learnt how wrong he was and genuinely changed his ways.

But let's not ruin his career. What's to be achieved by destroying him for a few very ugly comments? Gibson's punishment should be community service: to tell the world how wrong it is to be anti-semitic. He's a rich and powerful man, he could do some positive work on behalf of the Jewish community from here on in.

PS: I thought The Passion was a dreadful film.

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson, and his recent contrition. Is he an anti-semite or just an alcoholic?

Mel Gibson

Seeing as how webdiary doesn't seem to love Fitzgerald as much as I do, this could be an appropriate place to discuss another alleged anti-semite, Mel Gibson, and his recent contrition. Is he an anti-semite or just an alcoholic?

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