Ashes to Ashes: Mourning and Social Difference in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Fiction

Ashes to Ashes: Mourning and Social Difference in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Fiction

Ashes to Ashes: Mourning and Social Difference in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Fiction

Ashes to Ashes: Mourning and Social Difference in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Fiction

Synopsis

"Just months before F. Scott Fitzgerald's birth, his two elder sisters died. Though as an adult, Fitzgerald sensed that his sisters' deaths contributed somehow to his career as a writer, previous biographers and critics have not explored at length why he felt this way. Drawing upon archival material, Jonathan Schiff finds that in doting upon their son as a replacement for their daughters, Fitzgerald's parents unsuccessfully warded off their desire to grieve. Fitzgerald, in turn, wavered throughout his life between a desire to serve as familial rescuer and a resistance to that role. Such circumstances encouraged his inclination toward depression and self-destructiveness, though they also fostered his exuberant efforts to transgress normative gender roles and accept the culturally unmanly role of empathizing with others' grief. Ashes to Ashes will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Those unfamiliar with psychoanalysis will especially appreciate the author's avoidance of jargon, while psychoanalytic experts will be interested in his use of both traditional and contemporary psychoanalytic literature." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In this study, I explore how the experience of sibling loss contributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary career. I suggest that Fitzgerald wrote about a constellation of various mourning patterns from his childhood: his parents' alternate preoccupation with grief for his two elder sisters and displacement of their grief onto him, behavior that in turn encouraged his sense of maternal and paternal loss, but also his identification with their grief. Furthermore, these circumstances contributed to his literary insights into cultural mourning norms. Previous critics sharing my psychoanalytic interest have explored only one of these forms of mourning—maternal loss—in Fitzgerald's fiction. In investigating all of these forms of mourning, I draw in particular upon an assortment of psychoanalytic theorists, including John Bowlby, Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Heinz Kohut, Vamik D. Volkan, and D. W. Winnicott.

This study contradicts a perspective on Fitzgerald provided in The Literary History of the United States: “What is certain … is that he could never come to grips with the central inner conflict in his writing, and he moved to his outward and cultural studies of the American financial aristocracy at the cost of suppressing rather than resolving the problem.” Not only did Fitzgerald examine a central inner conflict in writing about his parents' grief for his sisters, but he also confronted his feelings about that conflict in turning to “his outward and cultural studies.” The psychological and cultural aspects of his fiction are related, each aspect helping to explain the other. His upbringing among parents preoccupied with grief is linked with his literary portrayals of economic, ethnic, and racial outsiders—three of the types of social difference alluded to in the subtitle of this study—who struggle to receive acceptance in a society where insiders are consumed with nostalgia for a more aristocratic America and are resistant to change.

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