Modernity and Progress: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Orwell

Modernity and Progress: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Orwell

Modernity and Progress: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Orwell

Modernity and Progress: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Orwell


Breaks new critical ground by exploring philosophical and aesthetic issues germane to the writings of three major modern literary figures.

In the 1920s and '30s, understandings of time, place, and civilization were subjected to a barrage of new conceptions. Ronald Berman probes the work of three writers who wrestled with one or more of these issues in ways of lasting significance.

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Orwell all grappled with fluid notions of time: Hemingway's absolute present, Fitzgerald's obsession with what might be and what might have been, and Orwell's concerns with progress. For these authors, progress is also tied to competing senses of place--for Fitzgerald, the North versus the South; for Hemingway, America versus Europe. At stake for each is an understanding of what constitutes true civilization in a post-war world. Berman discusses Hemingway's deployment of language in tackling the problems of thinking and knowing. Berman follows this notion further in examining the indisputable impact upon Hemingway's prose of Paul Cézanne's painting and the nature of perception.

Finally, Berman considers the influence on Orwell of Aristotle and Freud's ideas of civilization, translated by Orwell into the fabric of 1984 and other writings.

Ronald Berman is Professor of English at the University of California at San Diego and past chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is author of six books, including "The Great Gatsby" and Fitzgerald's World of Ideas and Fitzgerald-Wilson-Hemingway: Language and Experience.


Nearly every significant detail of Fitzgerald's authorial life is linked to a date. He locates us in the period 1919–29 as no other writer does, making the sharpest of distinctions between things happening, say, in 1919, 1922, and 1927. The values of realism are so well served that he is invoked as evidence by historians. But the passage of time matters as much as accurate location within it. In Fitzgerald, as in the decade of the twenties, change or continuance in time is a measure of progress.

Chronology is a conscious part of Fitzgerald's narratives, with his characters making it part of their self-conception. Here is one of his timetables for success in "Winter Dreams" of 1922:

"Let's start right," she interrupted herself suddenly. "Who are you,

For a moment Dexter hesitated. Then:

"I'm nobody," he announced. "My career is largely a matter of

The passage proceeds in the language of beginning, halting, continuing, and culminating, but the idea of becoming is most compelling. Fitzgerald's language follows a national script about personal change through success, a script his characters know. Before amusing us, Dexter Green and Judy . . .

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