Zu: F. Scott Fitzgerald´s "The Ice Palace" - A Story of Initiation

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 1994 35 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Contents :

I. Introduction :
The "Roaring Twenties"- A Mythical Time of Transition in Literature and Society
1. Social Developments
2. Literary Developments

II. The Twenties and the Short Story

III. Fitzgerald's "Ice Palace" or The Quest for Identity
1. At Home in Paradise
2. In the Land of the Snow Queen
3. The Ice Palace - Climax and Symbol of Death
4. Back to Paradise

IV. Conclusion

V. Bibliography

I. Introduction :

The "Roaring Twenties"- A Mythical Time of Transition in Literature and Society

1. Social Developments

If the average person is asked how he spontaneously pictures the most typical scene in the Twenties of our century, he would say : "Pretty girls with bobbed hair and long pearl necklaces dancing to wild Ragtime rhythms with elegant gentlemen, who look all like Robert Redford, in dinner jackets."

Although it is obvious that this description reduces the attributes to a well known cliché it carries nevertheless some truth in it : With the Twenties we encounter a new type of woman, the flapper. Her hairstyle is indeed one of her significances. Also that the newest fashion for women in those days required somewhat shorter skirts, even trousers and ties, like a dandy. However it would be a little pathetic if this were that is significant for this famous era.

One of the alleged forerunners, the author F. Scott Fitzgerald, with whom this paper is concerned, defined the Twenties in his essay History's Most Expensive Orgy as the time when "a whole race [was] going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure." He said further that "it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire."1 Is this a realistic definition, or is this again as one sided and mythical as the former more trivial one ?

The question is what happened in society that it produced such side effects as fashion for women and the appearance of a new kind of music called Jazz? To discuss this problem and to get a more objective and general view of a time which seems quite close and is yet so far away one has to look at the cultural, political and social changes that took place :

The political motto in the Twenties was declared as 'Back to Normalcy !' After the war people were anxious to re-establish their former life routine of peace times. This was mainly applied to the economic area. Successful management in these matters resulted in the consequence that most people were provided with a job and therefore prosperity flourished.

This was the foundation of the consumerist society in all kinds of fields, supported by many new inventions like the radio and the automobile. Due to a general positive attitude deriving from these developments, people, mostly urbanities, started to change their moral behaviour and their manners.

Especially women claimed their rights for freedom, deriving sustenance from the political egaliterian situation to the men, coming from their new right to vote, in May 1919. The need to demonstrate this new positition manifested itself mainly in fashion. Women started dressing like men to a great part denying their female appearance. There was a general feeling of self confidence altogether which is particularly visible in the sexual area. Fitzgerald comments on this subject in History's Most Expensive Orgy on page 418 :

The married woman can now discover whether she is being cheated, or whether sex is just something to be endured, and her compensation should be to establish a tyranny of the spirit, as her mother may have hinted. Perhaps many women found that love was meant to be fun.2

Many authors who agree with Fitzgerald's views write and talk about loose morals, petting parties and other similar activities when they deal with the Twenties. This myth of greater freedom increases to that extend that one talks about a sweeping social revolution. Something which is new and exciting always finds its way to the media. Therefore new directions in literature and music was explored. Not only in these two cultural areas were people inventive, the discovery of a visual medium caused also a sensation : the cinema.

These possibilities gave an excellent opportunity to dramatise, exaggerate and pervert the seemingly overall easygoing mood of the people. Those were the hay days of the yellow press, which pretended the impression that whole America was engaged in a jolly party.

2. Literary Developments

In literature authors employed a kind of freedom in their way of expression, which was unknown before. Small circles of intellectuals came up who institutionalised the first adversary culture opposing the established values of traditional, puritan America. The Bohème was situated in Greenwich Village. Main influences and new styles of writing will be discussed to some extent in the following chapter of this paper.

Having this background information in mind it is easy to conclude that bestselling books and stories in the Twenties were all about sex, fashion and having a good time. Nevertheless this statement is only partially true. A good example to prove this statement is D.H. Lawrence 's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover which was first published in 1928. It is a book that deals with the mystical theories of sex, by using a frank language and detailed descriptions of love-making. On the other hand this very example for a new freedom in literature is also a proof that morals in the Twenties were not quite as loose as one might think : the day it came out it was banned as obscene. It was not until 1959 in America and 1960 in England that the ban was lifted. A reading of the novel in comparison with most recent graphic descriptions of some real pornographic books of our time this intolerance sounds ridiculous today.

Curiosity arouses with the question as to what was popular in literature in the Twenties. It is surprising to notice that sexy books, although being published were not easily available. Were readers so thoroughly interested in jucy topics at all ? Roderick Nash gives the answer :

Popular books as well as heroes revealed the American mind in the 1920s, and the great majority of the bestsellers of the decade were decidedly old-fashioned.Frontier and rural patterns of thought and action dominated the popular novels. Their plots and protagonists operated according to time-honored standarts of competition, loyalty, and rugged individualism. Complications were few and usually resolved, in the final pages, with an application of traditional morality. The total effect was a comforting reaffirmation of the old American faith [. . . ] they both influenced and reflected the mood of Americans who had never even heard of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Indeed in comparison to best-selling authors, the Fitz- geralds and Hemingways were highly esoteric.3

It is obvious that nowadays we are more aquainted with books which dramatise and glorify the 'fabulous golden era of thr Twenties', written by authors who claim to be representative spokesman of this decade. The general mood in literature, however was different. The 'lost generation' found itself in a conflict : on the one hand there was the need to make progress and experiment in a modern time with its profusion of new possibilities, on the other hand there was the search to find stability. Therefore people were delighted to read stories that dealt with the 'good old days' and which dampened their eyes when they imagined how life used to be simple.

It was mostly wild nature that served as the favourite setting of those popular stories sold to millions of readers. Not only as a source of beauty and contentment but a frame of moral and religious truth. The benefits of optimism, confidence and courage were highly valued. Nash summerizes in The Nervous Generation in one sentence how people believed that "clean living, hard work, and contact with God's great open spaces could save a man from the physical and moral deterioration city life engendered."

It becomes more and more clear so far that only a limited circle of intellectuals counted as the revolutionaries in writing. Whereas the average reader was of the opinion that altered conditions doing away with old certainties had only the effect of grabbing old values more tightly. They bought books like 'Tarzan of the Apes' interpreting him as a potent symbol of freedom, power, and individuality. Again Nash concludes that "in popular fiction the Americans of the 1920's were still inhabitants of the nineteenth century. The sexy novels of flaming youth and the risqè movies satisfied only part of the taste of the twenties." ( The Nervous Generation, "The Mood of the People",p.141)

To sum up the progression of this decade being one of the most mythisized eras in it will help to look at the following quote. It is taken from a highly critical article in which the author mentiones the problem very consisely :

And viewing the Twenties as a time of transition will help us to reconcile this puzzling variety of phenomena in different strata of society. The fun- damentalism and reactionary conservatism were as real as the intellec- tuals' disaffiliation or the majority's attempts at carving out a comfortable niche for themselves. Like other times of transition, the Twenties asked questions and provided contradictory answers. Confusion rather than homogenity characterizes the decade's response to a changed set of circumstances.4


Asking questions and providing contradictory answers does not only apply to times of transition it is also true for readers studying the literature of those times past. For it is hard to evaluate what is fact and what is the myth that people created, when information is only available from second hand.

II. The Twenties and the Short Story

The influence that political, social and cultural developments has are not alone visible in novel writing. The general pioneering swift progress in the Twenties brought also along with a novelty in the art of writing short fiction : the short story in the magazines. They turned out to be the consequences of many important intellectual, moral and aesthetic inspirations upon the writers and the age.

Although brief narratives were not entirely unknown to readers in those days, the short story in the form we mostly find emerged as a fairly recent genre of literature. The reason for this lies mainly in the production of mass magazines, which could be easier published due to the development of technology that provided facility in the work process and proved to be timesaving. More supportantly has also been a shift in the habit of the reader. People did not have enough time to occupy themselves with elaborate pieces of writing, because the tempo of general life increased more and more; which was particularly true for the cities. In addition and as a consequence, the effects of the consumar society became gradually perceptible in popular literature.

The frequency regarding the appearance of the modern short story as such is not the single feature that marks the literary development seventy years ago. In the previous chapter of this paper it has already been mentioned that a change respecting expression took place. However, it was not only the style and the choice of words by which an author presented his story that underwent an alteration. Due to new interests writers started to deal with topics that kept pace with the progress of time. In The American Short Story in the Twenties Austin McGiffert Wright concludes that

The "new look" of the short stories of the twenties is the result of changes in at least three different variables of artistic composition - subject matter, formal principles, and techniques. Problems concerning a practical morality in a faulty but perfectible society are replaced by problems concerning an intuitive morality in an emotionally disinte- grated society.5

(p. 367)

I have tried to establish before that the Twenties have been a time of transition and it is exactly this notion that Wright wants to stress when he says that society was "emotionally disintegrated". On their way to find psychological and emotional stability people found out the attitudes of existentialism for, as Wright continues :

The intuitive morality is, furthermore, intimately rela- ted to the "pessimism"[. . . ] as the "major American tradition", as opposed to the equally American but deceptively optimistic tradition.6

(p. 368)

When Wright mentiones what he calls the "optimistic tradition", he refers to the genre in literature that is known as 'romantic'. In a romance, he explaines, the protagonist or the hero becomes subordinate to the display of his virtues. Romantic writers present their issues as to assure the reader that the virtues involved were strongly admirable. When problems and emotions in a romantic story were thematized they had only the function to underline the virtuous qualities of the protagonist.

The newly discovered interest in human psychology caused mainly by the influence of the Freudian movement in those days lead to topics which were about the "effects from the lives of small people in a state of emotional paralysis" (The American Short story in the Twenties, Ch. XXIII, p.373). Stories begin to dramatize not only one sided good or bad characters but they begin to feature ambivalent and ambiguous traits. The complexity of the human nature and a kind of horror normally overlooked in the lives of ordinary people begin to play an important role.

This fact is the reason why in the short stories problems were presented which had not been mentioned earlier, like abortion, prostitution, extramarital love or unwanted pregnancy, themes which would have caused social disgrace or fear of disgrace in former days.

However, this does not mean that readers and writers of the Twenties were absolutely devoid of romanticism. Otherwise the popularity of traditional themes in fiction, discussed in the previous chapter of this paper, would not have existed. Yet the idea to oppose exaggerated sentimentality became an important notion in writing.


1 Fitzgerald, F. Scott. "History's Most Expensive Orgy". in : Baritz, Loren (ed.). The Cul-ture of the Twenties. Indianapolis : 1970. (p.413 - 423).

2 ibid Fitzgerald

3 Nash, Roderick. "The Mood of the People" in : The Nervous Generation: American Thought, 1917 - 1930. Chicago : 1970

4 Kühnel, Walter. "The Cultural History of the Twenties : A Case of Tail Wags Dog" in : Bredella, L. (edit.). Das Verstehenlernen einer paradoxen Epoche in Schule und Hochschule : The American 1920s. Bochum : 1985.

5 McGiffert Wright, Austin. "The American Short Story in the Twenties". Ch. XXIII Context and Sequel. Chicago : The University of Chcago Press, 1961.

6 ibid Wright


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
490 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Frankfurt (Main) – Institute for England - und American Studies
Scott Fitzgerald´s Palace Story Initiation



Title: Zu: F. Scott Fitzgerald´s "The Ice Palace" - A Story of Initiation