Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Beyond my eyes' power of correction”: Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and the past
by Rockefeller, John D., V, Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 2008, 380; 3311835
Abstract (Summary)

After the outbreak of World War I, the West was stunned that the assassination of one man could precipitate so much bellicosity among so many civilized nations. Subsequent political inquiries into the origins of the war and philosophical and sociological inquiries into human behavior, assailed traditional accounts of the differences between intentional and unintentional acts, on the grounds that those accounts were outdated for the modern task of comprehending acts of martial entanglement that appeared to collapse those distinctions. The schools of thought that marshaled those attacks in the second category of inquiries included behaviorism (in psychology) and Dada and surrealism (in literature and art), and they deeply influenced F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works. Furthermore, it was achronologically in light of this modernist reevaluation of a traditional philosophy of action, that Fitzgerald first encountered writers who had similarly challenged those accounts prior to the war: in psychology, Sigmund Freud; and in literature, practitioners of literary naturalism such as Theodore Dreiser and Frank Norris, and other writers such as Joseph Conrad, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Maria Edgeworth. In this dissertation I argue that Fitzgerald conceives his novels not only as contributions to a modernist puncturing of those traditional accounts, but also as commentaries on the contemporary American political scenes out of which his novels emerge.

In The Great Gatsby (1925) Fitzgerald chronicles the social costs of the commitment to preserving a traditional conception of the accidental. Daisy’s automobile crash thus represents his version of a surrealist experiment. But where surrealists would locate in Daisy’s car crash intentions that they would claim the accidental nature of her crash cannot suppress, Fitzgerald contends that Daisy’s accident reveals a trait (her carelessness) that is even more constitutive of her character than her intentions are—precisely because traits hover below the level of intentions. By having several of his characters deny responsibility for the consequences of their acts on the grounds that those acts were unintentional, Fitzgerald condemns the laissez-faire account of ethical responsibility that emerges in the wake of Prohibition.

Conversely, in The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and in Tender is the Night (1934), Fitzgerald illustrates the social costs of the commitment to preserving a traditional conception of free will. He asserts that the anti-progressive legal realism he portends the left spawning inadvertently by way of Prohibition in the 1920s, is fundamentally consistent with the anti-democratic political realism he portends the left spawning inadvertently by way of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.

Finally, I argue that in Absalom, Absalom! (1936) William Faulkner produces a meticulous revision of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and Tender, so as to emphasize that he is fundamentally reimagining Fitzgerald’s treatment of the issues his novels raise.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Irwin, John T., Michaels, Walter Benn
Commitee:
School: The Johns Hopkins University
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 69/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American history, American literature, Political science
Keywords: Croly, Herbert, Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Faulkner, William, Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Lippmann, Walter, Novels, Wayne, Mad Anthony
Publication Number: 3311835
ISBN: 9780549607113
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