Date of Award

Spring 1971

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Languages & Literature

First Advisor

Miriam Clare

Second Advisor

Joseph Ward

Third Advisor

Richard Lambert

Abstract

My interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald began, as it must have for many people, after I read The Great Gatsby for the first time. This short novel is generally considered his masterpiece; it is the representative work used in most survey courses that treat Fitzgerald. Critical studies of The Great Gatsby comprise almost half of the books on any complete Fitzgerald bibliography. Because so much attention is given to this novel it has mistakenly been regarded as an isolated accomplishment, with little in Fitzgerald’s early fiction to anticipate it and nothing in his later work to surpass it. This paper makes no attempt to dispute the position of The Great Gatsby as its author's finest achievement, but it does propose that Fitzgerald underwent at least five years of conscious artistic development before producing his masterpiece. The short story, "May Day," is presented as embodying, in embryonic form, many of the elements that make Fitzgerald's mature work so significant.

"May Day" was selected as an indicator of Fitzgerald's developing artistry because it appears at a pivotal point in his career. The story was finished in the early months of 1920; by that time Fitzgerald had completed his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and was well into The Beautiful and Damned. There is little in this second novel that indicates improvement in the author's craftsmanship, and Fitzgerald wrote only short stories and one play from the time of its publication until The Great Gatsby appeared in 1925. It is the early short stories then that hold the key to Fitzgerald' development as a writer; of these stories "May Day" is considered by many critics to be the most successful. It is a novella-length work of almost 25,000 words—The Great Gatsby contains only 50,000 words—with an ambitious theme and a unique structure that are combined into an organic whole. This paper presents a detailed analysis of a single short story under the premise that it anticipates the genius of the author’s maturity. Chapter one is devoted to the position of "May Day" in Fitzgerald's canon and of Fitzgerald himself in American literature. The thought and overall structure of the story are treated in chapter two, while certain stylistic devices are isolated in the third chapter. The conclusion sums up the entire thesis and presents certain observations realized as I worked on the paper and at its completion.

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