Analysis: What’s Up With the Ending?
The action of the novel stops in the summer of 1930. The ending though, in three brief paragraphs, gives us a very distant glimpse of what happens to a few characters some unspecified years into the future. The first paragraph establishes that Nicole and Dick have kept in touch and that she’s still with Tommy (though we aren’t told if they are married or not, or if she and Dick ever got a divorce). It’s clear that she still holds Dick dear in her heart and that Tommy knows this but doesn’t have a problem with it
The information we get after this, in the second and third paragraphs, comes from Dick’s letters to Nicole and from what she’s heard through the grapevine.
In the second paragraph we learn that Dick has moved to New York state but his attempts to practice psychiatry fail. So, he begins practicing general medicine, but then runs into scandal – drugs and women and malpractice. The third paragraph is wistful and tender and is more hopeful than might first seem apparent. Nicole has heard that Dick has "settled down with some one to keep house for him." She still has hopes that his career will bloom out sometime and that he will achieve his dreams of being a brilliant psychologist.
To easily pull deep meaning from the ending, we can do two things. One, we can revisit sections of Book Three, focusing on Nicole’s love affair with Tommy Barban. Two, we can indulge in a little biographical criticism. Why not? Scott and Zelda are stars, and as Shmoop’s "Overview," gets into, the novel admittedly draws on these very real people (and their friends).Let’s start with the biographical. As we know, Zelda was in a psychiatric clinic being treated for schizophrenia during the time Scott was writing this novel. She eventually died there. But what about Nicole – does she recover at the end of the novel? There’s a strong argument that there is hope that she has. And this hope casts Dick Diver in a very sympathetic light. What is he always saying? "I’m not your cure, I’m your love. You are your own cure." He also knows that the depth of their connection makes it hard for her to stop relying on him in that way. Their doctor-patient relationship stands in the way of their love and their health. Nicole just can’t do it by herself with him around. And so she grows to resent his presence, though this doesn’t happen until almost the end of the novel.See, here: "She was glad when he left her, for almost the first time in her life." That’s Book Two, Chapter Six. And here, a bit later, "But Nicole was annoyed—everything he did annoyed her now." But let’s go back to before Dick and Nicole were married. This is Dick’s mental reaction to Nicole when she asks him to take a chance on loving her: "The impertinence, the right to invade implied, astounded him. Short of anarchy he could not think of any chance that Nicole Warren deserved."
Sounds cold, right? We know that his feelings changed, that he grew to love her deeply, so why are we making a big deal out of this? The word anarchy, that’s why. It only occurs twice in the book. You just saw the first time, here’s the second, "tangled with love in the moonlight she welcomed the anarchy of her lover." Her lover, we know, is Tommy Barban. And in some ways, he is non-pacifist anarchy personified. He will fight in "any war" and claims not to care who he’s fighting for. He tells Abe McKisco, "I’m a soldier […]. My business is to kill people."
Loosely defined, anarchy is "political disorder," and "allegiance to no government." Sound like Tommy? Perhaps Dick was right, perhaps this is what Nicole needed from the beginning. But why? Tommy’s a killer, right? Yes, but he’s beginning to look suspiciously like something dreamed up to fulfill Dick’s ideal cure for Nicole. Tommy doesn’t care that Nicole is rich; Dick knows Nicole’s wealth is another obstacle for them. Tommy accuses Dick of treating her "like a patient because she was once sick." Dick has admitted as much. Perhaps Dick recognizes that Tommy is what Dick himself has said she needs. Perhaps this is why he doesn’t stand in the way of their love.
But Dick hasn’t fared too well, has he? Is Dick a failure? Well, let’s look at his goals. Dick hopes to be brave and wise, to write books, to be "the best" psychiatrist ever, to be loved, and for Nicole to get better. Well, despite Nicole’s hopes, Dick’s career is probably pretty much in the can because of too many scandals and personal problems. But is he loved? By Nicole – yes. Also maybe by Rosemary, too, maybe by his kids, and maybe even by someone much nearer him, we can only hope. And Nicole is possibly able to cure herself when Dick gives her the space she needs, (that he loves her so much in the first place probably doesn’t hurt either.) He loves her enough to leave her. Doesn’t that make him a success, in a really important way? This is by no means the end of the discussion, so we hope we’ve warmed you up for analyzing the ending of Tender is the Night.