Tender is the Night
How we cite our quotes:
"That’s all right. She’s a schizoid – a permanent eccentric. You can’t change that."
"What is it?"
"Just what I said – an eccentric."
"Well, how can any one tell what’s eccentric and what’s crazy?"
"Nothing is going to be crazy – Nicole is all fresh and happy, you needn’t be afraid" (2.9.12-16).
Dick’s outlook on Nicole’s condition is elegant, frank, and hopeful. He has faith in Nicole’s transformation from, as Baby puts it, "gone coon" to beautiful blooming flower basking in the light. Baby isn’t so sure. All through the book she remains convinced that Nicole’s problems are incurable. Interestingly, it seems that Baby doesn’t know what happened to her, though there is some argument to the contrary. On the other hand, at least in this moment, doesn’t Baby have a right to be suspicious of Dick? He’s nine years older than Nicole and is the guy behind Nicole’s cure. He’s a trained psychologist. Who knows what experiences he has had? It’s within his power to hurt Nicole badly. Baby’s no light-weight. The basis of her reservation is couched in terms of money. She never sees Dick as a part of her class. How do you feel about that? Who is sane and who is mad? Is Baby paranoid? Is Dick trying to trick her? Don’t forget, he’s deeply in love with Nicole by this point.
"Talk is men. When I talk I say to myself that I am probably Dick. Already I have even been my son, remembering how wise and slow he is. Sometimes I am Doctor Dohmler and one time I may even be an aspect of you, Tommy Barban" (2.10.34).
This passage is so important because it’s in the first person, unlike most of the novel, and because it gives us Nicole’s illness laid bare. We have to remember that she’s a fictional character, so we can take a few liberties which we wouldn’t take with a ‘real" person. It’s simple: she pretends to be other people; she walks around pretending to be her son or her doctor. When she can’t do it as Nicole, she does it as Dick, or as her son. Hey, haven’t we always heard, like in the movie Sybil, that she’s not supposed to know about her other personalities? Nicole is completely aware of what she’s doing and is doing it intentionally. She’s not slipping into it unawares. She just doesn’t know where she stops and others begin anymore. In some ways, Nicole’s particular form of madness is a sign of her intelligence and creativity. She’s willing to trying anything to cope with the word around her.
"Home!" she roared in a voice so abandoned that its louder tones wavered and cracked. "And sit and think that we’re all rotting and the children’s ashes are rotting in every box I open? That filth!"
Almost with relief he saw that her words sterilized her, and Nicole, sensitized down to the corium of the skin, saw the withdrawal in his face. Her own face softened and she begged, "Help me, help me, Dick!" (2.15.49-50).
As we know, this is a prelude to Nicole’s climactic breakdown. She’s so freaked out because Dick was accused by a patient of seducing her teenage daughter. Nicole knows that there is truth to the statement, but Dick says the patient is just crazy. When she talks about children’s ashes rotting, she might be talking about her own rape. She feels like Dick is spitting on it and denying her own experience by denying the girl’s experience. It doesn’t sound like Dick actually raped the girl, but we can see how this would make Nicole feel insane. She is unable to cope with what she sees as a huge betrayal. Not Dick’s act itself, but perhaps even more importantly, his reaction the accusation. But then, we see her clinging to Dick for help, believing still that he can help her. Maybe that would have been the time to admit he kissed the girl? But who knows, maybe it was already too late. What do you think? There is a lot of meat in this passage.