Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Remember these lines, from Nicole’s first-person section of the novel? "Sitting on the stanchion of this life-boat I look seaward and let my hair blow and shine. I am motionless against the sky and the boat is made to carry my form onward into the blue obscurity of the future, I am Pallas Athene carved reverently on the front of a galley."
This is interesting on a number of levels. First, Nicole is on a life-boat. In the next paragraph we learn that she was "gone again by that time." In this passage she’s trying to use her imagination to save her life. She transforms herself into a work of art. (This makes us wonder if F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to save his life, when he wrote this, by transforming himself into a work of art.) But who is Pallas Athene? You probably have some idea. She’s a pretty famous figure in Greek mythology. And with her education Nicole probably knows more than a little about Pallas Athene. Her story is long, so we’ll just give you a few aspects, so we can try to figure out what’s going on:
- She’s the goddess of wisdom.
Nicole wants to be wise. If she’s wise, then she won’t be crazy. She also values learning and study, both for herself and for Dick.
- She’s the goddess of weaving.
If Nicole thinks she can imagine herself out of trouble by changing herself into a work of art, then of course she wants to be the goddess of Weaving. Weaving is a symbol of artistry. Novelists weave tales.
- She’s the goddess of war.
We know she’s in love with Tommy, the warrior; wouldn’t the goddess of war be his perfect mate?
- She was born from the head of her father, Zeus, fully armed.
This one is a little tricky. The part about being born from her father’s head seems like what she already is, not what she wants to be. When her father got it into his head that she was a lover, not a daughter, the current version of Nicole was born. But, unlike Athene, she wasn’t born with any weapons.
- And what about the Pallus part? In some versions of the Athene myth, and there are many, Pallus is someone she knows, sometimes a friend or relative. Regardless of the exact relationship, Athene always kills Pallus in some kind of battle, thereby earning the person’s name. As you might guess, sometimes Pallus is her father, instead of Zeus. And killing her father just might have been on Nicole’s mind here. In the stories where Pallus is Athene’s father, her birth is always near a body of water. Since Nicole is literally on a body of water here, she might be imagining her birth or transformation.