Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We found this little passage to be confusing: "Dick Diver came and brought with him a fine glowing surface on which the three women sprang like monkeys with cries of relief, perching on his shoulders, on the beautiful crown of his hat or the gold head of his cane. Now, for a moment, they could disregard the spectacle of Abe’s gigantic obscenity."
To begin to understand the passage, we need to try to picture it. As we already know, Dick is like a blank "surface" on which people can project their fantasies. In this case, Rosemary, Nicole, and Mary want to feel safe. Abe is falling apart before their eyes, becoming a "gigantic obscenity." They are threatened by this, and don’t know what to do.
Part of the difficulty in picturing the image is that we have to shrink the women so that they are transformed into ornaments for Dick’s cane, shoulder, and hat brim. But once we do that, the image is clear: The three monkeys. See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil. You’ve seen this image. One monkey has its eyes covered, one its mouth, and one its ears. It’s not too nice a way to live if you have a friend who needs your help because she or he is totally losing it like Abe is here. It’s not a moment that necessarily speaks well of the women. They come to represent apathy. If they can’t see, hear, or even speak the "evil" of Abe, it is no longer a threat to them, and they no longer have to try to help him. When Dick comes, they use him as a shield against the "evil" of Abe. Together, Dick and the three women transform themselves into the figure of apathy. Perhaps this is why Abe’s violent death hits him so hard later.
A version of the image turns up again later in this passage: "The proprietor of the hotel, Mr. McBeth, was to be the three Chinese monkeys."
As you remember, Nicole has a breakdown at the hotel in Paris, and Dick has to take her home, leaving Mr. McBeth to see Rosemary off. The image has been somewhat transformed. Rosemary doesn’t really need help, so the monkeys become a symbol of comfort, helping to ease her into traveling shielded from any discomfort she might encounter. And Dick is not being apathetic here at all. He’s trying to save Nicole. You could though argue that he’s being the three monkeys for Nicole by not telling her the truth about Rosemary. In trying to shield her from "evil," he is making her feel like she’s crazy in a way that she really isn’t.