In an essay looking back on his literary career, author Francis Scott Fitzgerald reflected that he made $800 on his writing in 1919 and $18,000 on his writing in 1920. (Source.) We have no idea what it would be like to see our salary increase by two thousand percent in one year, but we imagine it would be pretty awesome. Fitzgerald enjoyed amazing early success as a writer, and "Winter Dreams" is part of this burst of creative and economic achievement. In fact, it helped launch his career as one of American literature's most well-known novelists.
After "Winter Dreams" first appeared in Metropolitan magazine in September of 1922, Fitzgerald reworked both the overall plot of the story and some of its passages into his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby (1925). Yeah, that's right: this little ol' story became one of the most important books in the history of American literature. Fitzgerald even called "Winter Dreams" "[a] sort of 1st draft of the Gatsby idea." (Source, xxv.) He also went on to revise "Winter Dreams" a second time for publication in his 1926 short story collection, All the Sad Young Men. Clearly, Fitzgerald couldn't shake the themes and issues he was tackling in this story, and what he explores in "Winter Dreams" came to define his writing in later years.
Like The Great Gatsby, "Winter Dreams" sketches a disillusioned view of the American search for wealth and its horrible effect on relationships. But what exactly is that view, and what makes the American search for wealth so terrible?
Fitzgerald often sets his stories among the glitz and glam of the American upper classes, and "Winter Dreams" is no exception. We've got golfing, swanky dinner parties, boating expeditions, fancy cars, and even fancier clothes. It all sounds good to us.
But Fitzgerald paints a bleaker picture. What's underneath all the glitter and gold? Not much, if you're asking our friend F. Scott. "Winter Dreams," The Great Gatsby, and many of his other works aim to show us that material wealth, at the end of the day, isn't all its cracked up to be.
Yeah yeah yeah, we know that money can't buy happiness. So what new idea does Fitzgerald have to add to that age-old adage? Lots, as it turns out, but you'll have to read the story to find out for yourself. Trust us, Fitzgerald really knows his stuff.
One last bit of coolness: at least some of the material for "Winter Dreams" comes from Fitzgerald's own experiences living at the White Bear Yacht Club in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fitzgerald grew up in Minnesota, so when he talks about the wind blowing "cold as misery" (1.2), he speaks from first-hand experience. Plus, as you'll read in our "Characters" section, Fitzgerald had a lot in common with the story's protagonist, Dexter Green. So maybe there's an explanation for Fitzgerald's obsession with the themes of "Winter Dreams." Could he have had some "Winter Dreams" of his own?
Why Should I Care?
Growing up is tough stuff, and F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn't try to sugarcoat that one bit. This isn't a fairy tale or an if-you-dream-it-you-can-do-it kind of a story. The title is "Winter Dreams," but it might as well be "Where Winter Dreams Go to Die."
There are plenty of coming-of-age stories out there, but "Winter Dreams" is unique because the ending is one of (spoiler alert) total disappointment. As a kid, Dexter has big plans for himself. He wants to go somewhere in his life. Nothing can stop him. But once he gets to where he's going, he's lost all over again. He no longer has the dreams of his youth, and he's left with the painful reality that maybe all his hard work wasn't worth it. At the end of the story, the world is no longer full of infinite possibility. Instead, it's full of cold hard truths.
Okay, wait a minute: "life stinks" is not the takeaway here. More like "life stinks if you live it this way." Dexter learned the hard way that your grand plans aren't always what you think they'll be. We Shmoopers, on the other hand, get to learn the easy way, by reading Dexter's story.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't dream big, it just means we have have to remember that nothing's perfect. And that's what makes life so exciting.