Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald Childhood

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Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on 24 September 1896 in St. Paul Minnesota, the son of second-generation Irish-American named Mollie McQuillan and a wicker furniture manufacturer from Maryland named Edward Fitzgerald. Despite several attempts to make it big in the furniture business, Edward Fitzgerald never really achieved the success he hoped for. Mollie's inheritance and donations from an aunt allowed the family to live a comfortable upper-middle class Midwestern life, but Fitzgerald never shook the sense that he was a poor boy crashing a rich man's party. The duel between resentment and admiration of those who have more—that most American of conflicts—would always be a dominant theme in Fitzgerald's life and fiction.

America in the years just before the First World War was a place of contradictions. Women couldn't vote and people of any race but white were mostly marginalized. There were few protections for working people, no pensions or Social Security. It was also the time of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement, of the nascent rumblings that would eventually give way to women's suffrage and workers' rights. Through it all, Americans loved—loved—the idea of the self-made man, the plucky, ambitious fellow who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and took advantage of all that the land of opportunity had to offer. They admired business titans like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Americans in the 1910s believed that it was possible to make something from nothing, which may explain why they were so ready for the prosperity of the decade that followed.

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