Study Guide

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz Quotes

  • Wealth

    Section 1
    John T. Unger

    "He must be very rich," said John simply. "I'm glad. I like very rich people. The richer a fella is, the better I like him." (1.22)

    John is the embodiment of America's wealth-obsessed culture, at least as Fitzgerald sees it.

    St. Midas' School is half an hour from Boston in a Rolls-Pierce motorcar. The actual distance will never be known, for no one, except John T. Unger, had ever arrived there save in a Rolls-Pierce and probably no one ever will again. St. Midas' is the most expensive and the most exclusive boys' preparatory school in the world. (1.10)

    This is a great example of the exaggeration that Fitzgerald uses in his descriptions throughout "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz." St. Midas' isn't just an expensive school – it's the most expensive school in the world. This sort of hyperbole is right in line with the exaggerated opulence that characterizes the wealth and lifestyle of the Washington family.

    Section 2

    John saw that the upholstery consisted of a thousand minute and exquisite tapestries of silk, woven with jewels and embroideries, and set upon a background of cloth of gold. The two armchair seats in which the boys luxuriated were covered with stuff that resembled duvetyn, but seemed woven in numberless colors of the ends of ostrich feathers. (2.7)

    Fitzgerald spares no prose expense going into the details of the Washingtons' luxurious possessions. The story's descriptions are glutted with showy imagery and expensive adjectives.

    On this June night, the Great Brakeman, whom, had they deified any one, they might well have chosen as their celestial protagonist, had ordained that the seven o'clock train should leave its human (or inhuman) deposit at Fish. (2.3)

    What an odd parenthetical. On the one hand, this statement might refer to the fact that the train could be carrying passengers or cargo. But on the other hand, it might be a moral judgment on Percy and John.

    Full in the light of the stars, an exquisite château rose from the borders of the lake, climbed in marble radiance half the height of an adjoining mountain, then melted in grace, in perfect symmetry, in translucent feminine languor, into the massed darkness of a forest of pine. The many towers, the slender tracery of the sloping parapets, the chiseled wonder of a thousand yellow windows with their oblongs and hectagons and triangles of golden light, the shattered softness of the intersecting planes of star-shine and blue shade, all trembled on John's spirit like a chord of music. On one of the towers, the tallest, the blackest at its base, an arrangement of exterior lights at the top made a sort of floating fairyland—and as John gazed up in warm enchantment the faint acciaccare sound of violins drifted down in a rococo harmony that was like nothing he had ever heard before. Then in a moment the car stopped before wide, high marble steps around which the night air was fragrant with a host of flowers. At the top of the steps two great doors swung silently open and amber light flooded out upon the darkness, silhouetting the figure of an exquisite lady with black, high-piled hair, who held out her arms toward them. (2.28)

    Notice how many senses Fitzgerald hits here in this passage. There are descriptions of sights, sounds, and smells, as well as the emotional impact of the scene. It's a sensory overload for the reader, as well as for John.

    Section 4

    It was an amazing predicament. [Fitz-Norman] was, in one sense, the richest man that ever lived—and yet was he worth anything at all? If his secret should transpire there was no telling to what measures the Government might resort in order to prevent a panic, in gold as well as in jewels. They might take over the claim immediately and institute a monopoly. (4.6)

    This raises the question of how different things are valued and why. How is it that an object comes to have value in this story? What is meant by "value," in the first place? Do the diamonds have any value for the Washingtons anymore, given that their entire house is made of the material?

    [Fitz-Norman] told them he had discovered a rhinestone mine, and, as only one or two of them had ever seen even a small diamond before, they believed him, without question. (4.4)

    Of course, it is ironic that later in the story, Kismine – who grew up around diamonds her whole life – will mix them up with rhinestones herself. Does it start to seem arbitrary that one rock is so valuable and the other so worthless? Good – keep thinking along these lines.

    There [Fitz-Norman] managed to dispose of half a dozen small stones—when he tried a larger one a storekeeper fainted and Fitz-Norman was arrested as a public disturber. (4.4)

    "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" makes the point that too much wealth can be a dangerous thing.

    Section 6
    Braddock Tarleton Washington

    "This is the golf course," [Braddock] continued, as they strolled along the velvet winter grass. "It's all a green, you see—no fairway, no rough, no hazards." (6.7)

    Except that what makes a golf course a golf course is its hazards. A plain fairway would be a boring game. Washington seems to miss the point here – flawless isn't always best or even preferable.

    Section 8
    Percy Washington

    "Well," answered Percy, "I blush to tell you, but it was a moving-picture fella. He was the only man we found who was used to playing with an unlimited amount of money, though he did tuck his napkin in his collar and couldn't read or write." (8.4)

    Here's another example of Fitzgerald's satire. He mocks the reputation of the movie business for spending inordinate amounts of money.

  • Youth

    Section 1

    Young John T. Unger, who had just turned sixteen, had danced all the latest dances from New York before he put on long trousers. And now, for a certain time, he was to be away from home. That respect for a New England education which is the bane of all provincial places, which drains them yearly of their most promising young men, had seized upon his parents. Nothing would suit them but that he should go to St. Midas' School near Boston—Hades was too small to hold their darling and gifted son. (1.2)

    Age is an important part of John's character – we join him just as he turns sixteen, and so we expect that this story will be as much about the tribulations of youth as anything else.

    John T. Unger was on the eve of departure. Mrs. Unger, with maternal fatuity, packed his trunks full of linen suits and electric fans, and Mr. Unger presented his son with an asbestos pocket-book stuffed with money. (1.4)

    This opening suggests a coming-of-age tale. It's important that John is leaving home at the start of the text. His parents pack him off with supplies, and we expect that his journey will be metaphorical as well as literal.

    Percy Washington

    "That's nothing." Percy had leaned forward and dropped his voice to a low whisper. "That's nothing at all. My father has a diamond bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel." (1.25)

    At first, it's hard to take Percy seriously – and this is in part because we remember that he's a teenager trying to impress his friend. Age plays a big part on John's character, too, but in Percy's as well.

    Section 2
    John T. Unger

    Afterward John remembered that first night as a daze of many colors, of quick sensory impressions, of music soft as a voice in love, and of the beauty of things, lights and shadows, and motions and faces. There was a white-haired man who stood drinking a many-hued cordial from a crystal thimble set on a golden stem. There was a girl with a flowery face, dressed like Titania with braided sapphires in her hair. There was a room where the solid, soft gold of the walls yielded to the pressure of his hand, and a room that was like a platonic conception of the ultimate prism—ceiling, floor, and all, it was lined with an unbroken mass of diamonds, diamonds of every size and shape, until, lit with tall violet lamps in the corners, it dazzled the eyes with a whiteness that could be compared only with itself, beyond human wish or dream. (2.30)

    John looks at the château with a childlike wonder. There is something mythological and ancient about the scene, as emphasized with allusions to Ancient Greek mythology (or mythical characters borrowed from Shakespeare).

    Section 3

    John lay quietly as his pajamas were removed—he was amused and delighted; he expected to be lifted like a child by this black Gargantua who was tending him, but nothing of the sort happened; instead he felt the bed tilt up slowly on its side—he began to roll, startled at first, in the direction of the wall, but when he reached the wall its drapery gave way, and sliding two yards farther down a fleecy incline he plumped gently into water the same temperature as his body. (3.4)

    John is reduced to a childlike helplessness during his stay at the château. Not that he doesn't enjoy it. But as far as his coming-of-age, this isn't exactly helping him on his way to adulthood.

    Section 5
    Kismine Washington

    [Kismine:] "I'm very innocent and girlish. I never smoke, or drink, or read anything except poetry. I know scarcely any mathematics or chemistry. I dress very simply—in fact, I scarcely dress at all. I think sophisticated is the last thing you can say about me. I believe that girls ought to enjoy their youths in a wholesome way." (5.25)

    If John is our glimpse into adolescent boyhood, then Kismine is the female equivalent. What picture does Fitzgerald paint of female adolescence? Is Kismine a fair representation? A caricature?

    [John] was enjoying himself as much as he was able. It is youth's felicity as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the present, but must always be measuring up the day against its own radiantly imagined future—flowers and gold, girls and stars, they are only prefigurations and prophecies of that incomparable, unattainable young dream. (5.3)

    This is an odd passage, and along with the few final paragraphs of the story, brings the theme of "Youth" to the forefront. Might John's time at the Washington estate also be an allegory for the dream-like state of youth?

    [John] was critical about women. A single defect—a thick ankle, a hoarse voice, a glass eye—was enough to make him utterly indifferent. And here for the first time in his life he was beside a girl who seemed to him the incarnation of physical perfection. (5.11)

    It's probably no coincidence that Kismine – like her father's giant diamond – appears to be flawless. Check out her "Character Analysis" for more details.

    John T. Unger

    "You have made an enormous impression on me," said John's eyes, "and I'm not so slow myself"—"How do you do?" said his voice. "I hope you're better this morning."—"You darling," added his eyes tremulously. (5.9)

    Compare this love-at-first-sight scene to a very similar passage in " The Curious Case of Benjamin Button " (about three paragraphs down on this page). How would you characterize Fitzgerald's idea of young love?

    Section 11
    Kismine Washington

    "Under the stars," [Kismine] repeated. "I never noticed the stars before. I always thought of them as great big diamonds that belonged to some one. Now they frighten me. They make me feel that it was all a dream, all my youth."

    "It was a dream," said John quietly. "Everybody's youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness." (11.27-28)

    Again it is hinted to us that "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is as much an allegory of youth as it is of wealth or religion or of America's history. "Chemical madness" is indeed an apt description of the sensory overload John experienced at the Washington estate, which is not dissimilar from the flush of first love.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Section 1
    John T. Unger

    So the old man and the young shook hands and John walked away with tears streaming from his eyes. Ten minutes later he had passed outside the city limits, and he stopped to glance back for the last time. Over the gates the old-fashioned Victorian motto seemed strangely attractive to him. His father had tried time and time again to have it changed to something with a little more push and verve about it, such as "Hades—Your Opportunity," or else a plain "Welcome" sign set over a hearty handshake pricked out in electric lights. The old motto was a little depressing, Mr. Unger had thought—but now.... (1.8)

    This is a veiled reference to the inscription that hangs over the gates of Hell in Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." It's ironic that John so easily leaves Hades (we would expect Hell to be a prison) and that so many are imprisoned at the Washingtons' estate (which quickly takes on the role of the Garden of Eden).

    A function that in Hades would be considered elaborate would doubtless be hailed by a Chicago beef-princess as "perhaps a little tacky." (1.3)

    Notice that John is set up from the beginning as somewhat of an outsider to the world of opulent wealth occupied by the boys at St. Midas' prep. His family may be affluent, but they are not on the same scale and not with the same social class as the urban families.

    Section 2

    If the car was any indication of what John would see, he was prepared to be astonished indeed. The simple piety prevalent in Hades has the earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first article of its creed—had John felt otherwise than radiantly humble before them, his parents would have turned away in horror at the blasphemy. (2.12)

    This is a reminder that John is the product of his upbringing – as are Percy, Kismine, and Jasmine. This is a sticky point when we rush to judge them for their obsession with wealth. Perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh with these young Washingtons. It has, after all, been ingrained in them since birth. They are prisoners of the ideology of their culture.

    Section 4

    Fitz-Norman himself set out for foreign parts with one hundred thousand dollars and two trunks filled with rough diamonds of all sizes. He sailed for Russia in a Chinese junk and six months after his departure from Montana he was in St. Petersburg. He took obscure lodgings and called immediately upon the court jeweler, announcing that he had a diamond for the Czar. He remained in St. Petersburg for two weeks, in constant danger of being murdered, living from lodging to lodging, and afraid to visit his trunks more than three or four times during the whole fortnight. (4.8)

    Fitz-Norman was, in many ways, a prisoner to his own wealth. It certainly doesn't sound like he's living a chipper life of freedom, at any rate.

    Section 6
    Braddock Tarleton Washington

    [Braddock:] "All these negroes are descendants of the ones my father brought North with him. There are about two hundred and fifty now. You notice that they've lived so long apart from the world that their original dialect has become an almost indistinguishable patois. We bring a few of them up to speak English—my secretary and two or three of the house servants." (6.6)

    Many of the prisoners in "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" don't even know that they're prisoners – and the slaves aren't the only ones.

    But Mr. Washington, followed by the two boys, was already strolling on toward the ninth hole of the golf course, as though the pit and its contents were no more than a hazard over which his facile iron had triumphed with ease. (6.61)

    The prison – or rather the fact that Braddock will stop at nothing to keep his diamond a secret – is the hazard in the otherwise flawless green.

    Section 8

    Braddock Washington, so Percy told him, had caused to be kidnapped a landscape gardener, an architect, a designer of state settings, and a French decadent poet left over from the last century. He had put his entire force of negroes at their disposal, guaranteed to supply them with any materials that the world could offer, and left them to work out some ideas of their own. But one by one they had shown their uselessness. The decadent poet had at once begun bewailing his separation from the boulevards in spring—he made some vague remarks about spices, apes, and ivories, but said nothing that was of any practical value. The stage designer on his part wanted to make the whole valley a series of tricks and sensational effects—a state of things that the Washingtons would soon have grown tired of. And as for the architect and the landscape gardener, they thought only in terms of convention. They must make this like this and that like that. (8.3)

    "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" shows us the difficulty of taking by force and imprisonment. All the wealth in the world doesn't necessarily mean that one can get what they want – or so Braddock should learn.

    Jasmine, the elder daughter, resembled Kismine in appearance—except that she was somewhat bow-legged, and terminated in large hands and feet—but was utterly unlike her in temperament. Her favorite books had to do with poor girls who kept house for widowed fathers. John learned from Kismine that Jasmine had never recovered from the shock and disappointment caused her by the termination of the World War, just as she was about to start for Europe as a canteen expert. She had even pined away for a time, and Braddock Washington had taken steps to promote a new war in the Balkans—but she had seen a photograph of some wounded Serbian soldiers and lost interest in the whole proceedings. (8.2)

    We start to see how wealth can be a sort of prison for the elite themselves. Jasmine appears to be trapped in a world that holds no value for her.

    Section 9
    John T. Unger

    "It's impossible to be both [free and poor] together," said John grimly. "People have found that out. And I should choose to be free as preferable of the two. As an extra caution you'd better dump the contents of your jewel box into your pockets." (9.29)

    At the end of the story, John is free (in the sense that he escaped from the château), but poor (because Kismine brought rhinestones instead of diamonds). Does this mean his claim here is false? Is he wealthy in some other way at the end of the story? Or is he trapped in some way at the end of the story?

    Section 10

    But the little group of five which had formed farther up and was engrossing all the watchers' attention had stopped upon a ledge of rock. The negroes stooped and pulled up what appeared to be a trap-door in the side of the mountain. Into this they all disappeared, the white-haired man first, then his wife and son, finally the two negroes, the glittering tips of whose jeweled head-dresses caught the sun for a moment before the trap-door descended and engulfed them all. (10.26)

    It's fitting that Braddock dies inside his mountain – his prison, as it were. It's also fitting that he goes in voluntarily (just as he's voluntarily committed himself to a prison of his wealth), and that he leads his family in there with him.

  • Visions of America

    Section 1

    Nothing would suit them but that he should go to St. Midas' School near Boston—Hades was too small to hold their darling and gifted son. (1.2)

    Notice that the school is called St. Midas. Midas was a King who turned all that he touched into gold, and in a nation that worships wealth, he has been elevated to sainthood. This name brings together the two major themes of the story – wealth and religion, and suggests that this is a time and place where money has replaced God.

    Section 2

    If the car was any indication of what John would see, he was prepared to be astonished indeed. The simple piety prevalent in Hades has the earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first article of its creed—had John felt otherwise than radiantly humble before them, his parents would have turned away in horror at the blasphemy. (2.12)

    Here is our clearest indication yet that wealth is the new religion in America. Be on the look out for more religious words – "priest," "blasphemy," "sin," "worship," "altar," and so forth. Fitzgerald isn't messing around with the moral indictment here.

    Through a maze of these rooms the two boys wandered. Sometimes the floor under their feet would flame in brilliant patterns from lighting below, patterns of barbaric clashing colors, of pastel delicacy, of sheer whiteness, or of subtle and intricate mosaic, surely from some mosque on the Adriatic Sea. Sometimes beneath layers of thick crystal he would see blue or green water swirling, inhabited by vivid fish and growths of rainbow foliage. Then they would be treading on furs of every texture and color or along corridors of palest ivory, unbroken as though carved complete from the gigantic tusks of dinosaurs extinct before the age of man… (2.31)

    Passages like this one bring in the concept of civilization and evolution. Where does this château stand in the great evolution of man's history?

    The Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky. (2.1)

    Wow – not exactly a chipper description, is it? Words like "bruise" and "poison" suggest that there is something wrong with this land, that it has been somehow hurt by the men who have harnessed its resources (like Washington).

    Section 4

    [Braddock] sealed up the mine. What had been taken out of it would support all the Washingtons yet to be born in unparalleled luxury for generations. His one care must be the protection of his secret, lest in the possible panic attendant on its discovery he should be reduced with all the property-holders in the world to utter poverty. (4.14)

    This raises an interesting point – Washington is responsible not just for maintaining his own wealth, but for maintaining the stability of the world's economy. The top echelon of society has enormous influence, but also enormous liability.

    There was no alternative—he must market his mountain in secret. He sent South for his younger brother and put him in charge of his colored following—darkies who had never realized that slavery was abolished. To make sure of this, he read them a proclamation that he had composed, which announced that General Forrest had reorganized the shattered Southern armies and defeated the North in one pitched battle. The negroes believed him implicitly. They passed a vote declaring it a good thing and held revival services immediately. (4.7)

    The Washington fortune was made on the backs of slaves who were exploited for their ignorance. It sounds like Fitzgerald might be making a point about the history of this country, as well.

    The father of the present Mr. Washington had been a Virginian, a direct descendant of George Washington, and Lord Baltimore. (4.2)

    This is an important moment in the story, as it roots the Washington family firmly in the history of the development of America. The story of their establishment and success becomes a parallel to the story of American's larger history.

    Section 6
    Braddock Tarleton Washington

    [Braddock:] "How absurd. How could a man of my position be fair-minded toward you? You might as well speak of a Spaniard being fair-minded toward a piece of steak." (6.37)

    Washington makes the argument that it is natural for men of wealth and power to exploit those beneath him. Later, his daughter Kismine will make the same argument to John. Fitzgerald seems to be saying that this is the ideology which allowed early Americans to justify their own brand of exploitation.

    It was too dark to see clearly into the pit below, but John could tell from the coarse optimism and rugged vitality of the remarks and voices that they proceeded from middle-class Americans of the more spirited type. (6.23)

    OK, so we've now encountered representatives of the wealthy (Braddock Washington), the poor (the slaves), and here the middle class (the imprisoned men). How does this new element support the social satire Fitzgerald has established so far with his story?

    Section 8

    Mrs. Washington was aloof and reserved at all times. She was apparently indifferent to her two daughters, and entirely absorbed in her son Percy, with whom she held interminable conversations in rapid Spanish at dinner. (8.1)

    Mrs. Washington is all about her son but ignores her daughter. This behavior may be another jab at American culture (at least in the 1920s).

  • Religion

    Section 1

    John's first two years there passed pleasantly. The fathers of all the boys were money-kings and John spent his summers visiting at fashionable resorts. (1.4)

    Notice that the patriarchs are described as "money-kings" – already there is an element of the mythological in this story.

    John T. Unger came from a family that had been well known in Hades—a small town on the Mississippi River—for several generations. (1.1)

    Notice that Fitzgerald introduces religion in the first sentence of his story – before we've even started talking about wealth or power. This supports the argument that "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" might be primarily concerned with religion.

    When [John] told them where his home was they would ask jovially, "Pretty hot down there?" and John would muster a faint smile and answer, "It certainly is." His response would have been heartier had they not all made this joke—at best varying it with, "Is it hot enough for you down there?" which he hated just as much. (1.4)

    There is a double meaning to this question. On the one hand, the men may be referring to the fact that John is from Mississippi – a far cry from Boston and of course a different (much hotter) climate. But it's also yet another poke in the ribs for the reader to remind him that John is from Hades, another name for Hell.

    Section 2
    John T. Unger

    They were obviously ascending, and within a few minutes the car was crossing a high rise, where they caught a glimpse of a pale moon newly risen in the distance. The car stopped suddenly and several figures took shape out of the dark beside it—these were negroes also. Again the two young men were saluted in the same dimly recognizable dialect; then the negroes set to work and four immense cables dangling from overhead were attached with hooks to the hubs of the great jeweled wheels. At a resounding "Hey-yah!" John felt the car being lifted slowly from the ground— up and up—clear of the tallest rocks on both sides—then higher, until he could see a wavy, moonlit valley stretched out before him in sharp contrast to the quagmire of rocks that they had just left. Only on one side was there still rock—and then suddenly there was no rock beside them or anywhere around. (2.16)

    There's something almost ritualistic in the way that Percy and John travel slowly to their destination. There are stations on the way, and certain procedures which must be observed. The process has an air of sacred secrecy about it, like some sort of cult ceremony.

    Section 6

    [The prisoners:] "Come on down to Hell!" (6.17)

    Again we're faced with the duality of Heaven and Hell. The Washington estate is presented as an Eden, a garden of paradise, and here, below ground (fittingly), the men are in Hell.

    Section 7

    He did not know that the little gold football (inscribed with the legend Pro deo et patria et St. Midas) which he had given her rested on a platinum chain next to her bosom. (7.1)

    "Pro deo et patria" is a common motto for many schools, and translates from the Latin to "For God and country." The St. Midas motto, of course, has a double meaning: for God and country and the school, but also for God and country and the worship of wealth.

    Section 8
    Kismine Washington

    "I didn't," burst out Kismine. "I never invited one. Jasmine did. And they always had a very good time. She'd give them the nicest presents toward the last. I shall probably have visitors too—I'll harden up to it. We can't let such an inevitable thing as death stand in the way of enjoying life while we have it. Think how lonesome it'd be out here if we never had any one. Why, father and mother have sacrificed some of their best friends just as we have." (8.33)

    Again, there seems to be something ritualistic about the Washingtons' way of functioning. In this particular passage, Fitzgerald may be poking fun at religion in his justification of seemingly ridiculous behavior.

    Section 9

    Above, under the misty moon, sliding in and out of the patches of cloud that eddied below it, floated a dozen dark-winged bodies in a constant circling course. From here and there in the valley flashes of fire leaped toward them, followed by sharp detonations. (9.18)

    Notice the religious allusions in this (and other related) passages regarding the attack on the Washington estate. The aeroplanes are described like dark angels, and Fitzgerald might as well as have used the words "fire and brimstone" to describe the ammunition raining down on the chateau.

    Section 10

    That, John perceived after a time, was the thread running through his sentences. Prometheus Enriched was calling to witness forgotten sacrifices, forgotten rituals, prayers obsolete before the birth of Christ. For a while his discourse took the form of reminding God of this gift or that which Divinity had deigned to accept from men—great churches if he would rescue cities from the plague, gifts of myrrh and gold, of human lives and beautiful women and captive armies, of children and queens, of beasts of the forest and field, sheep and goats, harvests and cities, whole conquered lands that had been offered up in lust or blood for His appeasal, buying a meed's worth of alleviation from the Divine wrath—and now he, Braddock Washington, Emperor of Diamonds, king and priest of the age of gold, arbiter of splendor and luxury, would offer up a treasure such as princes before him had never dreamed of, offer it up not in suppliance, but in pride. (10.13)

    The word choice in this passage brings us back to mythology and ancient history. "Prometheus Enriched" refers to a play by Aeschylus called "Prometheus Bound." This simultaneously refers us to the story's religious and mythological allegory, and brings us back to its satire on wealth.