Study Guide

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz Wealth

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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.

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