One reading of "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is as an allegory for youth. The narrative follows the story of teenager John Unger as he spends the summer with an insanely wealthy family in their opulent château in the American West. There, he learns about the nature of wealth and experiences first love. The summer is a haze of diamonds, excess, and luxury, and Fitzgerald argues with his story that all of youth is a similarly hazy, dream-like state – "a form of chemical madness" (11.27). Fitzgerald also takes a look at the way young people experience time. Youth "can never live in the present," he argues, "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).
Questions About Youth
What does "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" conclude about the nature of youth? Consider the final few passages in particular.
What part does John's age (sixteen) play in establishing his character and determining his reactions to the Washington estate? How would the story be different if John were an adult?
Can we blame the Washington children (Percy, Jasmine, and Kismine) for the way they've turned out? Could they help it, given their upbringing and circumstances?
What's the deal with Mrs. Washington? Why does she appear to not care about her two daughters, yet dote over her son?
Chew on This
"The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is as much about the splendor of youth as it is about religion or wealth.
John does not come of age in the course of this story.