Study Guide

Tender is the Night Foreignness and 'the Other'

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Foreignness and 'the Other'

Dick, worn away by the events of the afternoon, was taking it out on the inhabitants of Italy. He looked around the bar as if he hoped an Italian had heard him and would resent his words (2.22.3).

He’s fulfilling the stereotype of "the ugly American." And poor Collis Clay keeps insisting that he loves Italy and Italians. But Italy is just an excuse for Dick. Everything is wrong in his world and he’s taking it out on the nearest target. This isn’t the only time we heard Dick talking like that. When he gets drunk or angry he is really likely to use words like "spick" and "n*****."

"You spoke to Hosain’s sister."

Dick could only say: "I supposed they were two maids" (3.4.1-2).

Mary he told him they were her husband’s sisters. But Dick thinks that dark skin means hired help. He isn’t very open to the cultural realities around him.

"Well, I have felt there were too many people on the beach this summer," Nicole admitted. "Our beach that Dick made out of a pebble pile." […] "Still, they’re preferable to those British last summer who kept shouting about" (1.4.35).

Nicole has spent more of her life in Europe than in America. Her attitude is very us vs. them – those who belong and those who don’t. We also understand later that much of her hostility is directed towards Rosemary. And we also know that she sometimes feels like the ultimate foreigner. So much so that she pretends to be other people. What do we make of her attitude here on the beach?

A meeting was arranged and one day Mr. Warren arrived at the clinic with his daughter Nicole, a girl of sixteen (2.3.1).

Talk about becoming a foreigner. Imagine being checked into a Swiss psychiatric clinic when you are sixteen. The clinic is a symbol of both hope and off the hopeless, but always of foreignness. We are almost afraid to look at it, and at the people who undergo treatment there.

But I was gone again by that time – trains and beaches they were all one. That was why he took me traveling but after my second child, my little girl, Topsy, was born everything got dark again (2.10.28).

Travel is often represented in the novel as a cure for Nicole’s illness. She seems to thrive on new places. She even remarks that her "principal interest is in archeology," which is usually a very travel based profession. But travel seems to be of no help here. Why not?

"She is now the wickedest woman in London – whenever I come back to Europe there is a new crop of the wickedest women from London. She’s the very latest – though I believe there is now one other who’s considered almost as wicked" (3.5.72).

We chose this passage because it’s really funny, and also because it shows us something interesting about Tommy. Notice there is no hint of derision when he talks about London, unlike Dick, Nicole, and the others. Maybe that’s because he’s part French, part American, was educated in London, and fought for like almost a dozen different countries. Remember, Tommy has no country. He is the eternal foreigner. Or, he is a citizen of the world – and as such, maybe nobody is foreign to him.

"We have arrested a N****. We are convinced we have at last arrested the correct N****" (1.22.15).

This is in Paris, of course. Abe has gotten mixed up in some bad business. The Parisian cops have been arresting black men all morning. When Jules Peterson wants to come into the Ritz bar and talk to Abe, he’s not allowed because he’s black. The black men in the novel are represented as extremely foreign.

"Kiss me, on the lips, Tommy."

"That’s so American," he said, kissing her […] "When I was in America last there were girls who would tear you apart with their lips, tear themselves too, until their faces were scarlet with the blood around the lips all brought out in a patch – but nothing further" (3.8.63-64).

OK, here Tommy does seem to be talking trash about America. And he’s constantly asking Nicole to speak French to him. Here it sounds like he’s saying American women in the 1920s were sexually repressed. Is that a stereotype or is it true?

The hotel and its bright tan prayer rug of a beach were one. In the early morning the distant image of Cannes, the pink and cream of old fortifications, the purple Alp that bounded Italy, were cast across the water and lay quavering in the ripples and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows (1.1.2).

This is just one example of the breathtakingly beautiful pictures F. Scott Fitzgerald paints when describing the novel’s exotic locations. This is from the very beginning of the novel, and the beach as a "prayer rug" identifies it as a set of hope in the novel. It also becomes sort of a breeding ground for many of the big changes that will impact the characters.

In the last letter she had from him he told her that he was practising in Geneva, New York, and she got the impression that he had settled down with some one to keep house for him (3.13.3).

Geneva, New York, Geneva, Switzerland, what’s the difference, anyway? Do we get the idea that Dick having to work in America instead of Europe is a symbol of his failure? We rarely see America in the novel, almost as if it’s the most foreign place of all. Could Dick have found happiness back in the U.S.? Why or why not?