Study Guide

Tender is the Night Transformation

By F. Scott Fitzgerald


"Dick] left a note for Maria Wallis signed "Dicole," the word with which he and Nicole had signed communications in the first days of love (2.24.1).

This passage describes what becomes a major problem for Nicole later in the novel - not being able to separate herself from Dick. Dick wants this kind of deep connection, too. That’s why he revives their old tradition when Nicole is drifting apart. This passage marks a number of transformations undergone by Dick and Nicole.

Fifteen minutes ago they had been a family. Now as she was crushed into a corner by his unwilling shoulder, he saw them all, child and man, as a perilous accident (2.16.47).

This isn’t long before Nicole tries to drive them all off a cliff. Although much has lead up to this moment, for Dick, the beauty of his identity as a family is thoroughly transformed in less than an hour.

One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still (3.11.55).

This isn’t a very hopeful view. This passage suggests that people, once transformed by damage, can never completely heal. What do you think? Is this overly pessimistic or just stark reality? Are there moments in the text which argue against this position?

When Dick could no longer play what he wanted to play on the piano, it was an indication that life was being refined down to a point (2.12.20).

Dick has been transformed into a prisoner of his own life. He feels trapped by Nicole’s illness and by the Warren money. He just wants to dream about Rosemary and try to work again. This moment represents another deep transformation for Dick, one which spurs him to want to change again.

[Nicole] had not existed for a long time, even as a ball (3.6.18).

What a weird statement. This is when Nicole’s in her garden, before she’s taken Tommy as a lover, and when she is content to have the two men fight over her in conversation. As cruel as the passage sounds, it does suggest that Nicole is "finding herself" and moving toward a recovery of some sort. But, it can’t really be from her perspective, can it? It seems like the judgment of the third person narrator. Watch for moments like this in the text. This isn’t the only one.

Indeed, his success was founded psychologically upon his duel with Tommy Barban, upon the basis of which, as it withered in his memory, he had created, afresh, a new self-respect (2.19.6).

Albert McKisco undergoes one of the most startling and rapid transformations in the book. He goes from the guy nobody wants to talk to at the party to a popular author and a likeable man. Any ideas why he thinks the duel triggered his transformation?

Minute by minute the sweetness drained down into her out of the willow trees, out of the dark world (2.5.36).

What lovely prose. Nicole is being transformed by the "sweetness" of nature, out of "the dark world." Read "What’s Up With The Title" for a discussion on what darkness might mean in the novel. As you’ll see, darkness is thought to hold a special light which can illuminate the human heart. It is closely tied to the workings of nature. Or is there a more sinister interpretation of "dark world" in this passage?

"Why, I’m almost complete," she thought. "I’m practically standing alone, without him." And like a happy child, wanting the completion as soon as possible, and knowing vaguely that Dick had planned for her to have it, she lay on her bed as soon as she got home and wrote Tommy Barban in Nice a short provocative letter (3.7.92).

Nicole is definitely transforming here. But it’s a bit odd. She’s becoming complete by both separating herself from Dick and joining with Tommy. Is she just trading one man for another? Or is it the decision to take a chance, to choose something daring and bold that is making her feel whole?

Moreover it is confusing to come across a youthful photograph of some one known in a rounded maturity and gaze with a shock upon a fiery, wiry, eagle-eyed stranger. Best to be reassuring – Dick Diver’s moment now began.

We’ve looked at this passage a lot. It’s crucial to so many of the novel’s themes. It is pretty obvious why it’s here. The older Dick we meet at the beginning of the novel is transformed into the younger. And of course the younger Dick is transformed into the older. It’s like the good Dick and the evil Dick looking at each other in the mirror.

And suddenly, in the space of two minutes she achieved her victory and justified herself to herself without lie or subterfuge cut the cord forever. Then she walked, weak in the legs, and sobbing coolly, toward the household that was hers at last (3.9.47).

Some critics argue that this is Nicole’s real moment of transformation in the novel - her final psychological break from Dick. What does it mean that she sobs "coolly?" Is she crying for the loss of what they had but without the "hot" passion that comes with the need to possess? Does her transformation transform Dick as well? If so, how? Is it beneficial for him or is her positive transformation at the cost of his negative one?