Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Crack-Up. New Direction Publishing, 1936, https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a4310/the-crack-up/.
In this three-part essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, he tells the story of his sudden descent at age thirty-nine from a life of success and glamour to one of emptiness and despair, and his determined recovery. This vulnerable yet self-indulgent account provides a unique personal blend of the romance and reality embodied by Fitzgerald’s literature and his life.
At the beginning of this essay, which moves chronologically through Fitzgerald’s life, he mentions that life should be about seeing things that are hopeless and yet being determined to make them otherwise. He outlines that contradictions are what push people to persevere through life’s difficulties. For example, “the sense of futility of effort and the sense of necessity to struggle” and “the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future” provide a necessary balance between conviction of failure and still the determination to succeed. Then, he parallels this philosophy to how he lives his own life. He states, “It seemed a romantic business to be a successful literary man, but I, for one, would not have chosen any other,” nostalgically declaring the certainty of his fate of being a writer. Fitzgerald seems somewhat content and accepting of the life path that he has chosen.
Then, the essay takes a sudden turn, with Fitzgerald saying that he suddenly realized he had “prematurely cracked,” using the metaphor of a cracked plate to illustrate how permanent and irreversible he felt the damage to his life was. This desolate period in his life he best describes as having developed a “sad attitude towards sadness, a melancholy attitude toward melancholy, and a tragic attitude toward tragedy.” He feels that he could no longer fulfill the obligations that life had set for him or that he set for himself, becoming bitter about little things and not having the vitality that he used to have. He continues, that however jaded or tired he feels, he “must continue to be a writer because that was his [my] only way of life.”
This is the portion of the essay that illuminates the most on Fitzgerald’s most famous novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald, during this dark time in his life, tries desperately to cling to something, finding peace and happiness in only a few things. His tendency is to “refuse to face things as long as possible by retiring into an infantile dream – but one is startled out of this by various contact with the world.” This, while seemingly unrelated to his literary works, seems to call into mind the character of Jay Gatsby. While Gatsby is so caught up in his delusion of love with Daisy, Nick is often the “contact with the world” who reminds Gatsby of reality. Gatsby often refuses to face the reality that he can’t have Daisy, but still clings onto the idea with hope. Meanwhile, his lavish lifestyle is just a means for him to retire back into his dream of Daisy.
Fitzgerald says about his time writing, “Life around me was a solemn dream, and I lived on the letters I wrote to a girl in another city.” This seems to speak directly to the way Fitzgerald portrays Gatsby. Fitzgerald describes life as a dream, similar to the way Gatsby himself is in a dream – where him and Daisy are together. While Fitzgerald may have written letters to a girl in another city, Gatsby attempts to reach Daisy, not through letters, but instead through his accumulation of wealth. As Fitzgerald continues to recount his “crack-up,” he reiterates how he hopes “things will adjust themselves by some great material or spiritual bonanza.” This brings to mind how Gatsby continues to live in such a dream where he hopes that one day, his fantasy of Daisy will be fulfilled. Continuing along this path of an imagined reality, Fitzgerald ultimately states, “One is an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one’s own personality.” This seems to inform the disintegration of Gatsby’s personality, as Gatsby was so caught up in creating a version of himself that would satisfy Daisy that Gatsby lost himself in the process.
While Fitzgerald’s essay does not once mention Gatsby, it is almost startling how much Fitzgerald’s description of his experiences and his life seems to resonate with Gatsby’s characterization. Where Fitzgerald lives this part of his desolate life “quickly and carelessly retiring once more back into the dream,” he also ends The Great Gatsby with the famous closing line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” These two quotes seem to carry a common theme, delivering similar messages to the reader. While this quote may refer to Gatsby’s constant need to recapture the past as epitomized by his quest to win Daisy’s love, it may also speak to Fitzgerald’s life of progression yet drifting backward into isolation, as illustrated in his essay.
Fitzgerald’s essay enlightens some of the recurring themes in The Great Gatsby. It is clear that Fitzgerald had a complicated relationship with his past, as did Gatsby. It may be that through the character of Gatsby, Fitzgerald has brought to life some of his issues, alluding to the self-delusion, experience, and acceptance of his own predicaments. It may be argued that Gatsby, as a figment of Fitzgerald’s imagination, represents everything that Fitzgerald both could and could not be in his own life.