Distorted Perceptions in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night
Any visitor to the French Riviera in the mid-1920s, the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, would describe Dr. Richard Diver as a charming, respected, well-mannered physician. Dick is a noble man who has dedicated his life to the health and protection of his beloved wife without thought to himself. Furthermore, he gives wonderful parties and is a reliable source of help to any friend in need. In fact, “to be included in Dick Diver’s world for a while was a remarkable experience” (Fitzgerald, Tender, 27).
Under this facade of composure, however, lies a tormented personality. The stresses in Dick’s life are numerous, as he deals with Nicole’s breakdowns and other aspects of his career and social relationships. He has no one to help him through these difficulties but he still manages to rescue his friends in countless instances. He does his best to play his role as husband, father, friend, and physician, but he is clearly not comfortable with his responsibilities, and his confusion manifests itself through his obsession with youthfulness. Not only does Dr. Diver try to appear young and vital to the outside world, he also has an unhealthy obsession with much younger women in his life. This paternal attitude toward females mingled with sensual desire is a sign of Dick’s hidden instability which slowly becomes more visible.
Several events point to Dick’s desire to appear younger and as his immature attitude about life. He has a strong need for social approval and tries to ensure his social standing by being a gracious and charming host to a myriad of friends and acquaintances. He is very concerned with each guest’s opinion of him, and i…
A major component of the disintegration of Dick Diver, therefore, is his confusion and immaturity regarding relationships with younger women, as well as his own need to seem youthful. His reputation and well-liked persona are achieved despite his childlike attitudes, but as he slowly loses his ability to conceal his true personality, he is deserted by everyone. Just as the incestuous actions of Nicole’s father led to her illness and his private torment, Dick Diver’s distorted perceptions of appropriate relationships lead to his own fall into obscurity.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. New York, NY.: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1982.
Stanton, Robert. “‘Daddy’s Girl’: Symbol and Theme in Tender is the Night.” Critical Essays on Tender is the Night. Ed. Milton R. Stern. Boston, Ma.: G.K. Hall & Co., 1986. 118-124.