In “Mary French,” Dos Passos draws a definitive line between his feelings on capitalism and socialism, as well as the rich and the poor. The parallel lives of Eveline Johnson and Mary French reveal Dos Passos’s distinct attitudes in regards to the upper and lower classes of society. As a member of high society, Eveline Johnson exemplifies Dos Passos’s attitudes of the rich.
These attitudes begin to take shape as Mary French enters the party, “Eveline Johnson was ushering them through some sliding doors into a high-ceilinged room dusky from shaded lights and cigarettesmoke where they were swallowed up in a jam of welldressed people talking and making faces and tossing their heads over cocktail glasses” (1527). This description tends to lean toward the superficial and a distaste of an extravagant lifestyle. Dos Passos discretely depicts various other guests as “Kings,” “Captains,” and “Screenstars.
Mary French becomes increasingly aware of just how phony and self-centered these guests really are as she watches the party unfold, “Mary was looking at it all through a humming haze like seeing a play from way up in a smoky balcony” (1529). Simultaneously, Eveline acknowledges that her life, a reflection of self-centered capitalism, is in fact a waste. Eveline admits, “You know it does seem too silly to spend your life filling up rooms with illassorted people who really hate each other” (1530).
This moment is of significance; throughout the story Eveline and Mary have had almost identical experiences. Both women have lost the loves of their lives, but it is Mary, the determined socialist, who puts the needs of others before her own. Mary is able to continue on with what is important to her rather than escaping the harsh realities of life by means of suicide. Dos Passos has constructed a shallow illusion of what the rich are like. The socialist attitudes of Dos Passos solidify as the events in the story unravel.
Socialist attitudes are present when Mary and her parents meet for lunch. Mary French, the socialist worker, is raising money for the less fortunate mine workers. Her parents on the other hand, ” Had both made big killings on the stockexchange on the same day and they felt they owed themselves a little rest and relaxation” (1521). This is typical of self-centered capitalists. Mary is the moral center of this story. She has the will to pick herself up and continue with the unselfish intentions of the socialist party.
It is clear that Mary will struggle against the forces of a capitalistic society: corruption and the use of employment to keep the workforce under control. On the contrary, Fitzgerald draws more of a Venn diagram then a concise line concerning his attitudes towards the rich and poor, as well as capitalists and socialists. Fitzgerald incorporates two sets of characters that are on opposite sides of the economic and political spectrum. What is difficult to understand is that almost all of the characters are unsympathetic; rather, they are stuck where the two circles coincide.
Fitzgerald exploits the flaws of all the characters, and leaves the choice of a hero up to the reader. In the very beginning of the story a conflict establishes itself between Phillip Dean and Gordon Sterret. Gordon has run into financial trouble and desperately begs Dean for money. Gordon has fallen from the class of wealthy Yale students to whom Dean still belongs. Dean demonstrates the snobby attitudes of the rich by thinking to himself, “Nothing was going to spoil his trip. If Gordon was going to be depressing, then he’d have to see less of Gordon” (28).
The character of Edith Bradin expresses another clear example of Fitzgerald’s attitude toward the rich. She is described in the following passage as a materialistic debutante infatuated with her own beauty. “She dropped her arms to her side until they were faintly touching the sleek sheath that covered and suggested her figure. She had never felt her own softness so much nor so enjoyed the whiteness of her own arms” (44). Fitzgerald further exemplifies his attitudes of the rich as all the characters end up at Childs’ for breakfast the morning after May Day.
Phillip Dean stops at the table where Gordon and Jewel Hudson are seated, “Prominent Teeth shook his finger pessimistically at the pair, giving the woman a glance of aloof condemnation” (65). Clearly Dean does not approve of Jewel, strictly because she is poor. The scene continues with the childish acts of Dean and Peter as they start a game of chase with the waiter in a drunken stupor. Both men end up on a lavish eating and drinking spree around town, simply out of foolish pleasure. On the other end of the spectrum, Fitzgerald includes a set of lower class and socialistic characters.
These characters, like the wealthy and capitalist characters, are described unsympathetically. The first example, and perhaps the strongest case of Fitzgerald’s distaste of socialist attitudes, is the description of the Jewish man who is preaching to the soldiers on the street corner. He is described as follows, “A gesticulating little Jew with long black whiskers, who was waving his arms and delivering an excited but succinct harangue” (37). This passage reveals Fitzgerald’s feelings towards Jewish people. What is interesting here, is the Jewish man is actually correct in his account of WW I being a rip off.
When the soldiers beat up the Jew, Fitzgerald demonstrates the false consciousness of the patriotic soldiers. The soldiers did not want acknowledge their sacrifices as a waste, they believed they had fought for a good cause. A second strong example of Fitzgerald’s attitude towards the poor is found in the description of the soldiers Rose and Key. Key is described as, “The taller of the two was named Carrol Key, a name hinting that in his veins, however thinly diluted by generations of degeneration, ran blood of some potentiality.
But one could stare endlessly at the long, chinless face, the dull, the watery eyes, and high cheek-bones, without finding a suggestion of either ancestral worth or native resourcefulness” (35). Rose is described in much the same way, “His companion was swart and bandy-legged, with rat-eyes and a much-broken hooked nose” (35). Both of these men do not have a lot of money and it is clear how Fitzgerald feels about them. The final example of Fitzgerald’s attitudes of the lower class carried out through the life of Gordon Sterret.
Gordon kills himself because he is not happy with what his life has become. He has fallen from the wealthy class and now feels like a failure. The ironic part about his suffering is that he has let the wealth and glitter blind him from doing something good. All he had to do was marry Jewel, the only moral center in the story, and have a happy life. Gordon measured success by his rich friend’s standards, and because of this, his life came up short. Fitzgerald provides an ironic depiction of his attitudes towards social class and political affiliation.
This story is filled with contradictions and it is difficult to pick out the individual attitudes as to which side Fitzgerald takes. The two attitudes come out simultaneously as depicted in the following passage, “Through this Medley Dean and Gordon wandered; the former interested, made alert by the display of humanity at its frothiest and gaudiest; the latter reminded of how often he had been one of the crowd, tired, casually fed, overworked, and dissipated” (33). This passage represents the inner region of the Venn diagram where both objects coincide.
Only through biographical information can one say with confidence that Fitzgerald is a capitalist. Fitzgerald was extremely critical of the extravagant lifestyle, yet as seen through his descriptive style, extremely attracted to the glitter. He states that there just aren’t any solutions to the problems of a capitalistic society in the following passage, “Henry Bradin had left Cornell, where he had been an instructor of economics, and had come to New York to pour the latest cures for incurable evils into the columns of a radical weekly newspaper” (44).
Fitzgerald’s writing style reveals his true love of capitalism. Fitzgerald approaches his writing in a relaxed and entertaining manner. The lavish descriptions and characterizations make the story flow with anticipation from one scene to the next. Of all the lines in this story, this quotation, “Henry Bradin had left Cornell, where he had been an instructor of economics, and had come to New York to pour the latest cures for incurable evils into the columns of a radical weekly newspaper” (44), makes Fitzgerald a better writer.
He acknowledges the evils of capitalism, but realizes nothing can be done about them. Fitzgerald feels there is no need to revolutionize the impossible; Dos Passos argues the opposite. Dos Passos uses very plain and direct narration to convey his political ideals. Dos Passos’s lack of creative language results in a mundane story line. He argues that the evils of a capitalistic society need to be restored with moral socialistic values; therefore, his writing is presented with a greater sense of reality. Dos Passos simply explains the problem and his solution and I find this rather plain.