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 façade 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 is said to "[win] everyone quickly with an exquisite consideration and a politeness that [moves] so fast and intuitively that it could be examined only in its effect" (27-28). Later, while on the shore with his family, Dick decides to attempt a foolish trick involving a speed boat, inspired by "the closeness of Rosemary's exciting youth" (282). This desperately insecure need for external validation is characteristic of a prepubescent level of maturity which Dick surely should have overcome long ago.
As his descent continues, Dick is even less convincingly able to act like the mature professional. He gets drunk more frequently and is involved in a violent fight with some taxi drivers, and later he inadvertently insults Mary North's in-laws, showing he has lost some of his previously impeccable manners. Even his "mentally ill" wife can see the results of his behavior, telling him, "You're a coward! You've made a failure of your life and you want to blame it on me" (301). Dick has seemingly given up on acting like a grown-up and all of its difficulties in favor of a more immature, morally ignorant lifestyle.
Not only does Dick Diver's longing for youthful innocence show in his own youthful behavior, but also...